Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Local in the running for cutest vegetarian alive


Frank Velasquez grew up with a vegetarian father and a nagging feeling every time he sliced into a piece of meat.
But it took seeing a couple of his favorite hip-hop artists in ad campaigns for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to spur his vegan lifestyle several years ago. Now the Santa Barbara native is one of 16 men across the country in the running for PETA’s “Cutest Vegetarian Alive,” beating out more than 1,700 other entrants.

“I kind of did it just to see what would happen,” he said of entering the contest. “It’s cool just to be associated with something like that. … The people who are nominated stand for something. That’s the most important thing for me.”
Although the winner gets an official sash, a package of veggie goodies, and the chance to model a PETA shirt on the organization’s website, Velasquez said he’s simply happy for the opportunity to tell his story and pass along a message.
“Every time I picked up a piece of meat or a chicken wing, I would try not to think about it,” he said. “...There’s something in there. There’s life in there.”
After quitting cold turkey, Velasquez said his health has improved, along with his conscience.
The 20-year-old suffers from arthritis, so debilitating at times it kept him from walking or even moving his arms. While his new diet hasn’t cured the affliction, Velasquez said he has seen a marked drop in its impact.
“It’s really reduced the amount of medicine I’ve had to take,” he said.
He also noticed a difference while playing in pick-up basketball games, feeling lighter and quicker. And although he has always been fairly thin, Velasquez said once he turned vegan, he actually bulked up.
“All of a sudden, the food I was eating was healthier,” he said.
As a result, he dropped jobs at a steakhouse and a sub sandwich eatery and now works with youth in the community through Shape of Voice, a local youth newspaper, and the Twelve35 Teen Center. He also works as a basketball ref at the Montecito YMCA and sells organic veggies at the farmer’s market on Saturday.
He said his father’s vegetarian lifestyle and Santa Barbara’s standing a progressive community had little to do with his decision to drop meat and animal by-products.
“It was really something I came across on my own,” he said.
After stumbling across the PETA website while looking up a few hip-hop artists, he took the plunge after finding out there were others who had made the change to vegan. His dad followed suit that day and his mom joined in within a week, making it a family affair.
Since that time, Velasquez hasn’t touched a single piece of meat. He said the myth that real men eat meat has the opposite effect on him, fueling his determination not to give in.
“As a man, I can’t give in to that temptation,” he said.
He’s also kept up with the latest news from PETA and said if they ever establish an office in Santa Barbara, he might have to make that his fifth job.
As far as the contest — in its first round of voting at, set to end on April 9 — Velasquez said he’s not taking it too seriously.
“I feel kind of embarrassed to mention it at times,” he said. “I feel all shy about it. How do I say I’m nominated for cutest vegetarian?”
And while folks are at the website voting for their hometown favorite, Velasquez urged them to spend some time checking out other areas of the site, learning more about a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
“Give it a try, even if you don’t want to make the whole switch,” he said. “I encourage people every once in a while to have a vegan night or a vegan lunch or even a vegan week.”

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