Wearing bikinis in biting winds, PETA’s Lettuce Ladies seek Bangor converts

Posted Jan. 04, 2011, at 3:24 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:17 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Wearing bikinis of faux lettuce, two women from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals faced the cold of Bangor’s snowy West Market Square on Tuesday afternoon to ask Bangor residents to “turn over a new leaf” and start off the new year by going vegan.

“We know it’s a time people are making New Year’s resolutions,” said PETA senior campaigner Ashley Byrne of New York. “We want people to know that the easiest way to get fit and help end animal cruelty is by becoming vegan.”

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Hayden Hamilton of Los Angeles and Tracy Patton of Chicago wore the leafy greens for an hour while Byrne made sure they didn’t freeze. The three women are full-time PETA campaigners, part of a core group that travels the world demonstrating to end animal cruelty and promote a vegan lifestyle.

“This is a fun, upbeat way of bringing attention to very serious issues that people are afraid to face,” Byrne said, listing health issues such as obesity, diabetes and cancer.

Vegans, on average, weigh 20 percent to 30 percent less than their meat-eating counterparts, she said.

Though they sometimes make their bikinis out of real lettuce, the campaigners wore plastic leaves of lettuce for the Bangor demonstration. To keep warm, they stuffed heat packs into their white platform boots and white gloves. The sun bathed the square with light, but freezing wind buffeted their signs and knocked the plastic cups off their tray.

A man walked by and shouted, “It’s a good thing you girls are wearing earmuffs. Must be cold.”

Bangor resident Joseph Gates, 31, stopped for a cup of hot soy cocoa and to collect a free vegan starter kit. Gates, who said he was a “beef jerky junkie,” became vegetarian three weeks ago. Now, with the help of the starter kit, he plans to go vegan.

“I actually like meat a lot, but I don’t really like the way animals are treated,” Gates said. “I feel a lot better, especially in this last week. I’ve really been noticing. It’s hard to explain — I feel cleaner on the inside.”

“We encounter so many people all over the world that are already making the change,” Byrne said. “These days, vegan options are everywhere: on the shelves of supermarkets and in local restaurants. It’s more plentiful and delicious than it’s ever been.”

Vehicles pulled over to the side of busy Main Street, and the Lettuce Ladies passed soy cocoa through open windows while talking about being vegan.

Edd Morang of Bangor turned his car around to get a photo with the produce-covered demonstrators.

“I know these ladies have the job, but what a way to make a buck in this cold,” he said, laughing.

Bangor resident Chelsea Pratt, 19, paused to talk with the Lettuce Ladies before continuing on her way. She became a vegetarian last Christmas when her sister showed her videos of slaughterhouses.

“It wasn’t as hard as I thought. Steak tips were my favorite food. I feel lighter and more cheery,” Pratt said. “The only downside is the lack of protein and iron in my blood, which makes me colder in the winter. But you feel better morally.”

PETA has visited Bangor for several years to spread its message. Usually, the demonstrators are women.

“We actually have men doing demonstrations in similar scantily clad manners all the time,” Byrne said. “They often don’t get as much attention.”

Byrne remembers eating vegan meals at Thai Siam and Bagel Central while visiting Bangor in years past.

“People seem to be very friendly and interested,” she said. “From being here before, I definitely found this to be a vegan-friendly place.”

For information about PETA and to view an online vegetarian-vegan starter kit, visit www.peta.org.

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