Westhampton teen is finalist in “Cutest Vegetarian Contest”

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Those who know Amanda Groves would probably not be surprised to learn that her bedroom is cluttered with animal cages. There’s one for her rabbit, Sophie, another for her guinea pig, BedHead, and she also has a tank for her fish, Bling-Bling.

The Westhampton Beach High School sophomore, a finalist in a national “Cutest Vegetarian Alive” contest sponsored by an animal rights organization, simply loves animals and, regardless of whether or not she wins, Amanda will continue to spread the word about the benefits of vegetarianism.

“A friend introduced me to vegetarianism and showed me how the meat industries are mean to animals,” said Amanda, one of 16 finalists in the competition being sponsored by peta2, the youth division of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “She showed me videos on the PETA website, and after seeing them, I couldn’t eat meat because I was so grossed out.”

The contest is a spin-off of PETA’s “Sexiest Vegetarian Alive” contest, which is open to adults and has been running for five years, according to PETA spokeswoman Marta Holmberg. There are separate junior contests for both men and women.

This year marks the second time that Amanda, who moved to Westhampton from Stratford, Connecticut last summer, has entered the contest. She did not make the finals last year. But this year Amanda bested 1,700 other female contestants in reaching the finals. If she beats the remaining 15 contestants, Amanda will win a “Cutest Vegetarian Alive” sash, a package of vegetarian goodies and a chance to model a peta2 T-shirt.

Ms. Holmberg explained that peta2 holds the contest in order to raise awareness about vegetarianism in general. She added that there has been growing interest in the competition, noting that there are a large number of “cute and compassionate vegetarians out there.”

Though she decided to enter the contest in order to show people that it’s not a “bad thing” to be a vegetarian, Amanda says she has faced some adversity in her decision to go meat-free.

“People’s comments about vegetarians are the hardest part,” Amanda said. “They’ll tell you ‘Oh, don’t you want a steak? They’re so good.’ A lot of people hate vegetarians.”

Amanda said that before she became a vegetarian two years ago, she didn’t think about the consequences of eating meat. “The two things that grossed me out the most were about red meat,” she said. “Red meat rots in your colon and it makes your body odor smell worse.”

In addition to no longer missing meat, Amanda said she now feels healthier and likes the idea that she is doing a good thing for herself every day.

Amanda’s father, Richard Groves, said he is very proud of his 15-year-old daughter being a vegetarian. He added that he originally thought that the diet would only be a fad for Amanda, but he’s happy she stuck with it and stands by her convictions.

“I eat a lot of pasta and vegetables,” Amanda said about her diet. “I’m not a huge fan of tofu, but I do like tobu rings. I’ll eat anything as long as it doesn’t have meat.”

Amanda explained that a tobu ring is tofu mashed-up with vegetables and then fried into mini pancakes that are then dipped in soy sauce.

Mr. Groves noted that Amanda has helped their entire family—her stepmother Liz, her 16-year-old sister Melissa, a junior at Westhampton Beach High School, and her 6-year-old half-sister Bridget, who attends school in Connecticut—eat healthier. He explained that they now plan “vegetarian nights” and often frequent vegetarian restaurants, including one place in Hicksville.

To enter the contest, Amanda had to send peta2 basic information and pictures of herself as well as what she described as “random facts”—tidbits about herself such as that she doesn’t like mushrooms or bad shoes. “Running shoes, for some reason, are just so ugly to me,” Amanda said.

She also told organizers that she “always is trying to make people smile and laugh, especially if they’re having a bad day,” and that she is loves trying new hair colors. Amanda’s natural hair color is dark brown, but right now she describes it as “pink with brown underneath and a couple of random colors mixed in.” She said she also has had orange hair, as well as a mixture of blue, green, purple and pink.

“I don’t go for natural-looking colors,” Amanda said. “My personality is really fun and I like my hair to express that to the people who don’t really know me.”

Teenage girls are the largest segment of the population who become vegetarians, according to Ms. Holmberg. She noted that high school and college students are members the fastest growing segment of people who are going vegetarian. Ms. Holmberg said she sees this trend “more and more with the people who attend peta2’s conferences and respond to the organization’s e-mails.”

Ms. Holmberg explained that contestants had until March 19 to enter this year’s competition. Amanda said that peta2 officials had contacted her before the deadline to express interest in her application.

“It was no easy task to narrow down the finalists,” Ms. Holmberg said. “Of the 3,500 entries, we had to narrow it down to 32 people—16 girls and 16 guys. We had a special peta2 panel go through all the entries and the finalists range from people who have been vegetarians for 10 years to those who have been vegetarians for just a short while.”

On Wednesday, April 23, peta2 will announce the two winners of the contest, one male and one female. Until then, the finalists go through four rounds of online voting in which the number of contestants will decrease from 16 to eight to four and eventually two. The first round of online voting ended yesterday, April 9, and the second round runs until next week. The final two days of voting will be completed just before the winners are announced.

As for Amanda, she said she will continue caring for animals and advocating vegetarianism regardless of the contest’s outcome. Amanda explained that her rabbit Sophie, who she also affectionately calls Beluga due to the animal’s large size, had been abused before being rescued by a woman in Connecticut. She added that Sophie was “really sketchy” when Amanda first adopted her.

“I’m a peacemaker and I don’t like being in arguments,” Amanda said. “And I’ve always had a passion for animals.”

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