Think veganism is asexual? Sacramento resident Linda Middlesworth kind of agrees.
The 71-year-old aerobics instructor and cancer survivor recently claimed top female honors in PETA’s Sexiest Vegan Over 50 contest. (Yeah, that exists.) But she says this is just PETA’s way of scintillating media interest for its pet causes. Well, color us fooled. Maybe that’s why this Q&A skips around from PETA purity tests to a questionable list of celebrity vegans.
Matt who? And all throughout, Middlesworth insists she never saw this coming. “I thought there was no chance of me winning, at all,” she says. “It was literally a shockeroo.”
We think she doth protest too much.
How did you hear about this contest?
Well, I knew they had this contest every year. I never dreamed I would be in it. … One of my friends said, “Why don’t you run for that?” And I said, “Oh, that’s ridiculous, I could never win that.” … And I did it kind of reluctantly because, for one thing, I’m not real fond of the sexy part, because really it’s about compassion and activism. That’s what it’s really about, but they use that because it gets people’s attention.
It got ours.
Yeah, I knew! Everyone who’s a compassionate eater or person is sexy to me. There’s no difference. (Laughs.) Everyone’s sexy who cares about something besides themselves, you know?
What was the—
It’s a worldwide contest, though.
I thought it was domestic.
I’m in shock too. Really, I’m in shock too.
I think I had the same initial reaction as you: “Isn’t it ironic that PETA is treating you like a piece of meat?”
Yeah, but it’s not really, because they’re using it to get media attention. … It’s just like they have the—you know, you can take six months of showers or eat one hamburger for the same amount of water—they have people nude behind a shower curtain to get the media.
What was the process like?
I’m not even sure when it started, but it felt like a very long time [that] everybody had to keep voting for you every single day. And so I would say to my friends, “I hate to ask you this, but can you vote for me more than once?” (Laughs.) I guess they did because I won.
The actual process of applying, what did you have to submit?
There was a series of questions. … And I answered all the right way. And then there was, submit a photo. … Let’s see, what else? They had a phone call with me, asking me questions, too.
So like a vegan fidelity test.
Well, they preferred that I understood the whole animal-advocacy position of our activism, because it’s really about that. It’s not just about, well, it is about veganism, because veganism automatically means you care about animals, if you are vegan. The word “vegan” came [from] Donald Watson in 1944, which is the year I was born. He decided the word “vegetarian” just didn’t cut it, because people were eating fish and eggs and dairy.
Got it. It’s not like there’s an evening gown portion.
(Laughs.) No, no. In fact, it’s very little to do with how you look. … I have a lot of passion for this movement. It’s the largest social-justice movement of our time, since the abolition of slavery.
You became a vegan 27 years ago and, at the time, it was motivated by health reasons?
Well, for about a week. And then a week later, I found out about the animals. One week after doing it for my health, I found out by reading Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation. That was it. And then it was the animals more than my own health. I mean, I wanted both. … I had heart disease. I had all this stuff. But I got rid of it by changing my own food.
Do you mind me asking what type of cancer?
I had thyroid cancer. … I’m pretty sure that’s why I had cancer, because of all the dairy I was eating. … I teach people how to replace the meat, dairy and eggs and have it taste wonderfully. … Lots of famous people are now vegan, which really helps, like Bill Clinton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Woody Harrelson and Ellen DeGeneres. … And then we have Matt what’s-his-name? He did that movie The Martian.
Yeah, Matt Damon’s a vegan. Ben Affleck is vegan. [Author’s note: While Damon says he supports veganism, neither he nor Affleck are vegan.] So you have all these famous people who are really helping the whole movement move forward.
And now another celebrity.
And now another celebrity, Linda.
(Laughs.) Right, right. I was like, “Who?”