Lean, Green, and Sexy: PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door may actually live next door

Sheena Spikes looks at vegan cookbooks with her husband; photo by Sujatha Venkataramani

Sheena Spikes looks at vegan cookbooks with her husband; photo by Sujatha Venkataramani

Of all the things for which Hyde Park is known–conservative economists, unorthodox architecture, and socially-challenged college students among them–sexiness has never been high on the list. The recent selection of Sheena Spikes as one of PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door finalists may be about to change all that.

Spikes went cold-turkey vegan from an omnivorous diet nine months ago with her husband Ryan, the night before a carnivorous “feast” they were to attend with friends. “It was hamburgers everywhere,” she shivers. The temptation was strong, but their commitment to the diet was stronger; both credit “Deep Economy,” a book about sustainable economics, to opening their eyes to the new lifestyle. While initially reading it for a better understanding of economics, Ryan was nonetheless deeply disturbed by the accounts of factory farming found therein–so disturbed that he and Sheena both vowed to at least try veganism. Spikes was inclined toward the diet for another reason as well: “I wanted to make sure I was in better health. High cholesterol, heart disease, cancer–they all run in my family,” she explains.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alum had little experience with cooking and found her options sparse at first. The early days were a monotony of peanut butter sandwiches as Spikes quickly realized the value of home cooking; now, she is a veritable chef, making many of their meals from scratch. “My favorite thing to make is pizza,” she says, “but we also make a lot of soups. And cookies! Pumpkin chocolate chip are the best.” The popular misconception that all vegans can eat are salads, nuts, and berries grates at her; if she hadn’t made the switch to veganism, she wouldn’t have learned to cook or been opened to the world of cuisine from which she now samples regularly. Chicago Diner in Belmont, Soul Vegetarian on 75th Street, and Handlebar in Wicker Park are her top picks for vegan-friendly restaurants in the city. She also shops at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, where the vegan options are plentiful. Still, their friends and family have yet to join the bandwagon, despite the vegan dishes the couple brings to reunions and get-togethers. “They say, ‘Wow, this is not bad!’” Ryan recalls, “That’s their idea of a compliment.”

When the 24-year-old found the contest advertisement on a PETA newsletter a few months ago, she applied and then quickly forgot about it until last Friday, when she was informed of her status as a finalist. Now she finds herself up against some stiff competition. “I didn’t get the memo that said clothing was optional,” she laughs, referring to most of the other contestants’ photos; while Spikes is featured grinning sweetly in a pink shirt, others are pictured sprawled nude across their beds or crawling through the sand in bikinis, shooting seductive looks toward the camera. But for Spikes, sexiness has little to do with nudity and seduction. “Sexiness just means having a passion for something,” she explains, “And I’m passionate about being a vegan.”

Still, she emphasizes, “Vote early and vote often.” After all, the winning contestant, determined when voting ends on March 11, receives an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Hawaii for seven days. And who wouldn’t want to flee Chicago’s long winter?

Vote for Sheena Spikes at www.goveg.com

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