Watch out, Gwyneth Paltrow! When it comes to maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle — all while looking red-carpet ready — Shanti Urreta has you beat.
The 58-year-old Mahopac author and health coach recently caught the eye of PETA Prime, the animal rights organization’s online community for baby boomers, during its annual “Sexiest Vegan Over 50” search.
“A friend of mine sent it as a joke to everyone in our group,” Urreta laughs. She entered the contest, shrugging it off when she hadn’t heard from PETA — until the day she received a letter naming her one of the competition’s top 10 finalists. “That was pretty amazing!” she says.
The local beauty contended with other vegans throughout the country who embodied “sexy” qualities, including “compassion, altruism, fitness, and enthusiasm,” according to the site.
A veteran educator — she taught grade school in the Peekskill City School District for 20 years — Urreta became committed to vegan nutrition in 2001 after being misdiagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.
“I was guided toward a plant-based diet,” she says. “Fortunately, five weeks later, it was found to be a misdiagnosis — but there was really no going back after that.”
After becoming discouraged with grade-school curriculum’s approach to farming — “I knew I couldn’t explain factory farms to the children,” she says — Urreta retired from teaching and set off to become a public speaker and certified health advisor with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.
Her new path also inspired her to write a book, Dear World, See What I See, in which she imparts lessons she’s learned throughout her vegan journey. Urreta now leads workshops and seminars throughout the lower Hudson Valley in the effort to promote a more peaceful and compassionate way of living — and eating.
“Oh, there are so many [great vegan recipes]!” she says. “Recently, my favorite meal is a wrap. I make bean burgers with cashew ‘cheese’ sauce, and I put it in a wrap with strawberries, apple, and some spinach… It’s just heavenly.”
For those considering a vegan lifestyle, Urreta shares this advice: “Do it now, because when you finally do it, you’re going to regret not having done it sooner!”
Eating healthy and living a more compassionate life? We’d say that’s pretty sexy.
Meet Urreta at upcoming appearances, including a screening of Cowspiracy (Dec. 7, 6:30 p.m.) and a two-part workshop series called “Transition to Better Health” (Dec. 15 and 22, 6:30 p.m.); all events take place at the Mahopac Library. (View full calendar here.)