Last year, 21-year-old Kerri Morris was a finalist in the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals-sponsored Cutest Vegetarian Contest.

Now, the Eastern Kentucky University political science senior has beat out hundreds of entrants across the United States and Canada to become one of 16 female finalists in PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian Next-Door.

The contest is a spin-off of the organization’s annual Sexiest Vegetarian Alive competition, which was won this year by American Idol winner Carrie Underwood and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno band leader Kevin Eubanks.

The Pike County native said she found out about the contest through a bulletin PETA posted on MySpace.

“The main reason I decided to enter is because I greatly respect PETA and the work they do for animals,” she said. “My dream is to stand up for animals in a huge way and at the same time promote a healthy lifestyle.”

“PETA contacted me about being a finalist a week ago, and I was ecstatic,” Morris said. “I immediately called all my friends and family to let them know the good news.”

Through a head-to-head competition in several rounds, the winner of the contest, who will receive a vacation to Maui and a bundle of vegan food, will be announced in mid-March.

Round one voting can be done until Monday, Feb. 18, at PETA’s Web site, www.GoVeg.com.

“I made the decision to stop eating animals and using animal products about four years ago,” said Morris, who is a member of the Residence Life Council on EKU’s Student Government Association. “All my life I have felt strange about eating meat, but when I began to learn about the horrors animals endure in factory farms, I couldn’t continue to eat meat without a guilty conscience.”

Leaving meat out of her diet also allowed her to shed nearly 20 pounds and never feel better, said Morris, who has a “Meat is Murder” bumper sticker on her vehicle.

“Being vegetarian is easy,” she said. “There are so many meat-free options in restaurants and stores now, like vegan burgers.”

“Spending time on EKU’s campus has been a great way to talk to people about the contest and encourage them to make me the next Sexiest Vegetarian Next Door,” Morris said.

To vote, go to www.GoVeg.com.

Bryan Marshall can be reached at bmarshall@richmondregister.com or 624-6691.

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