PETA’s ‘lettuce diplomacy’ arrives in Havana with vegan message for Cubans

PETA "lettuce ladies" take trip to Cuba

PETA “lettuce ladies” take trip to Cuba from Fort Lauderdale International Airport on Feb. 28, 2017.
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PETA “lettuce ladies” take trip to Cuba from Fort Lauderdale International Airport on Feb. 28, 2017.

Wearing bikinis covered with lettuce, two PETA “lettuce ladies” arrived in Havana Tuesday to spread their animal rights and eat vegan campaign.

They caused a flutter at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport before boarding a JetBlue flight for Havana and they did on arrival in Cuba, too. They plan to spend the next few day delivering $1,000 worth of veterinary supplies, spreading the vegan message at private language schools and giving out canine treats to Cuban street dogs.

The lettuce ladies “are a fun way to teach about going vegan. People were excited to see them,” said Ashley Byrne, a spokeswoman for PETA, an organization whose mantra is “animals are not ours to eat or abuse in any other way.”

The lettuce women carried robes and TSA agents “insisted they put them on” while they were going through security screening, said Byrne, who accompanied the ladies to the island and has herself been a lettuce lady on other occasions. As they proceeded through the airport, they slipped the robes on and off their shoulders.

Carrying green suitcases that proclaimed “Vegan ambassador to Cuba,” the women went to work before the flight even landed, distributing Spanish-language vegan starter kits to some of the passengers.

“The kits have recipes and advice that make it simple for people to start a vegan diet,” said Bryne, “and the recipes are geared toward foods that we know people like to eat[in Cuba] — beans, rice, plantains.”

Vegans do not eat or use animal products of any sort as opposed to vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products.

Passengers and even some airport employees at José Martí International Airport in Havana wanted to snap photos with the women, said Bryne, and they managed to distribute even more vegan materials at the airport. “It’s been a full day already,” said Bryne in a telephone interview from Havana.

It’s PETA’s first foray into Cuba, but lettuce ladies have spread their vegan message far and wide, including an appearance in front of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington.

They chose Cuba for the campaign because the island is now more accessible.

“We started discussing this as soon as restrictions on travel to Cuba were lifted,” said Byrne. “We’ve taken this campaign around the world and we absolutely wanted to take it to Cuba.”

The PETA representatives traveled to the island under the humanitarian support category — one of 12 permissible categories the U.S. government allows for travel to Cuba by Americans.

“We have not discussed our plans with the Cuban government,” said Byrne. The Cuban Embassy in Washington didn’t respond to a Miami Herald query about PETA’s plans.

The lettuce ladies will stay in Cuba until Saturday spreading the message that going vegan keeps animals off the plate. On Wednesday, they planned to start distributing veterinary supplies to Cuban animal clinics they had previously contacted.

They also will be distributing the vegan starter kits, vegetable-shaped pens and stickers to Cubans and tourists in Old Havana. And if a stray dog shows up, they have treats for them, too.

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi