It’s a sunny Tuesday morning in downtown Santa Cruz, and Star Sevedar is gardening in a cement lot, trying to beautify his friends’ front yard. Passersby stop and ask him questions about what he’s planting, and Star enthusiastically responds. He pushes back his fisherman’s hat, revealing piercing blue eyes that are even more striking than the enormous beard that covers most of his face.
“That’s an avocado, that’s a rosemary, and that’s a fig,” he tells me excitedly. “Figs are very interesting, because I guess they’re very ancient, like dinosaur days. Where the tree meets the earth, there are fruitless suckers that grow out, and they produce leaves, but they never bear fruit, so they’re really just taking energy from the tree. But a nursery person can propagate new fruit-bearing trees from those suckers.”
This is Star Sevedar: a vegan activist who spends his time handing out pamphlets around town, practicing “guerrilla gardening,” and waxing philosophically about his own destiny. He’s a vegan who hates dogs because they’re too rough, a would-be stereotypical hippie who can’t stand drug use, and a preacher of peace and love who can sometimes repel people with his zealous tendencies. Because he has no strict schedule, Star is free to ride the bus all over the Santa Cruz area, attempting to convert others to veganism. Asking around, it’s startling how many UCSC students are familiar with Star — and how many have less than praiseworthy things to say about a man few know much about.
Star knows and thinks a lot about nature. He also thinks about this world in general, and what’s beyond it, and what his role should be while he’s here.
As we walk towards the Metro center I remark that he’s very all-hands-on-deck, which he responds to with gusto.
“I don’t want to be a solo hero,” he says. “That doesn’t really work. Even saints and superheroes in history that are acknowledged as great, like Jesus had disciples helping him. I’m trying to get everyone to wake up to their own sainthood.”
Star grew up in the Los Angeles area, and suffered physical and sexual abuse from his family members, a misfortune that he said led him to the decision to abstain from eating animals or using any type of drugs.
“I just didn’t lose my purity. I wanted to stay pure,” he explains. “A lot of these adults around me were into various toxic addictions. I didn’t want to be like my parents — that’s why I chose to be vegan and straightedge, because they abused children and were horrible people.”
Upon reaching the age of 18, Star legally changed his name and left his parents’ house forever. He traveled around California and the world, learning about veganism and spirituality, and he ended up in Santa Cruz right after the earthquake of 1989. He stayed because he appreciated the open-minded culture and stunning visuals, he said.
About a decade ago, Star spent two years providing what he estimates to be about $200,000 worth of vegan food to the Kresge Trailer Park. He collected some of the food from farmers’ markets and grew some of it himself.
Star is passionate about guerrilla gardening, a practice which involves growing gardens in public spaces without permission, as well as veganism.
“I influence many folks to decrease meat consumption,” he said in an e-mail before we met. “If just us Americans reduced meat consumption 20 percent, all humans on earth would be fed well with grains freed up from wasteful cycling through slave animals’ flesh.”
His job handing out pamphlets also puts him in contact with a lot of students. He met world literature major Janet Ramirez — “Janet of the planet,” as Star calls her — during their commute from Bonny Doon.
“When I first met Star, his presence was overwhelming. He was in between homes and was a bit flustered with life,” Ramirez said in an e-mail. “Star and I are good friends now. He is an excellent networker and keeps up with me, though I know he is usually on the move.”
However, not all students respond to Star this way. I’ve heard tales of Star irritating and harassing students, and some students try their best to ignore him.
On our way to the Arboretum, Star hands a girl a pamphlet. She takes it, but her eyebrows scrunch together and she shoves it carelessly into her bag in a way that makes me doubt she’ll be taking it out to read anytime soon. Still, Star insists that his interactions with people are mostly positive.
“Rarely does someone make a rude remark,” he says. “I always make friends. I try to make new friends everywhere I go.”
One such friend is longtime vegan Toni Longely, a fourth-year environmental studies major. Longely said Star introduced her to vegan-friendly places around Santa Cruz during her first year here, including farmers’ markets.
“[Star] is intensely passionate about veganism and having as little negative effect on the planet as possible,” she said. “He just cares so much, and that intensity scares people a little bit … He’s a really great guy, and I sometimes wish people would see that in him.”
We arrive at the Arboretum bus stop, where Star has recently planted some trees. He shows me the tiny plants, buried under so many weeds that I never would have noticed them otherwise, and I ask him if he’s happy with his life.
“I’m a happy soul, but I’m having to pit my happiness against the unhappiness of the world,” he says. “This world is kind of warped and twisted backwards, upside down, and inside out, and opposite of the way it is supposed to be, because people are doing too much unlove.”
Star believes that humans are “what make the world horrible.”
“Human minds are full of negativity, so they create a world of negativity,” he says. “Every bit of love and kindness makes a big difference in a person’s life.”
He points to his baby oak tress.
“I’m proud of these,” Star says. “They’ll provide shade for people someday.”
To contact Star, call him at (831) 425-3334 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.