By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
ROME – First, she wrote a letter that’s now been published in major newspapers around the globe asking the pope to go vegan for Lent. Now, she’s knocking at his door asking for a meeting in person so that she can make her case directly to him.
For 12-year old Genesis Butler of California, her high stakes bet to get Pope Francis to go vegan for Lent in exchange for a million dollar donation to a charity of his choice should be a no-brainer.
“It would mean a lot to me. He would be able to help both animals and the planet, and in Laudato si’, he talks about climate change and animals, and as a leader, he should show leadership on this issue and become vegan for Lent,” she told The Tablet outside of St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday.
Butler arrived in Rome over the weekend, along with a team from Million Dollar Vegan, a campaign to promote plant-based diets as a solution to environmental challenges and the inhumane conditions of factory farming by targeting influential individuals and institutions to join the cause.
While this may be her first time in the Eternal City, she’s no stranger to high-profile activism.
At age six she turned vegan and began organizing demonstrations against Ringling Brothers for their use of animals in the circus. By age ten, she became the youngest person to give a TEDx talk describing how she gave up her favorite meal of chicken nuggets in order to “help animals, and also the earth, too.”
Oh, and it’s probably fair to say activism is in her blood since she’s the great-grandniece of Cesar Chavez, who rallied for the rights of farm workers.
In her six years of activism, she’s interacted with celebrities and academics alike, all in the cause of promoting veganism for the sake of, in her words to Francis, “tackling one of the largest underlying causes of the problems we face: animal agriculture.”
Enter the Million Dollar Vegan campaign who reached out to her last year in hopes of getting her to serve as the face of their cause. After agreeing to come on board, she helped the team write the letter to Pope Francis pleading that he get on board, too – at least during the 40-day penitential season leading up to Easter when Catholics are already required to abstain from meat on Fridays.
While she’s not Catholic herself, Butler said her grandmother and great-grandmother, along with her great uncle Caesar Chavez, were all practicing – with both her grandmothers being big Pope Francis fans – and in general, the religious community has been eager to discuss animal welfare with her.
Among her peers, she says she’s met with a mix of intrigue and resistance.
“Some people want to hear about animals, others the planet, and others health,” she said.
Butler told The Tablet that she tailors her case for veganism to the audience she’s talking to – and the source of resistance.
When it comes to those concerned about the environment, she recalls her meetings with leading scientists who have told her that climate change is “happening quicker than predicted…and the number one thing you can do to prevent it is by going vegan.”
When she talks to those interested in the health aspects of it, she reminds them that a plant-based diet helps reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
While she believes that kids her age have been slow to take these concerns seriously, she believes more and more they “are speaking about veganism and the planet,” even though it’s been uphill.
“They’re kids and think that this isn’t really our thing, and that adults can take care of it, but most of them are starting to figure it out,” Butler said.
“Most like this campaign and have been supportive,” she added.
Should the pope choose to lay off his beloved Argentine beef and dulce de leche gelato, she recommends a Lenten diet of “vegan empanadas, because I’ve heard he really likes them.”
Vegan macaroni and cheese, vegan tamales, and vegan tacos are on her shortlist, too.
While the Vatican hasn’t officially responded to her request, the campaign is still at work with various contacts to try and make the meeting happen, and Butler will be in the pope’s general audience on Wednesday in hopes that she can present him with a petition of signatories encouraging the pope to jump onboard.
Until then, one can find her sampling vegan gelato throughout Rome.
“It’s just the best,” she said.