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"I Want to Be President": Meet the 12-year-old Girl Challenging the Pope to Go Vegan for a $1m Charity Donation

Repulsed by the thought of where chicken nuggets came from, Genesis Butler chose to go vegetarian at age 3, and vegan at 6. By age 10 she had become one of the youngest people to give a TEDx Talk. Now, she’s making international headlines for challenging Pope Francis to go vegan for Lent in exchange for a $1 million donation to charity.

Next? She has set her sights on the White House. 

Standing shoulder to shoulder (figuratively, at least) with A-list stars like Woody Harrelson, Joaquin Phoenix and Paul McCartney, the 12-year-old is among the high-profile veggies calling on the pontiff to ditch animal products for the Christian observance of Lent as part of the Million Dollar Vegan campaign.

In an open letter directed to the head of the Catholic church, Genesis spoke of how "farming and slaughtering animals causes a lot of suffering and is also a leading cause of climate change, deforestation and species loss.” 

genesis butler Genesis Butler is challenging the pope to go vegan for Lent. Supplied

While most 12-year-olds have little concept of who or what the pope or veganism is, and wouldn’t fathom making demands of the head of the Vatican City State, the startlingly driven young girl understands exactly why he is the perfect target for her message. And she has no qualms about pontificating if it helps to achieve her goal, which, she declares on her Twitter profile, is to “get the world to go vegan!”

“I have been an activist since I was 6, and I am constantly looking for ways to reach more people and promote veganism worldwide,” she told Newsweek. Fighting for justice, it seems, runs in the blood of the 12-year-old whose great-grand uncle was American labor rights campaigner Cesar Chavez. 

If the schoolgirl does manage to persuade the pope, and influence even a handful of his 1.2 billion followers to eat more plants, she could affect real-world change. If all Americans turned vegan, according to a recent study published in the journal PNAS, not a single person would go hungry. 

She hasn’t heard back from the pope or his team, yet. But Genesis still brims with characteristic optimism. “I am confident that he’ll reach out and accept my invitation to try veganism for Lent. He is one of the most powerful leaders in the world and has the responsibility to do what’s right,” she says.

Genesis Butler chicke Genesis Butler says she swore off meat after she learned of the origins of chicken nuggets. Supplied

Genesis herself committed to vegetarianism, she explained, when she was 3 years old. “I asked my mom about where we got our chicken nuggets from and she told me. When I found out that we had to kill animals for them, I stopped eating meat,” she says matter-of-factly.

“A few years later when my mom was nursing my little sister, I asked her where my milk came from—and found out it was from a cow. I didn’t want to drink a different species’ milk, so I went vegan at age 6.”

She emphasized it was “easy” to go vegan: “There are so many options now—I even get to eat vegan versions of chicken nuggets, my favorite."

And she’s already scored some impressive successes in persuading others to follow her example. Her line of attack was simple, she says: “I tell people about the role they can play in saving our planet; it’s up to us to do something about it, now.”

“I’ve inspired my family to go vegan, along with a few of my friends,” she says.

 It appears that dealing with people seems to be harder than quitting meat and dairy.

“My friends ask some questions and sometimes people pick on me,” she says. “But I know I’m doing the right thing, and that makes me confident. Plus, I get to introduce them to delicious vegan food.”

The 12-year-old has her work cut out for her if she plans on turning the world vegan. A recent Gallup poll found that despite the efforts of campaigners like Genesis and the lifestyles led by aspirational celebrities like Beyoncé and Jay-Z, and Serena Williams, only about 3 percent of the population is vegan, up from 2 percent in 2012, and 5 percent is vegetarian, according to the Gallup poll. 

But she’s undeterred. Asked for her message to those who want to go vegan but can’t fight their cravings for meat and dairy, she simply states: “When you eat animal products, you’re contributing to the suffering of animals and to the problems surrounding animal agriculture and climate change.”

"It helps the planet. It saves animals. It can help address world hunger," she adds. 

So, what does the future hold for this impressively driven 12-year-old? Pennsylvania Avenue, of course. “I want to be president when I grow up,” she says. “And in the meantime, I want to continue my activism and inspire as much change as possible.”

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