International Women's Day
An interview with Genesis Butler
March 7, 2023
Genesis Butler is a passionate environmental and animal rights activist and one of the youngest people to ever give a TEDx talk. Genesis is currently leading the Youth Climate Save movement, the first youth-led environmental organisation that focuses on animal agriculture’s impact on climate change and aims to give all young voices a platform. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organisation, Genesis for Animals, which raises funds for sanctuaries around the world.
Genesis, I think it’s true to say that most people love animals and yet most people also still eat them. And I think it’s also true that we all love this planet, yet we continue to destroy it. Why do you think that some people come to make the conscious choice to follow a plant-based diet, while so many other people don’t?
I think some people make the choice while others don’t because they really start thinking about the impact that their diet has either on the planet, the animals, or both. When I talk to people about going plant-based, I talk to them about the different reasons to go plant-based and I can tell which one they are most interested in just by the way they are reacting to what I’m saying, so I’ll stick to that reason and talk to them about it more.
Some people care about animals while others care about the planet, so when they’re educated, they will keep thinking about it and make the switch because they don’t want to cause harm to animals or the planet. There are also people who won’t make the switch even after becoming informed. I’ve talked to thousands of people about going plant-based and it seems like the people who don’t switch to a plant-based diet are the ones who feel like it will make their lives harder, so they continue to eat animals and animal products.
I love the story you tell about your mom hiding in the closet eating a dairy chocolate bar after you had both decided to go vegan. Genesis, how do you feel about flexitarianism? And vegetarianism?
As an ethical vegan, I would never promote a flexitarian or vegetarian diet, but if people tell me that they are flexitarian or vegetarian, I will thank them for making a conscious effort to not eat animals and animal-based products. I also let them know that if they do decide to go vegan, it might be a bit hard in the beginning but then it gets easier, especially since vegan food is more accessible now than it was just a few years ago!
What are the greatest challenges involved in following a strictly plant-based diet?
For me, it used to be a challenge when I started following a strictly plant-based diet a decade ago, back when there was only one kind of vegan cheese and the only burgers I could eat were veggie patties. My mom really had to find recipes to make for the family, and we could never eat out. This has all changed, so there aren’t any personal challenges for me when it comes to being strictly plant-based. I think when it comes to many other people, the greatest challenge is still accessibility. People can eat grains and beans that they can access, but I know a lot of people still want to have variety and eat the foods that they’re used to.
For example, even in California, where there are lots of vegan options, there are people who don’t have plant-based foods they can choose from at their local grocery stores or they can’t afford plant-based options. I speak at the Watts Boys and Girls Club and have talked to youth who tell me they never see vegan options at their local stores and their parents can’t afford to buy vegan food. We need plant-based food to be more accessible in order to make sure people can go strictly plant-based without it being a challenge.
Why do you think that so many more women and girls follow a plant-based diet compared to men and boys?
This is a tough question! I don’t want to say that men and boys have less empathy but it seems like when it comes to following a plant-based diet, they don’t really mind that they’re eating animals. I also think that a lot of men think that they won’t get the protein they need if they eat a plant-based diet or that they won’t be as strong. My 13-year-old brother is vegan and people tell him he’s weak when they find out he’s vegan, but then he proves them wrong by showing them what a powerful athlete he is!
Finally, I recently rewatched the Ted Talk that you gave when you were just ten years old, and I just have to ask two last questions: is your confidence and bravery something that has always come naturally or do you have a secret strategy? Do you have any advice for people who want to speak out on issues but feel too nervous to do so?
One thing people are surprised to find out about me is that I am super introverted! Speaking doesn’t come naturally at all. I always get nervous and a bit uncomfortable before I have to speak. My secret is thinking about the animals and how uncomfortable they are all the time. They don’t have a choice, so the least I can do is be brave for them and speak up. For the people who want to speak out but feel too nervous, I’d say give it a shot and just think about all the reasons you are doing it. It really gets easier once you start speaking out.
The opinions expressed here are the respondent’s personal opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of ProVeg International.
This interview as lightly edited for clarity.