When she was just three years old, Genesis Butler was so devastated to learn the truth about the origins of her beloved chicken nuggets that she immediately stopped eating meat. At six, when she discovered the milk she drank came from mother cows, the knowledge prompted a commitment to a fully vegan lifestyle.
Genesis has been an animal rights activist ever since those defining moments. At age seven, she attended her first protest, presented her own TEDx Lecture on animal rights at ten, became a Marvel Superhero at 13 on the Disney+ series Marvel’s Hero Project, and is now a board member for Social Compassion in Legislation, an advocacy group attempts to protect animals through changes in legislation. She also founded the nonprofit Genesis for Animals to offer much-needed support to animal sanctuaries and rescues. Civil rights activist Cesar Chavez’s great-niece even urged the Pope to adopt a vegan diet for Lent in 2019.
Despite her impressive resume, the 14-year-old animal rights activist and ethical vegan from Long Beach, CA, recently found herself ejected from the UN Food Systems pre-summit. The overall goal of the Pre-Summit was advertised as the UN Food Systems Summit to “reaffirm its commitment to promote human rights for all and ensure the most marginalized groups have an opportunity to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from the Summit process.” The event was conducted using a hybrid format, resulting in a combination of in-person and virtual participants. While attending the public meeting via Zoom, Butler questioned the panel’s lack of a plant-based milk expert and expressed concerns regarding the environmental impact created by the dairy industry. She, as well as others voicing the same opinions, was promptly removed from the conversation.
Butler stated that she is worried about her future on this planet. Among other negative impacts, animal agriculture contributes to our climate crisis by releasing CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, approximately three times more than plant-based milk. Vegan diets are proven to have a significantly lower carbon footprint. Butler cites that “it makes the most sense to push for nations to switch to plant-based milks because they are more sustainable than milk from animals.”
Lara Pappers, Head of Communication for ProVeg International in London, found it “very disappointing” that the dairy industry will not take “critical questions seriously.”
In an Instagram post after the incident, Genesis expressed her disappointment, calling the refusal to discuss more sustainable alternatives during a public forum discouraging. “Our leaders are still focused on an animal-based food system, and they are trying to greenwash it.”
The public Zoom forum, titled “Raising the Climate Ambition for the Global Agricultural Sector: An Approach from Dairy,” was hosted by the Global Dairy Platform, whose purpose is to “accentuate the dairy industry’s positive impact on global food systems”.
As an informal, pre-summit event, the session was not overseen by the UN Food Systems Summit Secretariat, Paul Newnham. Upon receiving the news of Ms. Butler’s removal from the meeting, the secretariat reached out to request a live Instagram interview with her. He stated that the pre-summit had been intended to be the “people’s summit to hear from everyone.” Butler was happy to oblige. The following day, Genesis was allowed to have her say without fear of being silenced.
The UN Food Systems Summit took place on Thursday, September 23, 2021. The virtual event was promoted as an event that “will serve as a historic opportunity to empower all the people to leverage the power of food systems to drive our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and get us back on track to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030”.
Genesis remains optimistic in a newer Instagram post after the interview. “As the summit approaches next month, I really hope they continue to discuss the impact the meat and dairy industry has on the planet.” She would like to see more people talking about ways plant-based food could help the environment and influence climate change. “I know we can’t move away from an animal-based diet overnight, but we have to at least start working towards it because we are at a critical period in time, and we can’t wait any longer.”