It would be right to term it as a bold, even audacious campaign. And it was launched by US based 12-year-old activist Genesis Butler. She offered Pope Francis $1 million to try vegan for Lent to save the planet. But then, Genesis is no ordinary girl — she is the youngest person ever to give a TEDx talk.
In a letter written to the Pope, the animal rights and environmental campaigner, with the help of the Million Dollar Vegan team, urged His Holiness to try vegan for Lent. In return, Million Dollar Vegan — the campaign behind the project — is offering $1 million to a charity of the Pope’s choice, should he pledge to eat a plant-based diet for Lent. The letter sent by Genesis highlights climate change and pollution, the inefficiency of animal farming and how it contributes to world hunger, the extinction of wildlife and the suffering of farmed animals. A host of celebrities like Paul McCartney, Bittu Sahgal, Ricky Kej, Sadaa Sayed, Adah Sharma, Kuntal Joisher, Sowmya Reddy, Moby, Chris Packham, Mena Suvari and Evanna Lynch have backed the campaign.
A Malayali campaign manager, Subrahmanian Santakumar, is behind the efforts to spearhead the campaign in India. It was not an easy task as he explains, “I face a lot of questions from meat and non-meat eaters about why we requested the Pope to go vegan for Lent? The answer is that the campaign seeks to highlight the devastating impact of animal agriculture. Farming animals has a great impact on global warming and is a leading driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss. It also causes suffering to billions of farmed animals. These are all issues that Pope Francis has spoken on in his 2015 Encyclical Letter, Laudato si'. Hence we hope that His Holiness would set an example.”
Subrahmanian had been in touch with the CEO of Million Dollar Vegan, Matthew Glover, and thus became a part of the world-wide campaign. It did not take long for Subrahmanian — a passionate vegan himself for nearly five years and animal activist for more than a decade — to immerse himself in drumming up support. “I had to liaise with Indian celebrities to support this campaign and it was not an easy job. Some celebrities readily jumped on the bandwagon, but a couple of them preferred to wait and watch and then decide. Some others said ‘no’, probably because of how the campaign is structured,” he says. However, he is happy with the positive reactions to the campaign and non-vegans trying to find out more about the tag line, ‘Help Fight Climate Change with Diet Change’.
At a time when climate change is a reality, this campaign seems to be the call of the hour. A major report published by the UN in 2018 warned that there were just 12 years to limit a climate change catastrophe, with drastic measures needed imminently to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C. Research by Oxford University has shown that a plant-based diet is the single biggest way to minimise our environmental impact....