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An interview with a Catholic millennial on faith and animal protection

StartFragmentRebecca is a first year student at Sonoma State University where she is majoring in philosophy.EndFragment

What prompted you to choose a plant-based diet?

At the beginning of my junior year of high school, I began writing a research paper on “Unnecessary Animal Cruelty in Industry” that introduced me to the topic from a scientific standpoint. Then I founded and presided over the animal rights advocacy club at my school beginning of senior year. For the club, I researched every way animal agriculture and animal use affected society. It became my job to know and teach others about these truths and that education allowed me to see the light. For both my own conscience and as an example for my school and club members, I had to walk the walk.

How did you learn or develop a special concern for animals?

Like many others, I have loved cats and dogs all my life, but I somehow left out cows, chickens and pigs. It took looking at the cows on the side of the road, sheep on the hillside, and watching a YouTube video or two that helped me to see what I personally had in common with these other beings. There is just no excuse for harming other life that is here with, not for us, and is innocent in every way humans can define it.

Did you grow up Catholic or in the Christian faith tradition? How has that impacted your lifestyle choices, such as becoming vegan?

Yes, I grew up as and am still a practicing Catholic and everything I have ever learned points towards expanding my compassion to all of God’s creation. My interest and study of eastern religion and philosophy also points towards compassion for all living beings. I always pray “that all people extend their compassion to all beings on the earth” because I have taught that my love is to be inclusive, not exclusive. I was taught that no being is beyond love and mercy. Nowhere in the Church do they indicate that this is limited to humans, “not having a soul” does not entitle humans to abuse other creatures. Politically, the Church stands up for the marginalized and impoverished and works to end world hunger. Since animal agriculture drastically affects hunger, it is my job to be vegan. I am actually currently working on a research essay on why Jesus would be vegan today.

How have you shared your concern with others? With your family, your friends, your classmates, or your teachers?

Just the same way I became informed and therefore changed my life in response to new facts presented to me, I have used the same approach in my community. Two of my best friends went vegetarian with me, and one of them also became vegan. My dad, as a man of science, is receptive to facts. I introduced him and many of my friends to essays, articles, statistic, videos, documentaries and several vegan events around the Bay. The greatest impact, however, is that which has been made with the Changing Our World (COW) club I founded and presided over during my senior year of high school. Each meeting we discussed a new way animal agriculture from a different perspective: scientifically, health-wise, economically, etc. An average of ten students and one to three teachers attended each monthly meeting. Teachers have been very interested in and impressed with the club’s success and presence.

How have they responded?

My best friend and I are still happily vegan together and my dad has gone vegan right along with us. He has lost 27 pounds and no longer takes blood pressure medication. He is very happy, intends to lose 10 more pounds, and tells anyone who asks the simple reason his health has improved. I have found myself in tears when students from school have shared with me about the lifestyle changes they have made due to my direct or the influence of the club. Whether it was little or huge changes, progress is progress. My personal favorite is when my feminism teacher Mrs. Dominguez, who attended three meetings, came and told me she would be vegan and raise her three year old daughter with this influence.

What advice would you give other teenagers who want to talk to their parents or friends about this issue?

It is very important to be compassionate and informative, not preachy, because most of us were not born vegan. Don’t blame people for what they don’t know, just let them know. Simply being a plant-based presence helps people become more normalized with it. Spread the word, stand your ground, and be compassionate.

In your view, why should a Christian be concerned about the treatment of animals?

Christians should be concerned with the treatment of animals because being Christian is promising to uphold a higher level of moral standing than society otherwise teaches is acceptable. The very essence of being Christian is being compassionate. Despite all the controversies, interpretations and misconceptions between Christians, and Christians with non-Christians, one thing is always true and that is that God is love. There is a reason Jesus is often portrayed holding a lamb. It shows that God stands for the poor, the victims and the weak. God is a voice for the voiceless, and Christians should live as closely to Christ as we can. Being Christian means being attuned to and concerned with others’ suffering. Being vegan means acting on this concern.

Does caring for animals relate to other social justice concerns? How?

Yes, this relates to poverty, discrimination, and concern for the environment among other social justice issues. For example, there are 795 million people starving, but somehow we manage to feed 9 BILLION cattle. Additionally, many factory farms are located near black and Latino low-income communities. These communities suffer from exposure to toxic chemicals and other toxins produced by factory farms. Finally, a burger takes 660 gallons of water to be produced, animal agriculture is responsible for 90% of deforestation, and is the largest contributor to climate change.

How do you plan to advocate for animals and live out your faith in the future?

I am currently in school to be a lawyer and intend on focusing on industrial law. With everything I have learned, I understand that animal agriculture is a structural and systemic issue. I want to work on changing the structure of society itself, specifically the laws that control society. Current laws make it difficult to expose the truth about factory farming. Anything that keeps the public from the truth is simply not right. While I study law, I will continue to educate myself and those around me through my faith and school.

Are there any tips you’d like to give to new vegans, especially young people?

Every generation acts on what the previous generation had ignored or thought impossible. Today’s youth care about civil rights, feminism, and environmental issues, and therefore it just makes sense to act on these values by being vegan! But honestly, I am vegan for my health and the weight on my back. I do it for my future children and their health and the world they’ll be living in. When my dad said he’d go vegan I cried because to me he was promising to stick around for me and for his grandkids. It means he loves me so much he’ll do whatever it takes to just keep being my dad. I saved him, but then again he’s saved me all my life, so it just seems right. Save your parents, save your children, save the world.

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