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The Rise of Young Activists | Genesis Butler

The Rise of Young Activists | Genesis Butler

Like the song says, the children are our future. And as our planet faces dire challenges, youth involvement in activism is more important than ever. So how do we inspire young activists to spark change?


Genesis Butler is only 14 years old, but she’s sparking change that will span generations.

As a teenager, Genesis Butler was the youngest person ever to give a TEDx talk where she spoke on the negative impact of animal agriculture on the environment. Some say her instinctive need for change comes from her DNA. As the great-niece of civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, Genesis is no stranger to activism. At just six years old, she decided she no longer wanted to eat animal products. Then she inspired her entire family to join her in the vegan lifestyle. She carried that passion with her throughout her youth, and is now a well-known speaker championing change and inspiring the next generation of activists. 

I was so stoked to speak with Genesis, not only because of her plant-based lifestyle, but about how we can collectively inspire young people to get involved. Essentially, she gave me the formula to inspire more young activists. Genesis is a real-life example of walking the walk. Her non-profit Genesis for Animals is a platform for her animal activism. And she has been getting schools all over California to incorporate more plant-based meals into their lunch programs. As involved as she is, Genesis understands that meat production is directly related to the climate crisis. And she works tirelessly to educate other young people and activists about this as well.

Activism is not just for old hippies like me, guys. We must get the young people involved. Young activists are so effective at inspiring real actionable change. In fact, I was blown away by the number of young people that reached out to me after Down to Earth aired on Netflix. They all wanted to know what they could do to get involved. Well, to all those that reached out, listen up. Genesis is going to tell you how to do just that.

  • [00:11:42] How to inspire the younger generation to go plant-based
  • [00:13:38] Awareness to spark change
  • [00:17:53] Turning awareness to action when it comes to climate
  • [00:22:48] The impact of group activism
  • [00:32:24] What Genesis hopes for the future of activism

Youth Climate Save

Genesis for Animals

Follow Genesis on Instagram – @genesisbutler_

Follow Youth Climate Save on Instagram – @youthclimatesave

Watch Genesis Butler’s TEDx Talk

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Episode Transcript

Darin: You are listening to the Darin Olien Show. I’m Darin. I spent the last 20 years devoted to improving health, protecting the environment, and finding ways to live a more sustainable life. In this podcast, I have honest conversations with people that inspire me. I hope that through their knowledge and unique perspectives they’ll inspire you too. We talk about all kinds of topics, from amping up your diets to improving your well-being to the mind-blowing stories behind the human experience and the people that are striving to save us and our incredible planet. We even investigate some of life’s fatal conveniences, those things that we are told might be good for us but totally aren’t. So here’s to making better choices in the small tweaks in your life that amount to big changes for you and the people around you and the planet. Let’s do this. This is my show, the Darin Olien Show.

Darin: Hey, everybody, this is Darin Olien. This is The Darin Olien Show. I am stoked you are here. Yes, I am. We have a special guest from a lineage of activisms and strength and her name is Genesis Butler. I think at the time we were recording, 15 years old. She is the youngest person to be given a Ted Talk. Listen, her lineage, blood, and her being, the spirit, the soul, her great uncle was civil rights leader, Cesar Chavez. That’s right, Cesar Chavez, who is around equality, around farmers. He fasted. He took on that passive powerful idea that Gandhi had. He was there for the equality of farmers. And in 1962, he founded the National Farm Workers Association later to become United Farm Workers or UFW. And he was joined later by Dolores Huerta and the union was born. Obviously, you’ve heard of Cesar Chavez before. Well, I can say, coming from that lineage, Genesis Butler is no joke. At 10 years old, her vision for healing the planet was born to discussing the negative impacts of animal agriculture, on the environment. Yes, that’s right, 10, as a leading voice of the generation and an activist. She was concerned about the climate crisis. So Genesis has spoken at many events worldwide including Seeds and Chips, Global Food Summit, and Environmental Media Association Summit. She has won several awards for activism including 2018 Lisa Shapiro Youth Animal Activism of the Year, and PETA’s Youth Hero to Animals Award and was also featured in Marvel’s Hero Project on Disney where Genesis was named a real-life superhero. That’s right, I talked to and you’re gonna listen to a real-life superhero. Genesis has been fully vegan since she was 6 years old and convinced her parents and 3 siblings to go vegan as well. She is the founder of the non-profit organization, Genesis for Animals, which raises funds for sanctuaries around the world. Come on, can you hear it? Can you hear the spirits of the animals? Can you hear your spirit rejoicing at the thought of Genesis Butler and the activism and the energy that she is holding and holding for a better world, a better planet. This was a shorter interview. We had time constraints, but you will love hearing this sweet but yet incredibly powerful force of nature. Enjoy this conversation with my good friend, Genesis Butler.

Darin: Well, thank you for coming on. I look forward to talking with you.

Genesis: Thank you. Me, too. Thank you for having me.

Darin: Of course. So you have been busy. How old are you still?

Genesis: 14.

Darin: 14, got it. And yeah, you’ve been active for a big part of your life. Talk to me about you became a plant-based vegan, activist. What happened to have that happen? Were you awoken to this awareness and then got involved?

Genesis: Well, when I first became vegetarian, it was when I figured out about where I was getting my food from. And then when my mom told me that it was an animal, I just didn’t want to eat them anymore because I will always think chicken nuggets but I didn’t think it was the actual chicken. And then when she told me, I was like, I don’t want to eat this anymore. So then we went vegetarian, me and my mom. And then after that, I started wondering about the milk because she just had my little sister. So I was like, well, my milk isn’t from her, so it’s from somewhere else. So when she told me that it was from mom cows, I was like, I can’t drink this anymore. So my whole family went vegan with me. And then after that, I got into activism because I wanted to do more for the animals. And then I became an animal rights activist. And then after animal rights activism, I figured out about the climate. And then I became a climate activist.

Darin: Because it’s all connected, not to mention health, the humanitarian aspect of taking care of animals, not killing them. And then it’s all connected and how those systems are set up, as well as the destruction of those systems or a better system in general. So the fact that your family kind of came along with you, that’s pretty powerful. Because even I have my mom that still doesn’t follow what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years, that can be either a challenge or a massive support. It sounds like it was a big support for you. You basically brought this up and they said, yeah, we’re gonna do this with you.

Genesis: Well, for my mom, mainly, she was right away, like she was really happy about it. And my dad, he was also really happy and he’s really supportive. So if I do something, he also does them. But at first, because he grew up eating these products, so he’s like, how can I live without them thinking like he’s gonna eat grass or all these weird things. But then when he realized there were so many different things that we can eat. And then I started taking him to sanctuaries. And when he was actually around the animals that really helped him to really realize when these animals are going through so much, if they actually have emotions, they feel it, which he didn’t know about before. So he was really supportive and he was really on board after he was around the animals.

Darin: Yes, isn’t that amazing? Just like you said, a chicken nugget that you don’t associate anymore, it’s just this thing that you’re eating. And you don’t really realize that it was a living being at that point and so it can shut you off. But then when you get back in touch with these animals, and they have their unique personalities, and their living creatures wanting to live just like you and I, then it can help people. So what do you think are the biggest challenges to waking people up in this sense? So what do you think the biggest challenges are to that, especially with your generation? And then also after that, what are some things that people can do to kind of take more action?

Genesis: Well, I know for youth, a lot of the youth want to make a difference and go plant-based, but their parents aren’t really supportive or like their parents won’t buy some of those products. So I think if there is any parent that won’t do that, if you go to the grocery store, there are options and options of all these vegan foods. So it’s really important to not only support these companies because we’re voting with our money. So we’re buying these other products that aren’t good for the environment. We’re saying yes to what they’re doing. But if we’re buying these plant-based products, we’re saying yes, and keep on going. So I don’t that’s one struggle for youth. And then for older generation, I know that some of them either simply just don’t know, or they’ve been eating these products for so long so it’s like if I’ve been eating for so long, why change or why should I do this? So I think when you really educate yourself about these issues, it can really open your eyes to a lot of things and help you.

Darin: You know, we’re dealing with old systems, right? These factory farms have been going on forever, planting food for animals, and then using pesticides and herbicides, destroying the environment, the soil, harmful for even animals to eat, let alone just this inhumane way of growing. And then you kind of look at– most people don’t want to even acknowledge that that exists. And so when you actually start looking at it, I don’t know how any person could really say that’s a good thing. And so what do you think is the most powerful way? I even asked myself this question every day that people can be aware of what’s going on, or really just from your perspective, you’ve spoke to a lot of people, you’ve educated people, you’ve brought them videos and shared your experiences. What do you think is the most powerful way of getting people’s awareness to this stuff, and then ultimately, to change?

Genesis: I think when people do activism and they kind of meet people where they’re at because when you talk to someone, I kind of think when you– because we have all been at a point as someone else who eat animal products unless you’re vegan since birth, but not a lot of people are right now. I have two siblings and they’ve been vegan since birth. But I think that when you kind of like meet someone where they’re at because you were once like that, and you once ate these products, if you talk to them, and you can tell that they really like the climate, tell them facts about the climate, or tell them why switching to a plant-based diet can help. Or if they like the animals, talk about all the suffering that’s happening to the animals. Or for their health, you can give facts about health so that it can really help people. You can support them with that because you once ate these products, you were once like them.


Darin: Yeah, and using that empathy where you can understand that they’re in the place that they are, like most of us, we were eating this culturally and habitually, we were eating all these things. But then once you become aware, like yourself, it’s hard to go back once you’re aware of these systems that are detrimental for our health, for the environment, and for the animal itself. I mean, that’s the biggest kind of education to this whole thing. From your perspective, I really want to change systems, of course, educate people, and getting everyone to wake up, but we need to also create different systems to make sure that we’re, like you said, voting with our dollars is going to change the trajectory of things, but it’s also getting back to the kindness, the empathy that we have. And I think that, like your example of your dad, when you really start to look in the eyes of another sentient being, an animal, we’re not fighting for our lives, we have food. We are not in the middle of a jungle, we have choices. So we don’t have to choose to kill in order to be healthy. I’m kind of rambling but there’s a funny thing. I talked to this PhD in metabolism and he kind of blew my mind. Very, very smart guy. And he said, do you want to know really what metabolism is? I said, yeah, like the real truth. I said, totally. He said, energy, photonic waves come from the sun. They hit the green plants, and they create carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. And he goes, and on a cellular level, when you’re eating these things, your body has to break that down and eventually liberate the sun’s energy, so that you can gain that energy. So I was like, so wait a minute, from your perspective, then it doesn’t really make sense to eat an animal because it’s an inefficient process to breaking down the very thing that you’re ultimately getting, and that is the sun’s energy. And he was like, yeah, I never really thought about it that way but that’s correct. Because ultimately, we’re gaining energy for our life, ultimately, from the sun. And these plants have gained it along the way, and we’re breaking that energy so that we can actually utilize it. And I never saw it from that perspective. So it’s kind of like, eliminate the middleman, you don’t have to use animals’ death, in order to have the life energy that’s ultimately coming from the sun. I think that blew me away when I heard a PhD talk to me about that. So what is your biggest mission right now? And also, if you could change, or if you could speak to people, my generation, older generation, or even in the middle of you and me, what would you say is the most important thing for us to start to do moving forward? Because it seems like a lot of people are locked in their ways, and the earth has gone through its changes, the world’s going through these changes, what do you think is the message that we need to kind of take action on? And what’s the most powerful actions to take?

Genesis: Well, right now the thing that I’ve been focusing on the most is this climate save, which I started doing quarantine for a lot of youth who are talking about the climate and how agriculture has a role in climate change. So I started this, and we have 80 chapters around the world. And that’s been like my main focus right now. But I think that that’s one really effective form of activism is like joining groups because youth, our voices are so powerful, and they’re so effective. So I think that’s really important to keep on building up these groups. And for people that want to start to get involved, I think joining groups can help because you having a support system can really help because when I first became an activist, there wasn’t very many youths. So sometimes you can feel alone but if you know that there are others that have the same goal, like you can feel really hopeful because right now I kind of feel like there’s so many different things happening in the world every single day, there’s something new, and they can get really overwhelming. But if you know that there are people that are fighting for this, it can help make you feel really hopeful, especially when I see youth fighting for these causes. It really helps because youth right now are really stepping up and they’re starting to act like world leaders, and it’s starting to make world leaders realize that they really need to step up and play the role of them being leaders because if we’re having youth that are trying to make a difference, and we want a thriving planet to live on, I think that it’s making leaders really change but I think also for people that want to get involved just supporting people and like supporting groups, either following them on Instagram or like sending positive messages, that can also help.

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Darin: Yeah, so these groups, I want to learn more about that because when we filmed Down To Earth, the first season, I had tons and tons of kids that reached out that weren’t necessarily in your camp of activism. They were just aware of a few things, but not really taking action. They reached out in huge waves. And then I was kind of sitting there going, what should I do, there should be a place where they can go. So I’m excited about that. Now you and I are connected, learning more about what you’re doing because we know that the world is going through a lot of changes. We know that the systems that are in place need to change. And this is literally the time to create the future now. We literally have to. There’s no more excuses. So with your groups, so you said you have 80 groups around the globe? That’s incredible. How many kids do you think that that equates to, thousands?


Genesis:  Yeah, I think there’s a lot right now because we either will start chapters, and then there’s other youth that will join people’s chapters if they’re in that area, or just having a chapter alone. But I know that there’s a bunch of youth and we keep on getting youth that are reaching out because we want to do something but we didn’t know how to start, but I think having this group is really a great start to get youth involved.

Darin: Yeah, so what is the groups doing? What’s the mission? And what are they doing to move forward and what’s required for them to get involved?

Genesis: Not really much is required, I think you just have to be open-minded to switching to a plant-based diet because that’s really what we’re focusing on. But we do like mash videos a lot of youth and we’ll say different sayings that have to do with Earth or if there’s something important that you want to speak up about, we will do that. And those get a lot of shares and they get out to a lot of people. And we’ve been doing beach cleanups a lot lately, either in our local area or we’ll invite people. We want to get out and do rallies and protests but as of right now, we haven’t started that, but we’ve been doing some beach cleanups. But there are different actions. Whenever we find out about something, we will kind of brainstorm because we have meetings weekly. And then we’ll figure out what are some things we can do or if there’s like days coming up, we’ll post about world elephant day and say facts about elephants or just whatever we can really do that is just online right now.

Darin: Right. And I think the most important thing, like you said, is this community, this like-minded community gathering together. And if anything is more clear, that is clear. And that is a powerful and that movement going forward and be able to– because now with the isolation of all of this world, it’s important for us to find our tribes. It feels good just to know that you have these commonalities within people and then being able to take action. Do you have desires of policy and government pushes and things like that? It starts to come up all the time, but also on the same side, I don’t feel like government does a lot of significant changes. It really comes from the groundswell of what you’re doing. So what are your thoughts on that?

Genesis: Well, right now we’re working to pass a bill to get plant-based foods in all schools in California. We’re working on this because there’s been a lot of meatless Mondays, but those are all cheese heavy and they’re not really good options or like climate-friendly, so we’re trying to get more options like that out. And with me, I work with social compassionate legislation and they lobby and they get different bills passed. So I work with them, that was before COVID. I’m working with them a little bit right now but it’s kind of hard because we would travel to Washington. So with COVID, it’s kind of hard. But right now we are working on trying to get plant-based foods in all the schools around California.

Darin: That’s great. And where is that process at and what’s the biggest hurdle so far?

Genesis: Right now we’re just trying to get people to support this. And the only thing is just for people to think what are they going to do for the companies that are producing the products that have meat and stuff in it? Like the farmers. What are they going to do with them? But we’re trying to figure out different ways so that we can not make them feel threatened, in a way. So that they can feel comfortable with this bill.

Darin: Yeah, you know, that’s the thing. It’s like, whenever you’re changing these systems in place, there are some real people who have been farming this way for a long time and they’re connected, and there are things, their crops and animals, their futures have been bought. And so when you start changing those things, there’s natural resistance and fear. And so that’s really where the transition needs to be. And yeah, it’s a very important transition. It’s not just a light switch. These things have to move and be looked at in every direction, not to mention the systems in place now and we need to meet together. Have you been able to feel like you’re getting significant changes in that way? And have you had any schools that have taken that on?

Genesis: Well, for my school, I go to a Social Justice School, and every now and then, they will have plant-based options, but it’s kind of hard for them to get them because they go through regular school lunch programs. So I’m still bringing my own lunch but I know that my principal is working on that. But I think that I have been seeing a lot of changes and I know that there are a lot of people that are switching to a plant-based diet. And that makes me really happy when I see that because one person can make such a huge difference because it’s kind of like a chain effect. If you tell one person why it’s so important, that can really change their mind. Then they can tell another person and change another person’s mind. So it’s kind of like a chain. So, I think that’s really effective, and that’s what makes me really happy – seeing that people are changing.

Darin: You know I’ve been plant-based for 17 years or so. And I’ve never taken the position of forcing anything on anybody. There’s enough of that going on in the world where there’s shame and all of these things. Education is important and revealing what’s going on, but then letting people kind of make their own choices, but have more information because it can get- especially in the extreme vegan world, it can get pretty intense. And there can be a lot of judgment. And from my perspective, we don’t need any more of that. What are your thoughts on that? Tell me a little bit about your own journey. Did people think you were weird? Like, ‘what are you doing’? When you’re meeting someone for the first time and some kid says I love meat and all of that, what’s your position on all of that?

Genesis: At first, when I first became an activist, there weren’t very many forms of activism around me, but the form that I really focused on was where you would take fliers and give them to someone, and they will read them or they’ll have the different messages on them. Like I would do a lot of circus protests. So there wasn’t really many forms, I guess. But I really loved the form that I was working on. But now I’m really switching to like speaking at different events or doing Instagram posts where you find it safe. But when I first went vegan, it wasn’t super common, I guess. People weren’t as accepting. They still kind of have stereotypes. We walk barefoot everywhere, we’re hitting this, you have trees and like we dance in circles but it’s not like that. You are just making choices that are good for everyone, that are good for the environment, and I guess your health and are good for the animal. So I think that’s a huge win-win. But when I first was vegan, there would be kids and they will just make comments like, oh, I love meat, or I still get them every now and then. Or the main one kind of was like, I love bacon but I mean those have really affected me just because I knew that they didn’t know so if I could talk to them, I would and I would do whatever I could. But one time there was a boy and I always remember this and he would bring like bacon pancakes. And this day he brought just a bunch of bacon. I was eating like avocado sushi, and he’s like, that’s disgusting, what are you eating? And I’m like, I would be disgusted if I was you because you’re probably eating the big butt, and then he stopped talking to me after that. So that was like the only thing but after that, no one really ever said anything and now youth are like really happy when I tell them that I’m vegan. They’re really supportive about it and they think it’s really cool. So I think that that’s really awesome that people are more accepting.

Darin: That’s it. Number one, it’s a great comeback that he’s probably eating the pigs butt. So that shut him up fantastic, good on you. And it’s great to hear that kids are resonating with that. And that there’s that movement because it’s extremely, extremely important. And what do you think the majority of the kids, do you think many are completely just not thinking about it? Do you think that there’s more thinking about it? And if so, what do you think that percentage is?

Genesis: I think that a lot of kids now are more caring because we’re seeing everything that’s happening with the climate, and we’re feeling it. The climate just keeps on changing, and it’s getting hotter, and it gets colder, so we’re feeling this. But I think that a lot of youth right now are getting really worried and that’s why there is a lot of youth taking action now because we feel like we can’t just sit back and watch someone else do this because a lot of youth are either like introverted, or it’s kind of out of their comfort zone because I’m actually very introverted. But if it’s for the climate, I know that I want a thriving planet to live on so I will fight for it. So I think that a lot of youth have like that, if we want a thriving planet, we can’t just keep on waiting for someone to do something. We have to be those people that are doing something about it.

Darin: Yeah. And I, like you, I think that once you start taking an action, it’s hard not to keep going. It kind of fuels you more, and you start grabbing the people around you. They start getting inspired, and that it kind of creates that snowball effect. What do you see that’s happening in the next year? What would you like to accomplish? What would you like to see because I want to support you in that as well? Because I have my own certainly from a health perspective, it’s without a shadow of a doubt, eat plants. And from animal rights activist side of me, I don’t believe we need to eat meat at all, for any health whatsoever. And I just love the fact that you’re moving in this direction. So I want to help you in every way possible. What do you want to accomplish? And what kind of future do you want to see in the next– hell, things are happening so fast maybe in the next year even? Let’s start there.

Genesis: Well, I hope that there are more people that are switching to a plant-based diet because that’s really helping right now. But not only that but to start activism and to educate yourself because education is very powerful. And I think that sometimes things can feel really heavy, especially with everything that’s happening in the world. But if there are more people, and we’re all lifting it together, it’s not as heavy. So I know that we can do this, it’s just that we have to keep on changing people’s minds and telling our stories because everyone has a story and it’s very important, it just needs to be told. I think that it’s very important just to keep it up and if you’re not already doing this to start because we can all start somewhere.

Darin: That’s a good point. We all feel like, well, I have nothing to say, I need to wait until I do something in order to say something. We all have purpose, we all have passion inside. And listen, we all have to get to a point where we have to start deciding for ourselves away from even our parents are believing what they believe in, our friends, our family, our siblings, but really it’s looking at ourselves and understanding through education, through awareness, through finding other peer groups that are helping move the space forward. I think it’s extremely important to gather and create change like that. So on getting the plant-based movement going from the peers, what do you think is the best, like through awareness, through kind of leading through your own action? And how can people get involved and websites and everything else? How can other youth who are listening to this get involved?

Genesis: Well, youth can join Youth Climate Save and we have different chapters if they want to join in a chapter. But I think Google has so many things. It has so many answers to whatever questions that you have so that could help, like if you want facts, that can also help but also books. I know there are a few, just look them up the climate books. Those also really help or like documentaries like What the Health or Cowspiracy. Those also really helped because it’s a lot of facts that you can use to tell other people.

Darin: And Down to Earth, of course, Seaspiracy that just came out. That’s incredible. And the fishing side of things. There’s definitely a movement happening. There’s definitely awareness happening and it’s so exciting to know that you are leading and moving and pushing towards a better planet, I’m so stoked. So how can people follow you on Instagram and websites and stuff? What are those?

Genesis: Well, my Instagram is @genesisbutle_. And then I have Youth Climate Save, and that’s just @youthclimatesave, that’s on Twitter and Tiktok, it’s the same thing. And then I have my nonprofit, Genesis for Animals, and I donate money to sanctuaries. So whenever there’s something like wildfires, I really donated to a lot of them.

Darin: Yeah, that’s awesome. What would you say now to people listening, even it doesn’t have to be kids, it could be anybody who may be on the fence and deep inside they know that they don’t want to kill animals, deep inside they know that they can take better action for their health and eat more plants. What would you say to those people that are listening right now?

Genesis: I think that I would say that if there is a youth that want to switch, and their parents aren’t super supportive, let their parents know why they’re so passionate about this and give them facts or whatever they know. For a lot of parents, I know that they want their kids to have a thriving planet to live on. So if you tell them bad stuff is happening to my planet, and I want a thriving planet for me and for future generations, so if you tell them that, more than likely, they’ll change because it’s like, I want you to have a thriving planet. And then for adults, I think just supporting other youth or supporting people that are doing this work can also really help because I wouldn’t be to where I’m at today if I didn’t have people that are supportive.

Darin: And the cool thing about you is you had a deep awareness early on in your life. You’re willing to take action on it through your conviction. And then you did have loving family to support you in that and I love your organization can be that extended family for people that maybe their family doesn’t want to switch but your organization and others can be that extended voice and support for people who are wanting to follow their heart, follow their passion, and to get activated into changing the way we’re doing things. And I really applaud you and it’s been such a pleasure to talk to you here and get to know you.

Genesis: Thank you.

Darin: Yeah, so we’ll get connected, and we’ll get all this in the show notes. And I’m excited for what you’re going to do.

Genesis: Sounds good. Thank you.

Darin: What a fantastic episode. So tell me, what is one thing you got out of today’s conversation? If this episode struck a chord with you and you want to dive a little deeper into my other conversations with incredible guests, you can head over to my website, for more episodes and in-depth articles. Keep diving my friends. Keep diving.

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