But it remains to be seen if the Catholic leader will accept the challenge.
Pope Francis has been challenged to go vegan for Lent, and if he does so, environmental campaigners will donate $1 million to the charity of his choice. The Pope has yet to respond to the challenge, which was just issued today by U.S.-based group Million Dollar Vegan.
The Pope is a high-profile target for this campaign because of his spiritual and moral influence over 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. He has been outspoken about environmental issues since taking office, publishing an encyclical letter in 2015 that urged people to make changes to "lifestyle, production, and consumption." In the same year he told the UN, "The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species." So, going vegan would be a logical extension of the stance he has taken.
Million Dollar Vegan was founded by 12-year-old Genesis Butler of Long Beach, California, who in 2017 was the youngest person ever to give a TED talk. She became vegan at age six and has been campaigning tirelessly for years, urging people to "fight climate change with diet change." Her campaign is backed by celebrities including Paul McCartney, singer Moby, actress Mena Suvari, and TV host Chris Packham.
In her letter to Pope Francis, Butler outlined animal agriculture's link to global destruction and how it is driving deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, mass wildlife extinction, and water pollution, as well as being cruel to the billions of animals "trapped inside factory farms who will never see daylight or be allowed to rear their young." She calls for action:
"Your Holiness, we must act. Moving towards a plant-based diet will have substantial environmental benefits. It will protect our land, trees, oceans, and air, and help feed the world’s most vulnerable. It can also benefit human health, as a plant-based diet has been proven to reduce the risk of many common chronic diseases, such as heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers."
The $1 million has been donated by the Blue Horizon International Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the Blue Horizon Corporation, an investor in plant-based foods that, according to the Guardian, is on a mission to "accelerate the removal of animals from the global food chain."
It will be interesting to see how the Pope responds to this challenge. It's difficult to imagine anyone walking away from an offer of a million dollars in exchange for 40 days of veganism, particularly someone as concerned with setting a moral example. Million Dollar Vegan's CEO, Matthew Glover, called it a "deliberately bold, audacious campaign" designed to "jolt our world leaders from their complacency." It certainly is that, and could have a profound impact on many people watching. Glover said,
"We are thankful that Pope Francis has spoken out and that is why we are humbly asking him to try vegan for Lent, and set an example of how each of us can align our principles of caring and compassion with our actions."