Pope Francis offered $1 million to go vegan for Lent

New campaign will make huge donation to charity if Pope adopts a greener diet for six weeks

Images of 12-year-old activist Genesis Butler

Veganuary reached huge numbers of people this year but its organisers are appealing to just one person with a new campaign. In a bid to take the vegan message global, they are asking the Pope to give up meat and other animal products for Lent – in exchange for a $1 million donation to a charity of his choice.

The Million Dollar Vegan campaign, which launches today, is encouraging Pope Francis to commit to greener eating at a time when Christians traditionally fast or give up certain luxuries. Lent begins in a month’s time on Ash Wednesday, March 6, and ends on Easter Sunday, April 18.

The scheme is the brainchild of 12-year-old activist Genesis Butler, backed by Veganuary creators Matthew Glover and Jane Land, and supported by, among others, Hollywood star Joaquin Phoenix, environmental campaigner George Monbiot, naturalist Chris Packham and our very own Paul McCartney. The MFM founder said: “We have a responsibility to act now to minimise our impact on this planet – for our children and future generations who will inherit what we leave behind.” Butler is the great-grandniece of Cesar Chavez, the American labour and civil rights leader, and is following in his activist footsteps, having presented her first TEDx talk at the age of 10.

In a letter printed today in national newspapers in 15 countries and signed by the famous names above and many more, Genesis calls upon the Pope to “help fight climate change with diet change”. If he does take the vegan plunge for the six weeks of Lent, it will hopefully inspire the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to follow suit. A report last year said people should be eating meat less than once a week and that going vegan is the “single biggest way” we can reduce our impact on the Earth. Where to spend the prize money, donated by the Blue Horizon International Foundation, will be down to Pope Francis alone, however.

Francis is already one of the greenest Popes there has been, having published his second encyclical, Laudato si’, on the subject of the environment in 2015. Drawing his attention to how the issues he highlighted in that missive are directly connected to meat eating and our industrial farming practices, Butler writes today: “Farming and slaughtering animals causes a lot of suffering and is also a leading cause of climate change, deforestation, and species loss. When we feed animals crops that humans can eat, it is wasteful. And with a growing world population, we cannot afford to be wasteful.”

Glover said: “We are thankful that Pope Francis has spoken out on these issues 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.” He added that the “bold, audacious campaign” was designed to “jolt our world leaders from their complacency”.

If the pontiff chooses to take part, those eager to join him on his vegan odyssey can download a free Vegan Starter Kit from the Million Dollar Vegan website, offering tips, recipes and general inspiration. A petition has also been set up to call on the Pope to lead by example and accept the challenge.

Sign the petition to encourage Pope Francis to go vegan for Lent. Download the Vegan Starter Kit from the Million Dollar Vegan website.