At 18, Jennifer Thornburg is already getting yelled at outside chicken restaurants, swaying school policy and making a name for herself in the activist community. A few months back, peta2, the youth arm of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, bestowed an Outstanding Activist Award on Thornburg after she interned for the group last summer.
The Asheville High senior pressed her school to change its dissection policy, making it possible for students with moral objections to the practice to complete other projects instead. She formed the school’s Animal Rights Club, and she and her fellow activists hold monthly protests outside KFC restaurants and petition local fine-dining destinations to stop serving foie gras.
But she still misses bacon.
Mountain Xpress: What made you switch to vegetarianism?
Jennifer Thornburg: Back in seventh grade, I was in a science class where we were all forced to dissect a chicken, which is really what opened me up to the fact that when you sit down to dinner, you are actually eating an animal.
How did you start as an activist?
It was lots of fun. It was my first protest, so I didn’t know exactly what was happening or how it was going to work out. I just showed up at KFC and held a sign and let people yell at me. It went really well.
When you were working to change your school’s dissection policy, was there a lot of resistance?
The biggest resistance, surprisingly, came from students. Many of the students felt as if I was just trying to get out of doing work, and that the change wouldn’t be for the better of the science department. All except for one science teacher were very supportive, and that one science teacher did come around in the long run.
Are you finding a lot of people your age who want to be part of this?
A whole bunch of students are interested in animal rights, or in becoming vegetarian or vegan, or want to go out and do protests. And the biggest block for most of those students are their parents, who aren’t supportive. Many parents tell them they cannot go vegetarian or vegan until they move out of the house.
Do you think living in this area influenced your awareness of the animal-rights and activist community?
Definitely. Asheville was just very supportive. It would have been a lot more difficult if I didn’t have these alternatives available to me and all the health-food stores we have here. I got to travel through Nebraska and the Midwest this summer and realized how many vegan options we have in Asheville.
Then the activists, as well. Right when I was about to give it all up just because I was having a hard time, I got in contact with the Asheville Vegetarian Society and they were very supportive. They were good at getting me active and out there on the streets.
Who do you think are the worst offenders as far as animal rights?
I think that one of the worst things as far as animal products is actually dissection because, at least at the high-school level, it’s so pointless. Animals are being killed for really no reason, because there’s just much better alternatives.
Do you eat at and patronize restaurants that serve meat?
I do, yes. I mean, I shop at Ingles and Earth Fare and they all sell meat, so it would really be hypocritical to say I won’t eat anywhere except Rosetta’s and the Laughing Seed.
Is there any form of protest you think is going too far or that drives people away?
Well, I think if you get violent, then you’re going to be turning people away, so you have to make sure you stay very polite in what you are doing. And obviously I do not think you should be burning down buildings or anything to that extent—that’s going way too far and should never happen. There are peaceful ways to have change occur, and those are the ways people should strive for.
What are your plans after graduation?
I’d like to eventually go into culinary school, but not right away.
Is there some food that you miss that you haven’t been able to find a substitute for?
I’d like a better substitute for bacon. I think that’s really the biggest thing that comes to mind.