Askville: Activist rising

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.

Jennifer Thornburg. Photo By Jon Elliston

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.


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14 thoughts on “Askville: Activist rising

  1. joe walsh

    I’m proud to know this young lady. I think it speaks volumes about her character that she chooses to be the voice of the most helpless among us. Kudos to her for heeding Ghandi’s call for “being the change you wish to see in the world”

  2. Fenian

    The dissection of animals was banned by the Catholic Church as a form of witchcraft in 1582. It was really all about science/versus religion. Now its all about science versus/animal rights. Yikes.
    Come on folks, its a CHICKEN!
    I am, however, glad to see this young lady finally getting the attention she so obviously has been craving these last 4 years at AHS. Everybody needs a little something.

  3. kayla rae worden

    Go Jennifer! I am so very proud of all the hard work you do for animals! Compassion in action is a beautiful thing! Others can find out how to get active here in the Asheville area at

  4. Jess

    Great job, Jennifer!! The people I met from PETA spoke highly of you.

  5. xvelouria

    I think what you did at AHS to get a dissection choice policy was really great. Fortunately, I never had to do any dissection in high school. Interesting semi-related topic… my 12-year-old sister just became a vegetarian by her own choice a few weeks ago after her class dissected a pig.

    Don’t ever let up! The animals are counting on us.

  6. laura arnheim

    Great job Jen! Hopefully this will be the first step towards eliminating dissection as a learning tool altogether in high school. Even in more advanced educational settings such as medical school; animal dissection is no longer used because simulated models have been found to be more effective for students. Why in the world would it then be necessary for high school students?

  7. Lara Hume

    Congrats on all your recent well-deserved fame. I’m impressed with your determination to improve the welfare of animals. It is amazing to me that our society tolerates (non-pet) animal cruelty and it’s unfortunate that the public remains relatively shielded from knowledge regarding such.

  8. Nam Vet

    Good for you Jennifer, you go girl! Yes, our traditional practice of killing and dissecting animals for our eating “pleasure” is indeed disgusting, and barbaric. I challenge anyone to tour a slaughter house and come out on the other side still OK with eating dead animal body parts. This process is cruel and again, disgusting. God made humans. God made animals. Especially the warm blooded mammal animals are closely related to us. Killing and eating them is almost akin to cannibalism. And to the poster above who referred to chickens as “only chickens”, when was the last time you wrung the neck of a chicken then “cleaned” it?

    People go to supermarkets and buy “meat” nicely packaged. But they do not connect this “meat” with what it really is. It is dead animal body parts. The animals or birds, were killed, then hung upside down and “bled”, then “cleaned” and dissected. Slaughter houses have an evil vibe of suffering and bloody murder. When you go to the supermarket and buy “meat”, you contribute to this slaughter of innocent animals just because you like the taste of their body parts. Think about it. Go to a cow pasture and look into the eyes of a cow. Perhaps you will come away with more compassion for them.

  9. Jodi Mann

    Jen you are amazing! Don’t ever let anyone tell you anything different than just that! The strong are those that speak up for the oppressed! You are a beautiful person and you inspire so many to create change. Our dear animal friends need more true activist just like you! You are so young and you have already saved so many lives! Keep up the hard work! You deserve all the praise that you receive!

  10. Doyle Phillips, MD

    Are you people aware that PETA has euthanized over 85 % of the animals they have “rescued” in that past 10 years? That is 85% of 17,000 animals, put to death by the organization that is promoting ethical treatment. Does a dead animal care if it is dissected?

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