When Matt Lautner told his mom that he was becoming a vegan, she wasn’t sure how serious he was about it.
That was two years ago.
“I think I expected it to be little more than a phase,” said Amy Lautner. “But he has stuck with it 100 percent since the day he made the decision.”
Not only has he stuck with it, the 17-year-old junior at Wyoming High School has become a national leader in defending the rights of animals. He received the “Hero to Animals Award” this month from peta2, the youth division of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for his efforts.
“The award is nice, but what is really great is seeing the work I do and the work being done all across the country having an impact on the lives of animals,” Lautner said. “Hopefully this will show other young people that they have the ability to make a change for what they believe in.”
Vegans don’t eat anything derived from animals, including meat, dairy products and eggs. Approximately 6 percent of the U.S. population is vegan, according to a 2015 Nutrition Business Journal report. Those who choose a vegan lifestyle do it for ethical, health or environmental reasons. Lautner changed his eating habits after he watched a video that showed how cruelly some food-producing animals are treated.
“I decided that I was never going to eat another animal again,” Lautner said. He learned more from PETA, such as how much water and land it takes to produce eggs and milk, and to raise a cow.
“Animals consume so much grain,” he said (it takes up to 13 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat, according to peta2’s website). “If we feed some of that grain to people, it can help eliminate world hunger.”
That was the start of Lautner’s activism. He has stood outside grocery stores, educating shoppers about the benefits of almond and soy milk. He works as an intern with the Humane League, a national animal advocacy organization, trying to get vegan food into schools. Last fall, he was appointed to the peta2 Youth Advisory Board to help with national campaigns.
“Matt has been so creative in his mission to help animals,” said Danielli Marzouca, peta2 youth campaigns project coordinator. “He’s such a great kid, and we’re so lucky to work with him. We hope more teenagers will be inspired by him and will have the confidence to speak out.”
From 6 to 8 p.m. on April 13, Lautner will show the documentary Cowspiracy at Wyoming High School. It’s free and open to the community, and vegan food will be served.
“My favorite thing to do is to encourage people with vegan food,” Lautner said. “If I go to someone’s house and bring a dessert or an appetizer, I put it out there without anybody knowing it’s vegan. If they ask about it, I tell them what it is and all of its benefits — it’s healthier, they are saving animals and they are making an impact against world hunger.”
Some of Lautner’s favorite vegan foods are cashew milk ice cream, spaghetti with soy-based meatballs and black bean burgers.
“A lot of stores sell vegan food, and a lot of restaurants offer vegan options,” Lautner said. “For someone thinking about making a change, it’s not as hard to do as they may think. There are a lot of alternatives to the food you eat every day.”
Lautner said many people are open to listening about those alternatives — but not everyone.
“Some people aren’t receptive to it or they disagree with me, and that’s fine. Nobody is too rude or mean about it, and I’m not offended if somebody I’m with eats meat. That’s their choice.”
He wants to turn this passion into a career by working for an animal rights organization after college. This time around, Amy Lautner knows just how serious her son is.
“I won’t be surprised at all if he continues with it,” she said. “When he’s passionate about something, look out. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he’s pretty amazing when he puts his heart into something.”