In this week’s installment of the Spotlight Series, we bring you a conversation with Rachel Parent, a Toronto high school student who’s not drawn to designer labels – she’s drawn to food labels. Rachel has been recognized for her work as an Emerging Leader by the The Clean50 Summit in Toronto, named one of Toronto’s Environmental Heroes by Now Magazine, recognized as one of the Seven Kids Saving the Planet Right Now by ELuxe Magazine, and included in Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 Change Makers by the National Post. Check out a few highlights from our conversation with Rachel below!
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get involved with the GMO conversation?
I first learned about our food system when I was 12 years old. It was sort of coincidental actually. I was given a task in Year Six to give a speak about something I wanted to talk about. I could write about anything I wanted. So I started thinking about issues like poverty or deforestation, because I knew I wanted to choose an issue to write about that affected a lot of people. Ultimately, I realized that our food system was integrated into all of these issues. Our food system contributes to deforestation, poverty, animal cruelty, and so many other issues I was thinking about. Food affects every level of our lives whether we realize it or not.
I didn’t think this was as big of an issue as it is at first. But in my research, I came across genetically modified foods and learned about the environmental and health implications associated. I also learned that GMOs are not labeled on many foods we purchase, and I just felt like I needed to do something at that point.
I didn’t know what that would be yet. But I did know that it was my responsibility to stand up for myself, for the planet, and for everyone around me.
So I started a Twitter account to talk about this as my first form of action. It was small at first, but then started to grow into organizing a march, and then starting a website, and ultimately founding Kids Right to Know.
Kids Right to Know is a nonprofit that seeks to inform youth about their rights to make informed, healthy, and environmentally sound choices about their food, with a focus on educating them about the need for labeling of GMOs. We are committed to inspiring young people to take action and take this kind of decision making into their own hands. We want them to think of themselves as citizens, and to choose citizens over corporations whenever possible.
I didn’t know what it would be yet. But I did know that it was my responsibility to stand up for myself, for the planet, and for everyone around me.
What’s your earliest memory of activism?
I think that project when I was 12 years old was my first solid and complete memory of activism. But the first form of activism I was involved with was actually when I was really young. We had just moved into our home and there was a large problem with deforestation in the area. I was probably 2-3 years old when my parents brought me to a City Council meeting, and I remember getting really upset about the developers and local politicians. I think I sort of gave them a piece of my mind! Or however you can do that when you’re that young.
Then when I was 6 and learned to read, I’d log on every day to websites like Change.org and would sign as many petitions as I could. Every single day I did this. I’d have to lie about my age to even go on these websites, but I knew then that it was a way for me to better the world, even in a really small way. Whether or not I made a difference with those signatures, I knew I wanted to get my voice out there.
Why do you think it’s important to engage young people in this issue?
Everyone, regardless of age or background, has a role to play in the activism world. But I think youth, especially have an important role to play, because we are the future. This is our planet. We are being handed a planet filled with many issues that mankind has never seen or dealt with before. We’ve been given the responsibility to take care of it.
I’ve had so many people say to me, “It’s not my problem, we’re handing this over to your generation now. This is your responsibility.”
That can be an incredibly overwhelming thing to hear. But this is the time to take that responsibility and to create change. We have so many tools at our fingertips that allow us to connect with people all over the world working on similar issues. We can collaborate globally in a matter of seconds in a way no one else has been able to do before, and that gives me hope.
This is an exciting time to be a young person. It’s an exciting time to be an activist and to have an ability to make change.
Whether we are on Twitter or at the front of a march, we have the tools we need to make a difference and we know how to use them.
What’s one obstacle you’ve had to overcome as a young activist?
No matter what form of activism you are involved in, you are always going to face adversity in your work. Roadblocks are always going to get put up. I’m not going to lie, activism can be a difficult road but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Of course it’s challenging to start a nonprofit at such a young age, and speaking / being in front of people and being expected to do certain things – but I absolutely LOVE this experience. No matter the obstacles you face, no matter what anyone says or does – keep doing what you believe in. At the end of the day, every action adds up.
It’s also important to find your community and to find where you fit in. I wasn’t always shown support in school or by my peers, but once you find the right group of people to work with – who believe in your mission and who want to leave the world a better place – everything starts to come together.
If you could give one piece of advice to other young activists, what would it be?
Whether you are doing internet activism or are on the ground working with people, you just need to do your best and take care of yourself through it all. It’s so easy to get burnt out as part of the activist movement. So take things one day at a time, find ways to accomplish as much as you can, and take care of yourself. That is so important.
We have to realize that through our everyday actions, we are impacting the world that we are going to see 10, 20, 30 years from now. So the biggest thing is to keep inspired and stay motivated. As young people, we have a great ability to affect change now more than ever.
Let’s think of our world as under construction. We can build the world we want to see if we realize the impact we have every single day.
If you are interested in getting involved with Kids Right to Know, or Rachel’s newest project, Regeneration International, she is always looking for help and support on her campaigns. You can reach out through her website to let her know you’d like to get involved.
Thank you to the International Congress of Youth Voices for helping SLP to reach Rachel!
The International Congress of Youth Voices unites students, ages 16 to 20, from around the world to learn with and from accomplished writers, activists, and elected officials. Founded by author Dave Eggers (co-founder of 826 National) and nonprofit leader Amanda Uhle, the inaugural event took place August 3, 4, and 5, 2018, in San Francisco. Youth delegates came to us from the United States, Iraq, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Syria, Ireland, Australia, Iceland, Burundi, Honduras, Cuba, Denmark, Venezuela, Zambia, and Nepal.
Politics of the world affect young people as much as anyone else, and they have little to no voice as major decisions are made. The Congress was founded as a means to amplify their ideas and energy and to unite young people for a weekend of collaboration. Student delegates are chosen based on their commitment to leadership and social justice and their passion and eloquence as writers. The event is designed to provide a path to leadership for all delegates and represents a continuum from students who have exhibited potential in local writing and tutoring programs to writers and activists who have already made notable achievements at a very young age.