She strongly believes that the food system needs urgent change and works with AFA’s lobbyists to ensure we take every opportunity to: increase plant-based accessibility, incentivize small farmers to adapt to the plant-based economy, advance ag worker’s rights, mitigate environmental & animal virus emergencies, reduce/eliminate animal deaths, all with an umbrella of specifying legislative money focusing on helping marginalized communities first.
She is also passionate about educating others on the what goes on under the hood of the American Food System from understanding how our taxes are used, to knowing true USDA production & stockpile details to understanding historical policy and legislation that brings us to a food system that she feels we absolutely can change if we centralize.
She believes that every street activist needs to get Political and take their street fight to the office of their politician. And through her online rants, on-stage speaking events, being a guest on podcasts, she helped create common language in the movement like: Food is Political, the Food System is Rigged, Cowboy Welfare, You can’t consume your way to liberation, Our Food System doesn’t operate off of supply and demand, livestock farmers are incentivized to over-produce, bailouts to livestock farmers wipe clean all losses including losses from Veganism.
She also is passionate about creating accessibility opportunities through legislation and through community service, whereby she helps kids, teens and young adults get access to vegan food. Something she learned during street activism is how many kids want to go all-in vegan, however these kids do not make the food decisions for their household. So often times they struggle emotionally because they are forced to eat meat/dairy.
Prior to her going full-speed to change the food system, she used to moonlight as a street activist known as Vegan BatGirl. She was one of the first people in the USA to use a giant stage light to project giant messages on walls back in 2017. People called this giant light that spanned 7 stories tall and 75 feet wide, the Vegan Batman Light. At one point she was doing these stunts 3-4 nights a week and traveling around the USA, perfecting her skills at only getting shut down 2x out of the 75+ police interactions in her BatGirl “career”. She’s had police drones follow her, police helicopters and more. She says, she loves being on the street as Vegan Batgirl interacting with people and if she could clone herself, she would be out doing activism every night.
But, like many of our members and people who come across these difficult truths about the food system being fail-proof to the livestock industry, she had to choose to hang up her “cape” and focus on systemic change.
Renee brings with her real life experience being married to a multi-generational Rancher and understanding the relationship that a Rancher has to the land, their animals, the concept of feeding people and how our US Food System supports those things.
On a macro level she knew that ranchers sometimes got stuck doing things that their parents and grand-parents did, that didn’t always align with their current beliefs or even adapting to modern food choices.
On a micro-level she really felt the struggle that a rancher has with the relationships they create with the animals they raise. Not long after she married Tommy Sonnen, she moved to his ranch in Angleton, Texas and embraced living a Rancher’s life immediately. She stepped in and started bottle feeding a baby calf named Rowdy Girl and instantly fell in love with all the cows as a result, having no idea her life was about to transform.
After witnessing time and again the baby calves going to the sale barn she became extremely depressed. That’s when a huge shift started happening inside of her and she realized that she needed to make some changes.
In October 2014, she went vegan as a result and began researching factory farming and the compassionate alternative, farm sanctuaries. She realized that there was another way and desperately consulted with leaders in the vegan movement, determined to do whatever she could to create sanctuary out of what was once a cow/calf, beef cattle operation in the heart of Texas cattle country.
Her determination led her to understand how to transition her own farm and then because of that her story was spread across the world. This media attention drove many other ranchers to reach out to her desperate for help to learn how to do the same. And, it was at this point Renee realized that truly, there needs to be more community support to help Farmers and Ranchers adapt their farms and ranches into viable, compassionate, and productive farm enterprises without animal cruelty. And so, the Rancher Advocacy Program was launched.
The very first program in the world designed to help farmers transition to plant based farming. But, this wasn’t just a romanticized idea about how to transition, this had to be proven & be precise.
So, through countless hours of research, financial planning and consulting they were able to create a turn-key program that would help ranchers with land and storage units (Typically from Chicken Production or other livestock production) to transition their farms efficiently & effectively. She also launched a transition hub to support the many farmers that reach out to her and ask for her assistance.
As this work is proven and farms are transitioned through RAP, Renee knew that this work needed to scale fast, across the USA to help the many struggling farmers. And so her joining AFA as a Board Director made sense, because the next step is to get our USDA and government to support more opportunities for Farmers that are not doing well under the current unfair food system. And, the first order of action was for us to draft legislation that did just that.
Expand an amazing program to be available through our Federal Food System by creating legislation that introduced this pilot program of helping farmers transition. AFA’s 1st Legislation, At Risk Farmers and sequentially the adaptation of the FARMS Act (Farm Ranch Mobility for Sustainability Program) was modeled after the programs of the Rancher Advocacy Program. Outside of her involvement with helping farmers and ranchers, she has a passion to change how children view farming.
Currently school systems across the USA have 4-H programs that give kids only 1 option to participate. Renee realized that these programs needed a compassionate alternative and created an option for kids called Families Choosing Compassion. It’s clear that Renee’s ideas are innovative and ahead of her time.
AFA knew that Renee would bring a unique voice to our Board by combining her ability to speak a Rancher’s language & layout the steps required to upgrade their farms to plant based operations.
She provides Agriculture Fairness Alliance great perspective to the current realities that farmers and ranchers face and is working hard with AFA to get more farmer transition language into Farm Policy.