Emma Kenney shot to stardom after taking on the role of Debbie Gallagher on Showtime’s Shameless, but that’s not the only reason people know her name. The 17-year-old is also quite the animal activist, most recently narrating Mercy for Animals’ new PSA about the sad reality of factory farming.
If you follow Emma on Instagram, you know she’s passionate about the cause: she’s constantly posting pictures of delicious veggie burgers, vegan picnics with friends, and some of the best pizza you’ll ever see. We caught up with the actress during her lunch break on set and she gave us the scoop on her favorite vegan snacks, spreading positivity online, and being an activist in Hollywood.
E+M: The Mercy for Animals video was so good — what made you decide to work with the organization?
EK: I’m super passionate about animal activism, and Mercy for Animals is such a great organization. I wanted to get involved and spread the word on promoting animal rights the best I could. It doesn’t make sense to have a voice if you’re not going to talk about the things you care about.
E+M: You always spread such a positive message about animal activism on Instagram, too. What kind of response do you get to those posts?
EK: I get a positive response for the most part, but there are also people who comment things like ‘Why should we not eat meat?’ They’re just not aware of the reasoning you shouldn’t yet. I even got hate on a video I did with Peta, which was really shocking since it was literally a video about adopting animals. How could you get negativity for that? I don’t normally respond to a lot of comments or tweets that I get about hate, but sometimes I do and try to respond in a poised way and make some good points that will stick with them.
E+M: How do you specifically label yourself when it comes to your diet?
EK: I only eat fish, and the reason why is that I’m super, super anemic. I know there are other ways around it — like by eating broccoli and spinach to get iron in that way — and I tried that for years, but my anemia is so severe that it didn’t work for me. Which sucks. But, I don’t eat fish often — only a few times a week, if that.
E+M: Why did you decide to cut most animal protein out of your diet in the first place?
EK: When I was younger, the first job I ever wanted was to open up an animal charity. When I was 6 or 7, my best friend growing up and I came up with OADC, which stands for Our Animals Deserve Care. I’d love to start it up someday — I honestly think I will.
I remember once when I was maybe 4 or 5, my mother got this mink fur coat that was in the coat closet in our house. I remember it was a snow day and I was looking for my winter jacket and I felt the animal fur and immediately started crying — it was so cruel, and I didn’t understand the reasoning behind it. It just didn’t make sense to me. I also grew up with animals — three cats and a yellow labrador puppy — so I’ve always been passionate about them in general.
E+M: Is it hard to find things to eat on set while you’re filming Shameless, or do they bring in good options for you?
EK: It depends. During the beginning of every season, I’ll tell craft services that I’d like some vegan, vegetarian, or pescetarian options. Today they brought big Subway sandwiches and there were obviously meat options, but they also brought a veggie sandwich, so I had that.
E+M: Have you converted any of your castmates yet?
EK: I haven’t straight-up converted anybody, but if I go out to lunch with some of the cast, I’ll take them to a vegan restaurant. It’s the same with my friends; if we go out to eat, it’s probably going to be somewhere vegan.
E+M: What are some of your favorite restaurants to go to?
EK: There are so many great ones. I love Gracias Madre — it’s this amazing Mexican vegan restaurant. I actually had my 16th birthday there with my friends. I also love Crossroads, and M Café has this amazing veggie burger. Even In-N-Out has a great veggie burger. I mean, it’s literally just a bun with vegetables in it, but it’s still really good.
E+M: What vegan snacks do you always have on hand?
EK: I’m kind of a picky eater — I don’t like fruit, but I love vegetables. I love carrots and hummus, and also pita bread and hummus — it’s such a great source of protein. I also love Oreos — they’re my favorite cheat food and I always have them in my house. They’re my go-to. I love eating Oreos with peanut butter for some extra protein; you feel like you’re in the Parent Trap. OG Lindsay Lohan was promoting veganism in a way.
E+M: What’s your advice to people who want to start cutting animal products out of their diets?
EK: If you don’t want to go full-on vegan, instead of having a steak for dinner, have a veggie burger or a pasta dish. Even cutting meat out of one meal a day or going vegan one day a week will make a huge impact. It all slowly adds up.
E+M: What’s one misconception you’d like to clear up about anyone who doesn’t eat animal products?
EK: In LA especially, because I’m a 17-year-old girl and people can be close-minded and follow stereotypes, they think that because I’m an animal activist, I’m just another LA girl or a hippie or something like that. And, they say it in a derogatory, negative way. But that’s not the case at all; it just shows you have empathy, and that’s a good thing to have.
Photos: Kiara Ramirez