ROWDY GIRL – Review by April Neale

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Blame Michael Pollan. Blame Eric Schlosser! Our sensibilities are heightened thanks to these two men of recent note, and our views toward food and animals—and how the two interact— are changing. A story about that change is beautifully rendered in the new doc, Rowdy Girl.

It’s one of the year’s best documentaries and not to be missed.

Unquestionably, animals have emotional lives. They do funny things, they calculate sneaky dickhead moves (ask any cat owner), and they attach themselves to us in ways that profoundly change us. Their companionship is good for us. Not eating them is even better if you can understand the proven chemistry of saturated animal fats and the havoc fats cause in your bloodstream.

Rowdy Girl is an upbeat journey told through one woman’s story that centers around an Angleton, Texas cattle ranch-turned-animal sanctuary founded by Renee King-Sonnen and her husband, Tommy.

Once cattle ranchers for profit, their story has piqued the national media’s attention; King Sonnen created the Rancher Advocacy Program to encourage other ranchers to transition to plant-based agriculture and try a vegan way of life.

Rowdy Girl is a wonderfully concise look at this woman’s change of heart and diet after the dime dropped that she was hurting animals in a way she could not square anymore. She reads the Bible, believes in God, and has interpreted the text to support her newfound epiphany that Black Angus—especially one she named Rowdy Girl—and their place in this world as it relates to us has profoundly changed her life.

First-time director Jason Goldman did a superb job of old-school documentary storytelling (read: no bullshit editorializing or filler) that follows King-Sonnen over two years. We hear her conversion story to the vegan life and how she will attempt to transform an industry soaked in offal and blood, one ranch and one meeting at a time. This film accounts for their uphill battle to help farmers transition to plant-based farming and end their animal agriculture business.

Animal agriculture is a hot-button topic as corporate farms and big Agra are filled with horror stories and shameful practices regarding the culling, raising, and management of animals slated for massive abattoirs. Renee and Tommy are unlikely Texans, taking a sharp detour from cattle rancher life and a legacy of cattle raising to vegan life and creating a farmed animal sanctuary.

But suppose you take your health seriously and have done a modicum of research. In that case, you understand that a plant-based diet can reverse many human ills, including the raging obesity epidemic being overlooked for fear of hurting some feelings. Cardiovascular disease is a king killer of humans, and animal products, meat, cheese, and eggs smite us with impunity to this day.

It is interesting to see how this film showcases a growing community of ranchers pivoting to the lucrative world of mushroom farming, as the word is out on their collective health benefits, such as food and even medicine. Mushrooms are incredible, and yes, the 2019 documentary Fantastic Fungi should be on your must-watch list if you haven’t seen it.

Rowdy Girl showcases the often thankless work of an animal activist in recovery, born from a mother who endured rape and who witnessed and lived through abuse—surviving all of that nightmare. King-Sonnen knows this is not normal to do this work in a place where this sort of lifestyle thinking is lumped in with “libtard” political rhetoric. They have been on both sides and show precisely how their evangelizing of animal rights and plant-based diets is resonating in this deeply red state where God, guns, and grit usually are accompanied by a big steak dinner.

Maybe I am being too hard on Texas, as music legend Kinky Friedman has a sizeable no-kill shelter, the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, in Texas, too. People have wide-open hearts everywhere. So the bright spot and takeaway from this sweet film is how deeply felt advocacy (and re-education on how to make money off the land) builds common ground between farmers and vegans – a shared mission of compassion and sustainability in a place you would least expect it to happen.

After you hear and see her story, this convincing film may make you delete your Chick-fil-A app.

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April Neale

April Neale is a film and television critic. She appears on “What’s On” KTVB Channel 7 (NBC) Boise for Idaho Today. She is the editor of IdaHome FLAVOR, a worldwide magazine featuring celebrity chefs and Idaho culinary bosses. Neale is also the Entertainment Editor for IdaHome Magazine.