We’ve all heard the saying that children are the future, but Elias (last name withheld), the 8-year-old star of the short documentary Elias’ Stand, is proving that children can also be the present. The 10-minute film follows Elias as he creates a lemonade stand to raise money for a rescued sheep named Tara Anna. The documentary also shows the relationship Elias has with his parents and younger brother Theo, who doesn’t want to stop eating meat. We spoke with Elias’ mom Rachel to find out how Elias’ Stand was created and what sorts of reactions her family has received since its release.
VegNews: How did Elias become aware of animal-rights?
Rachel Gunther: Elias became vegetarian when he was 3 or 4—we cannot remember. Elias declared that he was going to be vegetarian and requested that the whole house become vegetarian because it was too emotionally painful to have meat around, even at restaurants. As his parents, we tried to support his choice but also prepare him for the reality that there is a lot of meat out in the world. Elias’ little brother, who’s two-and-a-half years younger than Elias, didn’t quite know if he wanted to be vegetarian. That split caused a lot of tension for a long time, (and) Elias used to yell at his brother to become vegetarian. It took us many years to help Elias learn that that wasn’t the way to convince his brother.
VG: Why did you make Elias’ Stand?
RG: My cousin, who is a filmmaker and has done a show for This American Life, asked me if she could do a story on me being stuck between Elias and his little brother. I said sure, so I recorded conversations with my sons. NPR called it “Stuck in the Middle,” and when it was released, people were moved by what Elias had to say. We got requests to make a documentary on Elias, but I wanted control of the story. My cousin and my friends from when I was in documentary filmmaking agreed to help me make a film about Elias. Elias had done lemonade stands before, so we decided to focus it on an animal sanctuary and raise money.
VN: How does Elias processes what people say about him and what he has done?
RG: The events of the film happened so long ago for him that it seems like a whole other world. But, it was and is overwhelming for him, and as a parent, it is endearing. To me, and I think to those who listen to him, Elias is calming to the soul. He is not pushing anyone—he is speaking his truth. It’s really crazy and powerful to us the impact he has had, of helping whole families become vegetarian or vegan.
VN: How does Elias spread his message?
RG: It took years of really difficult parenting for us to help him not yell at his brother to become vegetarian. As parents, we have tried to help him learn that if you’re going to convince anyone of anything, it must come from love and not from hate.
VN: What’s next for Elias?
RG: He is in middle school now, and he is exploring other avenues of getting people to think about food choices. He is on the youth board of directors for an organization that promotes urban gardening. He is also in a climate-change organization working on climate-change prevention. He is broadening his scope of how he is looking at the issues, but we as a family are always trying to work on balance.
Jarod Contreras is a vegan, 18-year old ultrarunner who recently completed his first 100-mile race, and founder/host of the Touching the Trail Podcast and Touching the Trail website.