Home #Hwoodtimes Rowdy Girl documentary shines spotlight on vegan rancher bucking the system in...

Rowdy Girl documentary shines spotlight on vegan rancher bucking the system in Texas cattle country

By: Valerie Milano

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 6/3/24 – Renee King-Sonnen says she never set out to save the world, just one cute little calf by the name of Rowdy Girl.

Rowdy Girl Sanctuary

But that one move, to spare the life of the calf, led King-Sonnen and her husband to become, “the first documented beef cattle ranch in the world to go vegan and live to talk about it!” And in Texas, no less!

King-Sonnen and the cattle ranch-turned animal sanctuary– The Rowdy Girl Sanctuary located in Caldwell County, Texas – are the subject of a documentary from filmmaker Jason Goldman, Rowdy Girl, which opens June 7th at the Laemmle Santa Monica Theatre.

Trying to turn a cattle ranch from being an animal-based operation into one that is plant based seems like a challenge under most any circumstance. But King-Sonnen and husband, Tom Sonnen, have managed to do it in the heart of Texas cattle country, and the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary is doing just fine, thank you.

Veganism is defined as the practice of eating only food not derived from animals and typically avoiding the use of any animal produced products.

“I wasn’t thinking about the money in the beginning. I was thinking about the cows, so all I know was I couldn’t continue seeing the cows go to the sale barn once I went vegan on the cattle ranch,” she said during an exclusive interview with The Hollywood Times that also included director Goldman. “I didn’t anticipate going vegan on a cattle ranch, it wasn’t in my plans. I didn’t have a vegan advocate trying to convince me to go vegan. It was just a calf named Rowdy Girl. So, money never entered into it for me.”

Click below for our exclusive interview:

Renee King-Sonnen, co-founder of the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary

“Now my husband … he wasn’t the one who went vegan, he was the one going ‘Renee, how are we going to pay the bills? How are we going to pay all the tractor notes? How are we going to pay the insurance, and the taxes?’ I was going to make a go of it and he was going to have to figure it out.”

King-Sonnen said the transformation began without any fanfare or grand announcements. The neighboring ranchers didn’t have a clue that a revolution was underway right next door.

“Initially, when I first went vegan and started Rowdy Girl Sanctuary … when we became a non-profit,” she said, pointing to that as the moment the neighboring ranchers became aware of the changes at the Sonnen Ranch.

“Prior to that, our neighbors didn’t know anything,” she said, adding that her initial foray into vegan ranching started on the internet. “Everything that I did was online. My outreach, the way that we became a non-profit, was because of vegans around the world.”

“It wasn’t because of our next-door neighbors. They would have shut me down in a heartbeat. It never occurred to me to go ask anyone else what they thought. I didn’t want their opinion. I was dead-on focused to do whatever it was I needed to do to get the funds I needed to transition this ranch into a sanctuary.”

As news spread around the Caldwell County area, the reaction was mixed, with a lot of folks shrugging it off.

To say we are feeling grateful about reaching our year-end campaign goal to raise $75,000 is an understatement.

“A lot of people were ‘live and let live’, that’s Texas, you just do what you want to do.” King-Sonnen said. But not all were happy.

“Some of Tommy’s friends looked at him sideways, and his partner stopped working with him altogether,” she said. “People are challenged when they are faced with their own ethics around eating animals, especially when it’s your business.”

Goldman used Rowdy Girl, his first directorial gig, as a vehicle to step out and become a vegan activist. After a decade as a vegan, Goldman said, “It was time to get into the game.”

“I think a lot of people can spend their time on the sidelines and find a cause they believe in, but for one reason or another, maybe they’re more private about their ethics or morals, they don’t feel like they can be participatory in the movement, whatever it is,” he said. “And that was similar to me!”

Goldman, who became a vegan in 2014 said he had not taken any actions other than changing his diet. But with Rowdy Girl, he is taking off the gloves.

“I think what this film does is change that for me, and it also has changed how I want to approach film in the future,” he said. “Not only do I see making these kinds of documentaries as being a form of activism, but it has become a priority in my career and my work as an artist to make films about things I care deeply about as a way to impact the world and open people’s hearts and minds to seeing things differently.”

Renee King-Sonnen is the founder of the Texas-based non-profit Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, formerly known as Sonnen Ranch.
Special screening at Laemmle Noho in LA on June 6th at 7:30pm, followed by Q&A with Executive Producer Moby, Dir. Jason Goldman, and Renee King-Sonnen
Q&A on Fri & Sat at Laemmle Monica with Director and subject of the film. All info listed on the Laemmle site.