Steph Yu

Steph Yu

“I wanted a permanent sustainable lifestyle, not a quick fix.”

 

I have never met Steph Yu, but it feels like I have. Reading her blog, I feel as though we’re friends. She divulges her passion for life and pours out the wisdom that inspires so many to prioritize their personal health and happiness and choose a vegan diet.

Yu has mass appeal with almost 200,000 Instagram followers, built by sharing her relatable story with rawness and authenticity.

A Chinese-Canadian writer, podcaster, and video-blogger from Vancouver, Yu is almost overwhelmingly positive, filled with appreciation and enthusiasm for life. She’s also the epitome of health and, at only 22 years old, is a strong advocate for personal wellbeing. But though it’s hard to imagine, it hasn’t always been that way. 

Yu’s is a familiar story. Her life looked perfect from the outside. She appeared to be a high-achieving, confident and outgoing teenager from a happy family. She was on the school council and a talented dancer. But on the inside, Yu was falling apart. Her parents’ marriage was hostile and violent, and Yu began to spend more and more time out of the house to avoid the toxicity of her home life.

The weight of keeping this part of her life secret became too much to bear. In an effort to exercise some control over an out-of-control life, Yu began to manage what she ate. Over time, her fear, frustrations and anger manifested in both anorexia and orthorexia – a condition characterized by an excessive preoccupation with eating healthy food.

“That summer was the loneliest time of my life,” she remembers. “I felt like the world had turned against me, and everyone was trying to take me down.” Looking in the mirror one day, she was shocked by what she saw: “I was an underweight, unhappy, unenthused shell of a person.”

“I wanted a permanent sustainable lifestyle, not a quick fix.”

Acknowledging that she needed help, Yu booked a doctor’s appointment. The doctor advised that she quickly put on weight by eating fast food. But Yu had a different idea. “I was done with abusing my body and done with temporary solutions. I wanted a permanent sustainable lifestyle, not a quick fix.”

Yu began researching, and discovered veganism, which would become her route to sustainable health and a happier life. Slowly but surely, she began to recover. She put on weight, and soon she was able to rediscover the happy, energetic and positive young woman she had once been.

Yu decided to channel her story – every up and down – and use it to inspire others to build the healthy lives they longed for. 

Her popular YouTube channel and Instagram teaches her followers about her vegan lifestyle. Her What I Ate series details her everyday meals, showing that vegan eating can be accessible and easy for anyone.

She uses her podcast, A Beautiful Mess, to interview inspiring individuals on topics as diverse as self-love, spirituality and religion, mental health, body image and veganism. Her blog and e-book, Gaining Back Your Life, tell her own story as a source of empowerment and support for others on the search for a healthier, happier life.

“What motivates my animal advocacy is every memory of an experience I’ve ever had where I’ve been pushed to the side, silenced… It reminds me of what these beings suffer.”

All the while, she aims to create change not only for humans, but for other animals as well. In fact, for Yu, our experiences are linked. “What motivates my animal advocacy is every memory of an experience I’ve ever had where I’ve been pushed to the side, silenced, taken advantage of, and helpless. It reminds me of what these beings suffer and endure every second of their existence.”

It was only after discovering the benefits of veganism that Yu made the connection between her diet and animals. “It was in New Zealand when we passed a field with cows roaming,” she remembers. “I went up to the fence, and they all came over. I spent over an hour talking, singing, and laughing with them all, and when I left cried big fat tears. I think that was my first personal, first-hand experience with how sentient, feeling and beautiful animals were.”

Now, she sees animals and human health as intrinsically connected. Yu believes that by empowering people to live with greater care, compassion, and authenticity, she can make real change for animals. “Before I was vegan I know I wouldn’t have been swayed by an argument for the animals,” she says. “But I was always interested in how to be healthier holistically.”

Indeed, her advocacy is having a serious impact for animals. Yu recently brought veganism to the international tourism market by working with Intrepid Travel to develop their first all-vegan food tour of India. 

What is her next project? Yu plans to start her own business in the health and wellness field, helping people to live healthy and compassionate lives – for their own sake, and for that of the animals.


Follow Yu on Instagram, YouTube, and listen to her podcast.  

Text by Anna Mackiewicz. Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. 

Seven Women Protecting Oceans and Sea Life

Seven Women Protecting Oceans and Sea Life

The amazing thing about aquatic animals is that they are at once so different and yet so similar to us.

 

Human activity is taking its toll on marine environments and threatening these fragile ecosystems. From pollution and overfishing to the impacts of our over-dependence on livestock farming, oceans and sea life are suffering.

But through sheer determination and dedication coupled with their wealth of experience, women all around the globe are offering hope for oceans and the animals who live in them. By exploring our relationship with marine environments and nurturing compassion within their communities, these female ocean warriors are tackling the issues head on, challenging our current attitudes and behaviours, and bringing us closer to this vital part of planet earth.

Meet seven women protecting the oceans and sea life:


Madison Stewart/aka ‘Shark Girl’

Australian filmmaker and conservationist, Madison Stewart, aka ‘Shark Girl,’ began scuba diving at the age of 11. By the time she was 14 years old, the sharks in the Great Barrier Reef that she knew and loved had been reduced to a mere few by government-approved gill net vessels. Stewart uses film as her medium to raise awareness and spark conversation about sharks and the issues affecting these highly misunderstood creatures.

“I always aim to either stop or change something happening to sharks but mainly to raise awareness in the hope that people join me in fighting for the change we so desperately need.”

Learn more about Stewart’s work and follow on her Facebook and Instagram.

 

Becca Franks/Visiting Assistant Professor with the Environmental Studies department of New York University 

Becca Franks is an environmental research scientist with a mission to tell the world why fish matter! In 2012, Becca Franks joined the Animal Welfare Program at The University of British Columbia, where she began studying fish and aquatic animal protection. Throughout her career, Franks has been interested in fundamental patterns of well-being. She is especially fascinated by the evidence that regardless of species, well-being is linked to learning, exploration, and discovery.

“My goal is to generate scientific information about aquatic animals that helps society see their true value. By true value I mean giving them the chance to express their behavioral and psychological potential so that we can appreciate what we have in common and celebrate what makes them unique. I believe that science can contribute to achieving this goal, but only if we study animals living in environments in which they can thrive.”

Learn more about Franks’s work.


Dr. Supraja Dharini/TREE Foundation

Dr. Supraja Dharini, founder of Trust for Environment Education, Conservation and Community Development (TREE Foundation) in India, is bringing awareness and commitment to protecting nature through biodiversity and conservation work with sea turtles, environmental education, and community development.Since its inception, and with the drive of Dr. Dharini behind it, TREE Foundation has seen significant successes for the threatened sea turtle populations with which it works.

“I was originally inspired by Dr. Jane Goodall who made me see and understand that each and every one of us can make a difference through our actions. Having been greatly saddened by seeing a deceased Olive Ridley sea turtle on the beach near my home, I decided there and then to establish TREE Foundation to address this problem and reduce sea turtle deaths. My job is to ensure that TREE Foundation makes lasting positive change for humans and marine life alike.”

Learn more about Dr. Dharini’s work and follow on TREE Foundation on Facebook.


Mary Finelli/Fish Feel

Mary Finelli is president and founder of Fish Feel, the first organization devoted to promoting the recognition of fishes as sentient beings deserving of respect and compassion. Fish Feel works to educate people about and advocate for fishes as sentient beings, but they also draw attention to the ways in which our own future is inextricably linked with that of fishes.

“Most people are so uninformed about fishes, many deny that they are sentient and some claim they are not even animals! I want to disabuse people of faulty notions about fishes, and help enlighten them as to how wondrous they are. I especially want them to realize that fishes suffer fear and pain, to be aware of the immense cruelties being inflicted on these many animals, and how it also harmfully impacts so many other species, including our own.”

Learn more about Finelli’s work and follow Fish Feel on Instagram and Facebook.


Puja Mitra/Terra Conscious

Puja Mitra, founder and director of sustainable tour operator Terra Conscious, is a professional conservation practitioner revolutionizing the tourism industry in Goa.

Mitra’s vision for the future of Goa’s rural communities and environment is inspiring local businesses to take collaborative action towards more sustainable and responsible tourism. By empowering rural communities through awareness and capacity-building programmes, Mitra and her team are helping those whose livelihoods depend on a thriving marine tourism industry to tackle conservation challenges.

“There is definitely more awareness about oceans and coasts now due to many initiatives and programmes established by a growing community of researchers and organisations across the country. But there is still lots more to do. Nurturing a more sensitive relationship with our oceans and coasts is key to enabling any lasting change in policy, the type of activities offered, and better representation for coastal communities.”

Learn more about Mitra’s work and follow Terra Conscious on Instagram and Facebook.


Dr. Lori Marino/The Whale Sanctuary Project

Neuroscientist and expert in animal behavior and intelligence, Dr. Lori Marino is the founder and president of The Whale Sanctuary Project. Dr. Marino has published over 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers, book chapters, and magazine articles on brain evolution, intelligence and self-awareness in other animals, human-nonhuman animal relationships, and captivity issues. Her mission with The Whale Sanctuary Project is to create the first permanent seaside sanctuary in North America for captive orcas and beluga whales.

“We want to create a permanent sanctuary for captive orcas and beluga whales who are living in concrete tanks.  There are permanent sanctuaries for all kinds of wild land animals and none yet for dolphins and whales (cetaceans)… on a broader level, the sanctuary will be a model for change in our relationship with cetaceans from one of exploitation to one of restitution. I hope that in addition to providing a better life for a few whales we will represent and catalyze a cultural shift that will lead to the end of keeping these animals captive for our entertainment and a move towards a more humble and respectful relationship with them in the future.”

Learn more about Dr. Marino’s work and follow The Whale Sanctuary Project on Facebook.


Dr. Sylvia Earle/S.E.A. – Mission Blue 

Dr. Sylvia A. Earle, founder of the Sylvia Earle Alliance (S.E.A.)/Mission Blue and Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (D.O.E.R.) is an oceanographer, explorer, author, and lecturer. Her contributions to the fields of scientific research and conservation have had an huge impact on our understanding of complex ocean processes and marine ecosystems. Through her work, Dr. Earle is inspiring global awareness and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – known as ‘Hope Spots.’

“In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed so much loss of biodiversity and a human population that has grown from around 2.5 billion to almost 8 billion. From the surface, the ocean seems to be in pretty good shape but once we get below the surface, we readily see the impacts of warming waters, abandoned fishing gear, discarded plastics, ship noise, and more. We also know that nature is resilient, if we stop actively damaging it.”

Learn more about Dr. Earle’s work and follow Mission Blue on Instagram and Facebook.

Anne Quain

Anne Quain

“Animal welfare science has provided us with enough evidence to justify behavioural change.”

 

Anne Quain. All photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur.

Anne Quain is a veterinarian, a lecturer in veterinary ethics and professional practice, the author of a book on veterinary ethics, and a columnist on issues relating to companion and other animals. To put it simply: her life revolves around animals.

 

Despite her obvious passion for animals and their care, Quain didn’t initially think of becoming a vet; she first studied philosophy and ethics. But when it came time to graduate, she found that there weren’t many paid jobs available for an ethicist. Rethinking her future, she asked herself that question repeated by careers counsellors everywhere: “What do I really love?” Her answer was spending time with animals, and she decided to maximise that. She went on to study veterinary science and began working in small animal practice.

I was one of those kids who would always proclaim ‘I love animals!’ yet my behaviour wasn’t aligned with this.

For Quain, working with animals inspired a shift in how she sees them. “I was one of those kids who would always proclaim ‘I love animals!’ yet my behaviour wasn’t aligned with this. For example, I would sweep up and vigorously embrace our family cat, even though she clearly hated this and always struggled out of my arms,” she remembers. “I loved going to the zoo, but for many years failed to reflect on the fact that while the captive state of the animal allowed me to have an up-close, photogenic experience, that animal continued to live in that enclosure 24/7, 365 days per year, sometimes for decades.”

While many of us consider ourselves to be animal lovers, she believes the challenge is to align our behaviours with those values, and to give thought to how even our most well-intentioned actions impact on others. For Quain, truly caring for animals requires observing and understanding their behaviours and acting with consideration for their wants and needs.This is a lesson that speaks to the core of her work, one that informs her teaching and advocacy, and one that is fundamental to her worldview. “I expected animals to fit into my world without realising just how little choice or control they have.” The focus, she believes, should not be what we think and feel, but what we do for animals.

Quain uses her position as a companion animal vet to advocate for more conscientious care for animals. In consultations, her human clients often reveal the same disconnect that she experienced between positive intentions and negative outcomes for animals. Cats and dogs come into the clinic with obesity-related illnesses from overfeeding, or behavioural problems due to poor socialisation – the effects of loving an animal without understanding its needs.

One of the reasons we don’t change our behaviour in the light of evidence is the overwhelming force of habit. It’s a constant, daily battle.

She also advocates for continual learning and reviewing of established practices within veterinary science and animal science more broadly. One of the major achievements of animal science in recent years is the boom in evidence to support animal sentience (the ability of non-human animals to feel pain and pleasure, and to experience emotions in the same way that we do). As she became aware of this body of evidence, Quain decided to stop consuming animal products. “I felt that continuing to eat animal products was a conflict of interest,” she explains. “Surely the type of use we put animals to influences the type of life we will give them.”

Quain feels it is the responsibility of a good scientist to respond to scientific evidence by changing their behaviour and practice. She says, “Animal welfare science has provided us with enough evidence to justify behavioural change. One of the reasons we don’t change our behaviour in the light of evidence is the overwhelming force of habit. It’s a constant, daily battle.”

But Quain is seeing positive change. She sees veterinarians paying closer attention to their patients’ welfare, focusing on alleviating fear, pain, and discomfort, and investing in study to refine their practice to improve patient well-being.

Through her blog, Small Animal Talk, Quain shares information about animal welfare, encouraging colleagues and those with companion animals to reflect on their relationships with them. She also promotes veterinary continuing education and reflective practice, speaking to veterinary students and colleagues about how they can put animal welfare first. She advocates for animals by communicating scientific developments, such as the evidence around sentience, to the mainstream media, and influences policy relating to animal welfare by sitting on various committees. It’s a job that takes commitment and perseverance.

I felt that continuing to eat animal products was a conflict of interest.

“Sometimes I feel like my to-do list is a bit of a dog’s breakfast,” she says. “But if there’s a common thread, it’s about applying knowledge, learning, educating myself and others and making conscious, thoughtful choices about the way we impact these other creatures we share the planet with. And trying to translate my own “love” for animals into behaviour that genuinely benefits them.”


Learn more about Quain’s work.

Text by Anna Mackiewicz. Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. 

Dr. Aline de Aluja

Dr. Aline de Aluja

“As long as I can hear and talk, I still defend animals.”

Dr. Aline de Aluja. All photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur.

Driving to meet Dr. Aline de Aluja, her two colleagues talk about her enthusiastically.  She’s definitely an extrovert, they say, direct, extremely sincere, and guided by a strong code of ethics. This is a woman, now 97 years old, who has dedicated her life to reforming animal welfare in Mexico.

When we arrive at her home –– a big house filled with her father’s antiques and fascinating finds from around the world –– two exuberant dogs greet us. One, Canela, was found by de Aluja’s grandson, abandoned. He brought her to live with de Aluja, who took her in with open arms. It’s just one of the many small acts of kindness for which she is famed.

De Aluja was one of the first women to study veterinary medicine in Mexico. She thinks she may have been the fifth female student, at a time when there was not even a female bathroom at the school. She had always wanted to become a vet, but her father wasn’t keen on the idea. “It was quite unusual at that time for a woman to become a vet. Now, there are more women than men vets!”

De Aluja’s concern for animals began at boarding school in Germany, where she attended the same school as Prince Phillip. There, she was the director of the school’s ‘zoo,’ which was home to rabbits, guinea pigs, and a goat, all of whom she loved dearly. One evening, returning to the school after a vacation, she ran to check on the animals, only to find the goat missing. She asked the kitchen staff where the animal was and was told that she would be eating the goat for dinner.

I am convinced that they are aware of everything.

The shock and sadness this caused her motivated de Aluja to become a vegetarian on the spot, a commitment that she has maintained for eighty years. In Europe, even in the 1930s, de Aluja says it wasn’t particularly unusual to turn down meat. However, when she moved to Mexico with her family at age 18, it was a different story. Like many others living in Spain during Franco’s military dictatorship, her father fled to Mexico.

Moving wasn’t easy. When she began studying at university, she encountered the retorts of her fellow veterinary students. “It seemed to them rather eccentric that I didn’t eat meat. They thought that it was absolutely necessary to eat meat; many people do.”

“In Mexico, people are not animal-minded,” she explains. It was different to the culture in Europe, where she observed that people were very attached to their animals. The prevalence of Catholicism in Mexico has something to do with it, she says. “The attitude is, animals have no soul and so they don’t feel, and they are not aware of things. And that is very difficult because I am convincedthat they are aware of everything.”

I don’t care whether they laugh, because I know that I’m right.

Most of her cohort went into small animal practice. Not one to go with the grain, de Aluja began practicing with farmed and working animals. This was challenging, as farmers and labourers typically couldn’t afford to pay for veterinary care.

For many years she taught and spoke at universities, where she was laughed at for her focus on animal welfare. Still, she persisted. “I don’t care whether they think that I’m a little ridiculous,” de Aluja declares. “I don’t care whether they laugh, because I know that I’m right.” These days they don’t laugh, and concern for animal welfare is increasing.

Her favorite part of her job is working with the poor, teaching communities to take care of their animals. She inspires change by showing people that it’s profitable for them to treat their animals well, keeping them healthy and productive. “It is not easy, but I think it is very necessary,” she says.

As long as I can hear and talk, I still defend animals.

De Aluja founded the Donkey Project, in collaboration with the UK’s Donkey Sanctuary, sending teams of veterinarians into the Mexican countryside to provide much-needed medical attention to donkeys, who are used in gruelling labour and receive little food or care for their hooves.

Has she achieved change in animal welfare in the country? “I don’t think so,” she says modestly. Her colleagues disagree. Thanks to de Aluja there is now an ethology department at the university, giving academics and practitioners training in animal welfare. She has been influential in the faculty, which is using the Donkey Project as a model for further outreach work in rural Mexico. Many people look up to her as a leader in Mexican animal welfare. “Do you think I have achieved that?” she asks, surprised. “Well that would be very nice!”

De Aluja hasn’t stopped working for animals since graduating almost 70 years ago, and she has no plans to retire. “If you are convinced of something, even if you retire, I would still go on doing the same sort of work. As long as I can hear and talk, I still defend animals.”


Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and text by Anna Mackiewicz.

 

Dulce Ramírez

Dulce Ramírez

“I deeply admire women who have done investigations”

 

Dulce Ramírez. All photos by Jo-Anne McArthur.

The first time that I meet Dulce Ramírez, I compliment her on her name – Dulce means ‘sweet’ in Spanish. “I am the opposite,” she says resolutely.

Those who know her agree. A colleague described her as “Persistent and tenaciously persuasive.” She’s also undeniably brave and focused. All valuable qualities when you are leading an animal rights organization in Mexico, a country where culture and national identity are so firmly rooted in food. In Mexico, food is about family, history and culture – and it is dominated by meat and cheese.

For Ramírez, it all started 13 years ago when she found a kitten on the patio behind her house. By caring for this kitten, “I began to understand the emotional world of animals, their needs, and their intelligence,” she explains. “I began to search for information and question more and more the relationship of subjugation we impose on other animals.” The more she learnt, the more it became clear to her that she wanted to advocate for animals.

Fast forward to June 2011, when the Spanish government arrested 12 animal rights activists linked to Igualdad Animal (Animal Equality) in Spain, labeling them ‘eco-terrorists’. Hearing this news, Ramírez contacted the founder and president of Igualdad Animal, Sharon Núñez, to express solidarity with the activists. The following year, the Mexico chapter of Igualdad Animal was founded, with Ramírez at the helm.

“The first thing we did was to show how Mexican industrial farming works.”

In the six years since, Igualdad Animal Mexico has achieved big things. Their first campaign brought animal groups in the state of Jalisco together to successfully end the use of animals in circuses. The organization has developed educational programs, petitioned for legislative changes, and conducted corporate outreach, encouraging companies to adopt policies that benefit animals, such as offering more plant-based options.

For the last two years, the organization has focused on improving the lives of farmed animals. As is the case in most countries, Mexico has virtually no legal protections for farmed animals. But while in some other regions the conversation about farm animal welfare is already well-established in the public discourse, that isn’t the case in Mexico. Given the victories coming for farm animals worldwide and the number of farmed raised and killed in Mexico each year, Ramírez believes this makes Mexico a prime target for bold campaigns and big changes. “For that reason, the first thing we did was to show how Mexican industrial farming works.”

At the foundation of this is investigative work, which Ramírez says is without doubt the most powerful ingredient for creating change. It is these investigations that, by documenting the lives of animals in factory farms, bring focus and strategy to the animal rights movement, she says. Without this footage, animal groups would struggle to develop hard-hitting public campaigns and educational resources telling the true stories of animals in animal use industries.

“I deeply admire women who have done investigations.” 

Ramírez is one of only a few female investigators in the country. The work carries huge risks to personal safety, as well as the emotional toll of witnessing the intense suffering of animals.

“The challenge is always when, at the end of the day, you arrive home and the images come back into your head, you have the smell impregnated on your clothes and body, and it all takes you back.”

What inspires her to do this difficult work? “I deeply admire women who have done investigations, who take pictures of the most terrible situations and who transform it into struggle and activism to change the lives of the animals,” she says.

Igualdad Animal Mexico isn’t done setting precedents for the country. New investigations are planned and the group’s corporate campaigns continue. Their current legislative push — ending the use of cages for laying hens — is in full swing. They also plan to launch LoveVeg, a public education platform focused on changing consumer habits, in Mexico.

Leading the way, and with so many hearts and minds to change, Ramírez knows she is exactly where she needs to be.


Learn more and support Animal Equality.
Photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and text by Anna Mackiewicz.