Ten Plant-Based Female Athletes Changing The World For Animals

Ten Plant-Based Female Athletes Changing The World For Animals

“Our lives become so much more valuable when we are achieving not at the expense of others.”


As veganism and plant-based diets become more mainstream, we’re seeing an increasing number of athletes embracing the power of plants to fuel their sporting achievements! Stretching their influence beyond the dinner plate, these individuals are highlighting the benefits of a vegan lifestyle to a global audience – using their success in sport as a platform for raising awareness and inspiring change.

Meet ten women who are blazing trails both in and outside of the sporting arena and amplifying the voices of vegan and female athletes alike.

Fiona Oakes

Fiona Oakes

Fiona Oakes, 48 and vegan since the age of six, has completed over 50 marathons and holds four world records. In 2012, she became the first vegan female to complete the Marathon des Sables (also referred to as “the greatest footrace on earth”) – a racing event which involves running six consecutive marathons across the Sahara Desert, and in 2013 she became the fastest woman in history to run a marathon on all seven continents (in terms of the total number of hours taken).

To top things off, she also founded and runs Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary, where she lives with her partner Martin and the sanctuary mascot Percy Bear, who joins Fiona on all of her races (and who has a large online following!). The sanctuary spans five sites and provides a home for life to more than 450 rescued animals. Oakes’ tremendous drive comes from her lifelong passion to speak up for those who need our help.

“The actual reason for me being in sport at all was to promote veganism. I set up Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary when I was in my twenties as a natural progression in my journey of wanting to help animals. It was soon after starting the rescue in 1993 that I realised it was the answer for the animals I could physically help and nurture but it was only addressing the symptoms rather than the cause of why they were arriving here in the first place. My simple logic was: the better I could run, the better I could prove my point that a long-term plant-based lifestyle is not prohibitive to anything – even the toughest endurance challenges in athletics.”

Follow Fiona Oakes’ life-saving work and advocacy efforts on Instagram and Facebook.

Seba Johnson

Seba Johnson

Seba Johnson is the youngest Alpine ski racer in Olympic history, competing in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada at just 14 years of age. She was also the first black female to ski at an Olympics. A vegan since birth and powerful advocate for animals, Johnson has lived through a notable shift in attitudes towards plant-based athletes and has great visions for what the future of sports could look like if that shift continues.

“Athletes are no longer listening to the propaganda of eating animals’ bodies to thrive in their sport. It’s evident that in order to have strong bones, a clearer respiratory system, faster recovery, clearer focus and stamina, athletes are choosing plant-based foods to fuel their bodies. Top athletes around the world are becoming more vocal about switching to veganism. When athletes worldwide are embracing plant-based living it will revolutionize the way sports are played. I envision a complete revamping of equipment and those “sports” (ab)using animals will cease to be. Athletes will become conscious of the individuals their particular sport exploit via the manufacturing of their clothing, equipment, etc. and that exploitation also extends to the individuals making the sporting goods. How are they treated, what kinds of hazardous chemicals are they exposed to, are they forced to work in dangerous factories, endure long hours, underpaid, unpaid or live in extreme conditions? These are things I envision being improved upon once we funnel our plant-based consumption into every aspect of our lives, athlete or not. Each year animals are being slaughtered by the billions, suffering at the hands of humans. Your voice is far-reaching as an athlete, so I emphatically encourage you to use whatever talents you were born with, or can muster up. Use your sporting career as a platform for promoting veganism and for advocacy, and help shift the paradigm by eradicating the use of dead or live animals in sports.”

Read more about Johnson in her Unbound story and follow her advocacy efforts at sebajohnson.com and on Instagram.

Hulda B. Waage

Hulda B. Waage

Born and raised in Iceland, leading female powerlifter Hulda B. Waage started competing in 2011 and has since set 32 national records, including National champion and Cup holder 2016, 2017 and 2018 — all fueled by plants! Waage draws her inspiration from being a mother and is proud to be a role model to her two daughters.

“To make veganism BIG we need to talk about it and be proud of it. I’ve been working hard towards my goals in my sport and I use social media to show what I am doing and how it is working. Every chance I get I use it to talk about subjects that are important to me in a calm and respectable way and I always take the time to answer questions. I hope I get more opportunities to do my fair share of activism using my sporting talents.”

Waage’s advice to other women in sport who are considering shifting to a plant-based diet:

“Take your time to adopt. Focus on fruits, veggies and beans and with time you can try out new foods like tofu, seitan and soy products. Talk to those sportswomen who are making great progress on a plant-based diet. I always take the time to answer questions, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.”

Follow Waage’s progress in sports on Instagram and Facebook.

Sarah Stewart

Sarah Stewart

Australian wheelchair basketball player and three-time Paralympian, Sarah Stewart is shooting some serious hoops and showcasing the benefits of plant-based power to a global audience! Stewart has been vegan for 24 years, and started playing wheelchair basketball about 17 years ago. Since then, she has had a decorated career in the Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball League (WNWBL), including being named in the ‘WNWBL All-Star Five’ ten times.

“I did not know any other athletes that were vegan at that time, and my coaches definitely didn’t. I have always well-researched everything I am interested in and passionate about. I did a lot of research about wheelchair basketball games, rules and training techniques as soon as I found the sport and got the opportunity to play. And similarly, by the time I started playing wheelchair basketball, I had done many years of research into a lot of different aspects of veganism – animal biology, environmental impacts, health impacts, farming practices, etc. I was confident in my ethical reasons for being vegan – to not kill, and to reduce pain and suffering; but also in the happy off-shoots of health and environmental benefits. I had coaches who couldn’t understand what I was doing, and tournaments – especially overseas, where it was incredibly difficult to get food. Luckily, because I was knowledgeable about what I needed to eat, was strong in my convictions, and well prepared, they could not find fault in what I was doing – and in the end I was often complimented on how well I ate, and how well I performed through our longer, more gruelling tours.”

After injuring herself when she was 16, Stewart developed dystrophy, and turned to wheelchair sport at the end of 2001. In 2004, she represented Australia at the Athens Paralympics, bringing home a silver medal and then a bronze from Beijing four years later. In her third Paralympics, Sarah and her team again won silver in London.

“People with a disability are often treated as “lesser than” in society, and not encouraged to be academic, to be athletic, to be compassionately connected to the world, or to make informed, healthy choices about their lives. I’ve found that a lot of us with a disability can get so worn out just advocating for our right to exist, to be able to participate, to have a voice; that we often don’t have much time or energy to hear about or focus on other issues. Given that, it is quite encouraging how many people within that context will still appreciate how I’m living my life, ask questions about being vegan, and research veganism themselves – because they do care about animals.”

Stewart enters each game with the aim to play hard and play well. Her goal in life is to achieve everything she sets her mind to with honour and respect, and above all with a smile. With three medal-winning Paralympic campaigns now under her belt, her impressive skills and sheer determination to do what she does well has made her a valued member of the Australian Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball team. Alongside her sporting commitments, Stewart dedicates a lot of time to giving back to the community and sport through coaching and committees.

Follow Sarah Stewart’s sporting progress on Facebook and Instagram.

Dr. Anastasia Zinchenko

Dr. Anastasia Zinchenko

Dr. Anastasia Zinchenko is an international level powerlifter, bodybuilder and scientist! She started lifting weights and transitioned to veganism at the same time. Three years later, she represented Great Britain at the Bench Press World Championship in South Africa.

With a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge, Zinchenko researches and writes about sports nutrition and exercise science – and is also a passionate health and fitness coach. She applies general research findings to a plant-based diet in order to help others to reach their strength and body composition goals in the best way possible.

“For me it is very important to show that a person can build strength and muscle and be a successful competitor as a vegan. It is a myth we often hear that vegans can’t build muscle and the athletes who are successful have built their muscle eating meat and switched to a plant-based diet afterwards. I am one of the multiple examples that it isn’t true. I became vegan and started strength training at exactly the same time (I was vegetarian 12 years prior to that). I have built all my muscle and my strength as a vegan. When people learn that, they often change their opinion about veganism and become more open-minded about trying vegan meals and reducing the amount of non-vegan food that they eat.”

Learn more about Dr. Zinchenko’s work at sciencestrength.com and follow her on Instagram.

Christine Vardaros

Christine Vardaros

Meet Christine Vardaros, a Belgium-based International professional cyclist and vegan for nearly a decade. She began her career as a pro mountain biker (MTB), before switching over to the pro ranks in road and cyclocross racing.

“I started cycling and racing as a vegetarian, then turned vegan in 2000. It wasn’t until a few months later that I discovered the moral ramifications of my dietary choices. This is what now keeps me strict in both my diet and lifestyle. Shortly after I turned vegan, I noticed that I could immediately breathe better, and I recovered much more quickly from hard trainings or races. This factor alone helped me to convince my teammates to consider a switch to a plant-based diet. Even my recovery from injuries turned miraculous. Since turning vegan, I no longer get sick, my skin is much brighter, and my mood has lifted – along with my energy levels.”

Vardaros uses her sporting platform to advocate veganism throughout the world.

“Once I established myself as a top cyclist, I was able to start using my cycling clothing as yet another way to actively promote veganism. Around my collar and on my butt are The Vegan Society logos. In addition, I included animal images lined up around my arm and leg bands as well as fruit and vegetable images covering my arm, shoulder and back. This design was created by NODRUGS, maker of my cycling clothing. Every time a photo of me is published and during all the live television coverage of my races (almost every one of them is now on TV), the audience will see these images promoting veganism. I also hand-pick all my sponsors so they perfectly align with my messages of veganism, healthful living and environmental preservation.”

When she’s not on the bike, she volunteers as a spokesperson for The Vegan Society, In Defense of Animals, and Switch 4 Good. Her talks are targeted at getting the best out of your body through a plant-based diet.

Follow Christine Vardaros on Facebook and Instagram to find out more about her cycling achievements and advocacy efforts.

Monique Sapla

Monique Sapla

Monique Sapla is a 22-year-old competitive trail runner and obstacle course racer (OCR) from London, UK who is embracing the benefits of plant-based living to fuel her sporting passions.

“I’ve been plant-based for two and a half years now, and as cliché as it sounds it’s the best decision I ever made. I actually used to have quite a negative attitude towards the vegan lifestyle, and definitely didn’t believe that I could thrive on plants alone as an athlete. Whilst I knew people who were plant-based, I didn’t see any athletes in the media to demonstrate that you could be strong, fast, and plant-based, not either or. As soon as I made the switch it became apparent pretty quickly that a plant-powered diet was the best thing I could possibly do for my health and fitness, and I feel better than ever before. I’m thrilled to see how many athletes have already come to the same conclusion, with more making the connection all the time! I use my social media to show people what is possible to achieve on a plant-based diet, and also as a female athlete. I’m very aware that social media is often one big highlight reel that can make things feel out of reach, so I’m always honest, open and approachable with those who follow me.”

Follow Sapla on Instagram for her latest progress and race updates.

Pat Reeves

Pat Reeves

Vegan powerlifter Pat Reeves, 73, is a registered Nutritional Therapist, author, and competitive sports person of multiple talents – competing in everything from marathons and triathlons to bodybuilding and powerlifting! Initially turning to the benefits of a plant-based diet to assist her body with healing brain cancer, Reeves now uses the power of plants to fuel her sporting passions, and has held the all age/weight National, Commonwealth, European and World records with two powerlifting Associations for more than 20 consecutive years.

“I was already vegan before I embraced multiple sports (competitive keep-fit, triathlons, racing at all levels though with particular success at marathon distance, bodybuilding and powerlifting). Whilst I have no comparison as of sporting success following a mixed diet, I’m pretty pleased to still be increasing my World deadlift record – lots of work to do for that next year for sure!”

Reeves believes the future is brighter than ever for veganism within the sporting arena, as more athletes are choosing to adopt plant-based lifestyles and use their platforms to speak out about the related issues – from personal health, to the environment and animal rights.

Find out more about this remarkable woman at foodalive.org.

Lisa Gawthorne

Lisa Gawthorne

Team GB Age Group duathlete, Lisa Gawthorne is a passionate vegan and animal advocate, using her positive, can-do attitude to inspire others both on and off the track to embrace the power of plants!

“It is really important to show people the great things you can achieve on a plant-based diet and how you can utilise veganism to really go far in sports and fitness. The world of sports is certainly taking it more seriously now. In the past, I definitely think there was a lack of sports coaches and personal trainers who specialised in plant-based fitness and diet plans but this is changing and I am seeing more and more of these pop up to cope with the rising demand. There has been a notable increase of high profile sporting celebrities that have been adopting a vegan diet such as Lewis Hamilton, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic – all of whom are doing very well and showing that a plant-based diet can help deliver sporting success and achievements.”

Alongside her sporting successes, Gawthorne co-owns and runs vegan food business Bravura Foods and is author of Gone in 60 Minutes – a bite-sized vegan health and fitness saviour of a book that can be read in just 60 minutes!

Gawthorne’s advice for other sports people interested in going plant-based and inspiring their peers to join them:

“Going vegan is the best thing you can do for yourself as it will improve your health, it’s the best thing for the animals to reduce senseless suffering, and it’s the best option for protecting the future of our planet. If you have kids just take a look at them – let them be your motivation – if you want to build a better world for them to live in, then adopting a plant-based diet is the most effective way of achieving this.

Take every opportunity to shout about it – it doesn’t have to be a race win, it doesn’t even have to be a personal best, it can be something as simple as communicating how good you feel after a workout, how strong you feel, or how much better your sleep is. Even mentioning how energetic you feel is a big win and worth shouting about – people love positivity. You are more likely to gain a credible platform with people who are curious and will come to you with questions – embrace this and enjoy helping others on their vegan journey!”

Follow Lisa Gawthorne’s vegan advocacy and sporting progress on Instagram.

Leilani Münter

Leilani Münter

(Münter’s quote courtesy of LIVE KINDLY)

“Never underestimate a vegan hippie chick with a race car” is the motto of professional American race car driver, Leilani Münter. Münter is also a biology graduate and passionate environmental activist.

Listed among Sports Illustrated’s ‘Top Ten Female Drivers in the World’, Münter’s tenacious attitude and racing brand Vegan Strong is bringing plant power to Nascar fans and highlighting the benefits of vegan living to new audiences around the globe. Her race car even runs on renewable energy!

Münter sits on the board of three non-profits (Oceanic Preservation Society, Empowered by light, EarthxFilm) and is featured in 2015 environmental documentary Racing Extinction. She believes it is essential for humans to adapt and evolve our ways of living to avoid destroying the planet. Her dedicated environmental advocacy efforts have seen her named ‘#1 Eco Athlete in the World’ by Discovery’s Planet Green.

Learn more about Leilani Münter’s impressive achievements and important advocacy work at leilani.green and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

We’d like to extend our thanks to Great Vegan Athletes for connecting us with a number of the inspiring vegan athletes included in this feature.

Zoe Weil

Zoe Weil

“I realized that this was the work I wanted to do, and I just had to figure out how to do it.”

Zoe Weil is one of the world’s revolutionary thinkers. As a leader in humane education – a model that centers around sustainability, humanity, and justice – she advocates a bigger vision for schooling that shows care for people, for other animals, and for the environment. As Weil sees it, students – or, as she calls them, Solutionaries – can be empowered with the knowledge, skills, and will to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Like all revolutions, it doesn’t come easily. The education system in Weil’s home country of America is in dire need of an overhaul. It centers on traditional curriculum models and standardized testing, which values how much a student knows over their ability to apply learning. Insecure funding causes public schools to steer away from “controversial” topics and unconventional teaching methods. Subjects are taught separately, presenting challenges to multidisciplinary teaching methods that could be more relevant to real-world topics such as climate change or factory farming. Teachers themselves are frustrated and the passion that brought them to teaching is waning.

But Weil’s work is making waves. As well as being the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) for which she has developed multiple humane education graduate programs, she has delivered six TEDx talks, and authored seven books for youth and adults on humane education raising a generation of solutionaries, both in the classroom context and at home.

Weil grew up idolizing Dr Jane Goodall, and dreamed of following in her footsteps to work with animals. But, like many of us, by the time she entered university Weil had stopped imagining that future for herself. Instead, she studied English literature before enrolling in law school and promptly dropping out. She couldn’t have known it then, but just as she felt she was at a loose end, a new path was laying itself before her.

Weil began volunteering with a researcher who was working with chimpanzees. Though she couldn’t have been closer to her childhood dream, she found it wasn’t all she’d imagined. “While the research wasn’t painful or invasive, the chimps were still imprisoned, and their futures seemed bleak,” she recalls.

She then worked as a teacher and naturalist at a wildlife centre for injured and orphaned animals, and while she loved teaching young people about animals, she was again confronted with the ethics of the programs, which brought wild animals to schools for presentations.

By this time Weil had been instilled with the love of teaching and returned to university with the aim of becoming a professor. Discovering a program at the University of Pennsylvania that offered weeklong courses to middle school students, Weil saw the opportunity to reach students and, in so doing, change the course of history. She proposed several courses, including one on animal issues and another on environmental issues.

I realized that this was the work I wanted to do, and I just had to figure out how to do it.

To her surprise the animal issues course turned out to be the second most popular of the sixty courses offered that summer, and Weil taught a class full of enthusiastic 12- and 13-year-olds. She found humane education deeply rewarding and felt heartened by the impact she was having. She taught a class about product testing and the animals who suffered severe pain, injury, and death for household and beauty products; the next morning a student came to class bearing homemade leaflets. “While the rest of us were having lunch, he was standing on a Philadelphia street corner handing them out,” she remembers. “He’d become an activist overnight.”

This was Weil’s ‘aha’ moment: “I realized that this was the work I wanted to do, and I just had to figure out how to do it.”

After graduating, Weil began working as a humane educator with a local SPCA, but again she felt that something wasn’t quite aligned. She was only allowed to teach about companion animals, but wanted to extend her compassion-driven brand of teaching to all animal issues. Soon she moved to the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), where she became their Director of Education, developing a humane education program that she began teaching in schools. It addressed global ethical issues relating to animals and the environment, from product testing and pollution to factory farming and climate change. Animalearn reached 10,000 students across several US cities, and Weil soon began training others to become humane educators, expanding the reach of humane education across the country.

Education is the root system underlying all other systems.

Despite this success, Weil yearned for systemic change. She saw a need for the education system to embrace humane education programming, and for students to have access to ongoing learning on these issues. The obvious access point was the teachers, who could be trained to deliver humane education in their classrooms, as a framework connecting all subject areas.

With this new vision, Weil left AAVS and in 1996 co-founded the Institute for Humane Education. She began creating the first graduate programs, and even a Ph.D. program, in comprehensive humane education. IHE started to offer workshops for teachers around the U.S. and Canada, and now offers online courses and free downloadable resources on a broad variety of issues ranging from compassion, ecology, conservation, extinction, and ethics, enabling teachers to do this work in classrooms on almost every continent.

Most recently, IHE created the Solutionary Program, a comprehensive set of tools that teachers in middle and high schools can use to support students in solutions-focused learning. The program has seen such success that in 2018 the Office of Education in San Mateo County began implementing the solutionary approach as the core educational philosophy for their curriculum. This program will reach over 95,000 students across the county.

Explaining her philosophy, Weil says: “Education is the root system underlying all other systems. If we nurture compassion in children and provide young people with the knowledge and skills to create meaningful positive changes, we will witness the unfolding of a more humane, just, and healthy world for all beings.”

In the time that Weil has worked in humane education, she has propelled its expansion from a field associated with the welfare of companion animals, to a comprehensive and intersectional field that embraces and champions the interconnections between human rights, animal protection, and environmental preservation. Weil’s revolutionary work has carved out a place for compassion, ethics, and responsibility in students’ learning, and has challenged educators to imagine a bigger and more meaningful purpose for schooling. And she shows no signs of slowing down: she is currently writing her eighth book with the bold title, How to Solve the World’s Problems.

It hasn’t been a linear path, but Weil has created a version of that future she imagined for herself as a child, working to improve the lives of animals on a global scale.

Dawn Moncrief

Dawn Moncrief

“The connection is real.”

As Dawn Moncrief sits down for this interview, she is tired and jetlagged from a long intercontinental flight. Even so, she is eloquent and thoughtful. It’s obvious that her knowledge of the food system is immense and that her dedication to reforming it formidable. Moncrief is the founding director of A Well-Fed World (AWFW), a non-profit hunger relief and animal protection advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. It’s a job that takes her all over the world, working with local partners on a strategy to tackle some of the biggest global challenges.

“I was very attuned to issues around hunger,”

The organization is unique in its dual mission to tackle two of the world’s most complex issues: world hunger and the suffering of animals used for food. It’s no small feat, but Moncrief hasn’t let that stop her from working to change the conversation about food justice, and proving that the same foods that are best for people, are also best for animals, and the environment.

Moncrief moved to Washington, DC in the mid-90s to attend George Washington University, where she earned two master’s degrees in international relations and women’s studies, both with a focus on economic development. In DC, she had the benefit of exposure to key policymakers, and the headquarters of major development organizations, providing her with vital insights into the food policy landscape. She had wanted to work on poverty issues for as long as she could remember. “I was very attuned to issues around hunger,” she reflects.

It was at grad school that an acquaintance first introduced her to veganism. Moncrief had been vegetarian since she was a teenager. “I wasn’t politicized around it,” she explains, “I just knew I didn’t want to hurt animals.” She had never heard of veganism, but as she began to research the global impacts of meat, egg, and dairy consumption, she realized that it perfectly aligned with her ideas around food security and hunger. Moncrief could see that meat consumption hurt low-income communities, especially women and children. Her work began to focus on the ways in which the production and consumption of animal-derived foods increases disparities, exacerbates global hunger, and negatively impacts communities’ access to natural resources.

“It’s important to be authentic, to inspire people.”

On sanctuary tour after conference presentation at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY.

Moncrief began to unpack the system that enabled food to be unjustly distributed, with staple food crops being diverted to high-income countries that were able to outbid low-income countries for crop availability. She saw that this put upward pressure on prices, forcing low-income countries to export large quantities of food – both crops and animal products – at high prices, even though their own people were hungry. She learned about animal agriculture companies “land-grabbing” in low-income countries so that they could establish factory farms, which pollute the environment and harm local farmers’ ability to grow food, further increasing hunger. But looking at the organizations working in international development, or even in food policy, she was surprised to find that they wouldn’t advocate meat reduction (not even as “part” of the solution).

After finishing grad school, Moncrief began working with women-in-development organizations, but she felt complicit working within a framework that used meat and dairy in their food programs, while these products caused such devastation.

Fortunately, she chanced upon a presentation by Pattrice Jones discussing animal agriculture and its connection to global hunger. Inspired by jones and other activists connecting the dots and deconstructing the global food system, Moncrief began working within the animal advocacy movement. Eventually she was able to make the Plants-4-Hunger educational campaign that she had started developing in grad school into a gift-giving campaign that helps alleviate world hunger using plant-based foods, a unique take on the traditional ‘animals as food’ gifts programs. When her passion for global food justice eventually called for a dedicated organization, Moncrief founded A Well-Fed World, utilizing the Plants-4-Hunger as their flagship program.

Climate-Diet presentation organized by UN Green Group. Dawn Moncrief, speaker with Wendy Werneth organizer. United Nations, Geneva Switzerland

With many organizations focused on technological “fixes” to reduce the negative consequences of meat consumption (such as improving feed conversion inefficiencies or decreasing the inherently harmful environmental impacts of rearing animals for food), reducing consumption through behavior change was dismissed or ignored. Reduction of animal products was unpopular and, importantly, challenged big business. So Moncrief decided to address the issues by connecting with NGOs and influencers to put plant-based hunger and climate solutions on the agenda.

“It’s important to be authentic, to inspire people.”

AWFW addresses the harm done by development programs using animals, and dispelling the myth that animal products are a superior option for people in need of food. Moncrief created the Humane Facts campaign, which unpacks misleading food labeling and exposes the true meaning behind the language of “humane” meat – words like “free-range,” “cage-free” and “grass-fed,” which are used to make consumers feel that they are making healthy and ethical food choices.

Through its partnerships and global grants program, AWFW provides vital funding to organizations to support vegan feeding and farming programs for low-income communities, both in the United States and internationally, as well as farmed animal care and rescue programs Their most significant partnership is with the International Fund for Africa in support of their vegan school lunch program in Ethiopia. “For some of these kids, it’s the only meal they’re getting,” explains Moncrief.

“Not just the overconsumption of meat, but meat itself as a form of overconsumption; so that every time you’re eating it, you’re thinking about how resource intensive that is.”

Through these international partnerships, AWFW is reframing what makes a ‘healthy’ diet and challenging the dependence of the international development industry on animal products to feed people. Instead, it is highlighting the benefits of plant-based food choices for undernourished populations, and proving that veganism can offer a more sustainable solution to world hunger and food security issues.

By shifting to plant-based foods and using veganic farming practices, the impacts of livestock on resource scarcity, environmental pollution, land degradation, and climate change can be avoided. Where animals overgraze and degrade the soil, growing plants helps build health back into the land. Plant-based farming empowers communities, who can feed themselves high-density nutritious foods that also strengthen, rather than pollute, local ecosystems and natural resources. It’s a win-win.

AWFW advocates veg-friendly policies at local and federal levels, working with think tanks and policymakers to incorporate plant-based food strategies into their programs. The organization analyzes research and communicates the food security benefits of plant-based food and farming, thereby advancing structural change that supports its vision of a just food system where all people have enough of the right kinds of food, and in which people are nourished, animals are spared, and the environment is protected.

AWFW’s strength is in its willingness to challenge some of the most harmful – yet accepted – behaviours in society, regardless of backlash from animal industry bodies or other organizations with vested interests.

Food waste is already a topic on the global agenda, but Moncrief is taking it a step further. Her vision is to reframe meat as a form of overconsumption. “Not just the overconsumption of meat, but meat itself as a form of overconsumption; so that every time you’re eating it, you’re thinking about how resource intensive that is.”

While Moncrief is clear that veganism is not a silver bullet for world hunger, she is developing a more nuanced conversation around consumption, and empowering people to understand the impacts of their choices.

“The connection is real.”

“Reducing meat consumption and going vegan does take pressure off the food system so that basic food staples are more accessible to low-income countries,” she explains.

Dawn Moncrief. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur.

She becomes emotional as she tells the story of a farming family in El Salvador who had to choose between selling their crops to pay for the lease of their land, and feeding their children. Two of their children died.

“These very poor countries with lots of hunger are exporting either meat directly, or food to be used for meat and other animal products, to high-income countries,” she says. “So, the connection is real.”

With Moncrief at work, it’s difficult to doubt that things are changing for animals. AWFW’s strong message and research-based advocacy is making huge strides possible in terms of re-framing the role of animal products in food policy and hunger alleviation. Where other organizations shy away from advocating for unpopular solutions, AWFW sticks to its mission, bringing plant-based hunger and climate solutions into the mainstream, and proving to critics that what helps animals and the environment also helps people – there’s no need to choose.

Learn more and support A Well Fed World
Photos and interview by Jo-Anne McArthur. Text by Anna Mackiewicz.


Seba Johnson

Seba Johnson

“It’s really not about us, it’s about what we can do while we’re here.”

Seba Johnson made history before she was old enough to drive a car. Before she became the youngest Alpine ski racer in Olympic history and the first black female to compete in Olympic skiing, however, she had already lived a childhood that was, at the time, relatively exceptional: from the day she was born, Johnson was raised vegan.

Johnson’s childhood was far from perfect; her family was violently attacked for being interracial and her mother was accused of child abuse for raising her children on a vegan diet. And while Johnson feels deep gratitude for having been raised the way she was, it also took its toll. “You understand exactly what’s going on when you’re eating across the room from someone,” she says. Dealing with the grief of knowing what happens to animals from a young age was a heavy burden to bear, especially at a time before vegan diets had become as well-understood and mainstream as they are today.

“It’s really not about us, it’s about what we can do while we’re here”

The fact that she was a vegan was especially scrutinized in Johnson’s life: at just fourteen years old, she participated in the 1988 Winter Olympics, making history for both her age and her ethnicity. A year later, however, it was her conviction as a vegan that propelled her into the spotlight more than her youth. In 1989, Johnson was disqualified from a World Cup downhill race for refusing to wear a suit that was made with leather, even though she had her own vegan suit that was competition-compliant (procured from German designer Willy Bogner after much searching and effort by Johnson). Her disqualification made headlines: “The next day it had more press attention that the winner of the race,” she says. Her mother criticized the race’s decision as racist, which Johnson acknowledges could have been a motivating factor behind the competition’s rigidity.

“I’ve experienced racism within this movement”

It wouldn’t be the last time that Johnson’s ethics impacted her skiing career. After competing in her second Olympic Games at the age of 18 in Albertville, France, she qualified for the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. Johnson made the decision to boycott the Games, however, due to Norway’s resuming of commercial whaling in 1993. She never raced professionally again.

Today, Johnson is a speaker and also works as a special ed assistant. Being around children gives her hope, she says. She describes seeing “their light and their energy every Monday morning,” as life-giving, along with the relationship that she has with her dogs and her sister.

Like many activists, Johnson has struggled with mental health issues. She witnessed the brutality of humans at a young age through the violence directed at her family. She also remembers learning about animal testing for the first time in literature her mother received in the mail from an animal protection organization. “There was one in particular where these two young monkeys were holding onto each other tightly – it reminded me of me and my sister, Zuely, when we were scared,” Johnson says. She empathized deeply with the monkeys’ suffering and, although she already agreed with her mother’s choice to raise her and her sister as vegans, this solidified her feelings about animal abuse.

Johnson uses her role now as a teacher’s assistant to talk to children about the truth about what happens to animals. She objects to the way that children are not only kept in the dark, but actively mislead about the treatment of animals. “It’s so important,” she says, to tell them the truth. She uses age-appropriate language, but she doesn’t hide the facts. It gets a mixed reaction from parents – sometimes even children themselves, one of whom angrily declared that cows made milk for her as well as for their babies – but Johnson laughs it off. It’s worth it. “It’s really not about us, it’s about what we can do while we’re here,” she says, and her goal is to reduce harm in whatever way she can.

“The animals can’t afford for you to get comfortable speaking. If you stutter, oh well. If you have stage fright, take yourself out of it, think of who you’re speaking for.”

Johnson speaks with a sense of urgency, and not only because of her deep understanding of the scale of animal suffering. In 2008, she was almost killed in a horrific skiing accident. She broke her pelvis in three places and was bedridden for three months – and had to learn to walk again. “We all have to realize that the next day is not guaranteed,” she says. The ordeal pushed her to take her activism to the next level. “Don’t wait. Do something now,” Johnson says to those looking to get involved. People ask her regularly about what they can do, especially if they don’t have her composure as a speaker. Johnson simply says that it doesn’t matter, that the fight is too big. “The animals can’t afford for you to get comfortable speaking. If you stutter, oh well. If you have stage fright, take yourself out of it, think of who you’re speaking for.”

Besides, she says, activism takes so many forms. “Whatever your profession is or whatever your talent is, there’s an opportunity to speak up and help animals in any way you can. If you’re an artist, you can share your message through your art; if you’re a teacher you can introduce the idea of veganism and animal rights. Even in the grocery store, you can loudly say to the fellow who works there, ‘Excuse me, do you know where the vegan section is?’” to raise awareness and drive demand.

“We’re all working for the same thing. We must not be oppressive of one another.”

Johnson is a determined woman who, while she gained the spotlight early on, hasn’t had an easy run in her life as an activist. “I’ve experienced racism within this movement,” she says. But she kept fighting. Her life, she believes, is not her own, but rather that she has a duty to protect those who are suffering. She does believe though, that activists must be kinder to each other, and, though she’s only recently come to realize, to ourselves: “I just hope that if we are truly trying to make a difference in the lives of animals that we remember to include human animals, one another. We’re all working for the same thing. We must not be oppressive of one another.”

Seble Nebiyeloul

Seble Nebiyeloul

Seble Nebiyeloul

Co-Founder of the organization International Fund For Africa


Photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur.
Interview and text by Corinne Benedict.

Seble Nebiyeloul

Co-Founder of the organization International Fund For Africa


Photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur.
Interview and text by Corinne Benedict.

Seble Nebiyeloul was living in New York on 9/11, within walking distance of Ground Zero. The smell that hung in the air after the attacks is still etched in her memory, but she couldn’t pinpoint what it was until she passed a street vendor selling hamburgers.

“Animal flesh and human flesh, when you burn it, it’s one smell. That’s when I said no more animal products.”

“Instantly I said to myself, this was flesh I was smelling,” Nebiyeloul says. “Animal flesh and human flesh, when you burn it, it’s one smell. That’s when I said no more animal products.”

The epiphany made it suddenly clear to her: We are all the same.

“When you start loving animals, you don’t have boundaries. When I became an animal lover, automatically, I loved any creature.”

It’s an ethos that came to define her work with the organization she co-founded in her native Ethiopia a decade later, International Fund for Africa, or IFA, which serves humans and animals alike.

Photo: Children wash their hands in preparation for the plant-based meals offered by IFA at their school.

Besides its sizeable vegan food and health program for school children, IFA’s work has included vocational training for people with limited economic opportunities, improved sanitation in schools, a program that helps girls make reusable menstrual pads, significant investments in maternal and newborn health care, mobile clinics for working animals, sterilization and vaccinations for street dogs, and more.

Nebiyeloul was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Her mother was a secretary. Her father, vice minister of the private cabinet of Emperor Haile Selassie, was executed when Selassie’s government was overthrown in 1974. Nebiyeloul left for the United States a decade later when she was 19.

Photo: School children enjoying attention, and the cameras, at a school outside of Addis Ababa.

Nebiyeloul was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Her mother was a secretary. Her father, vice minister of the private cabinet of Emperor Haile Selassie, was executed when Selassie’s government was overthrown in 1974. Nebiyeloul left for the United States a decade later when she was 19.

Photo: School children enjoying attention, and the cameras, at a school outside of Addis Ababa.

She went to college in Kentucky and then studied health care administration at graduate school at the University of Maryland before settling in New York. It was the city’s many dogs, always out for walks, that helped ignite her love of animals. She bought a Maltese, but had to give him to a relative when her landlord said she couldn’t keep him. By then she was a vegetarian and had begun taking an interest in animal welfare and rights. Her next dog was a rescue. (About the seven dogs she has now, she says, “Without them, I couldn’t live my life.”)

Professionally, she climbed the ladder in the public health field. She was successful and happy but not fulfilled. When her job offered her another promotion to senior management, it didn’t feel quite right. Her cousin, Anteneh Roba, a physician then living in Houston, had been urging her to return to Ethiopia to help him with a nonprofit he was starting to alleviate some of their home country’s widespread poverty and suffering. It was the kind of mission Nebiyeloul had always wanted to take on.

“Yes, I was making good money, and I loved the work that I did,” she says. “But I’d done it. I’d proven to myself that I could do it – as a black woman, as a foreigner. I’d reached what I wanted to be.”

She moved back to Addis Ababa to get IFA off the ground in 2011.

Nebiyeloul loves to cook, and she’s good at it. As she began building IFA – organizational development is another of her talents – she also began working to expose more Ethiopians to vegan food.

Photo: A healthy lunch, provided by IFA, for impoverished children at a school outside Addis Ababa. 

Nebiyeloul loves to cook, and she’s good at it. As she began building IFA – organizational development is another of her talents – she also began working to expose more Ethiopians to vegan food.

Photo: A healthy lunch, provided by IFA, for impoverished children at a school outside Addis Ababa.

“A lot of people came and said to me, ‘If we knew how to cook like this, we would never eat meat, not for animals but for the health reasons.’”

She started with cooking demonstrations and then began serving vegan brunch at yoga classes that a friend was teaching. Nebiyeloul describes her food as Ethiopian adapted to be vegan, with influences from places like Asia, Spain, and the US. She goes for mostly fresh ingredients, lots of spices and herbs, and little salt.


The reaction to her cooking was almost always the same, she says – people were shocked that vegan food could be so delicious.


IFA’s vegan school food program, which uses Nebiyeloul’s recipes, now serves two meals a day to hundreds of children. It also provides employment for 10 cooks whom IFA trained in a style vastly different from most professional Ethiopian kitchens.

“I’m trying to teach the younger generation that in order to live, you don’t have to eat animal products.”

“Meat is a major part of our food, especially during the holiday time. It’s part of the culture. You have to kill animals. Usually I travel during that time out of Ethiopia. I find it difficult to stay here,” she says. “Animal welfare is a little bit acceptable in this country – I would say, five percent. Animal rights, forget it. It’s a very difficult concept.”

Nebiyeloul draws a line in trying to persuade people to be vegan. Mostly, she prefers to limit her efforts to setting an example, using food rather than words. Vegan cooking is her activism, she says.

“I always respect people’s space. I start discussions only when people express an interest.”

Seven years after its founding, IFA continues to evolve. The organization coordinates closely with A Well Fed World and is working toward sustainable solutions to Ethiopia’s poverty, namely holistic programming that addresses root causes, Nebiyeloul says.

More than 6,000 girls now have reusable menstrual pads, helping to keep them in school, and IFA is preparing to launch a new mushroom production unit to introduce the vegan staple to kids, generate income for IFA’s programs, and serve as a vocational training site for youth who’ve dropped out of school. Recently, IFA responded to a call for humanitarian aid for victims displaced by ethnic violence, providing food, clothing, mattresses and diapers for families in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.

Photo: Young women learn to design and sew their own sanitary pads.

More than 6,000 girls now have reusable menstrual pads, helping to keep them in school, and IFA is preparing to launch a new mushroom production unit to introduce the vegan staple to kids, generate income for IFA’s programs, and serve as a vocational training site for youth who’ve dropped out of school. Recently, IFA responded to a call for humanitarian aid for victims displaced by ethnic violence, providing food, clothing, mattresses and diapers for families in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.

Photo: Young women learn to design and sew their own sanitary pads.

As for the future, Nebiyeloul dreams of someday opening a vegan restaurant and a sanctuary for unwanted and abused donkeys and horses.

“As you grow older and achieve goals, you start to look back and say, ‘What have I done in life?’ I want to give to any other citizen what I got from life,” Nebiyeloul says.

“If you deal with people the right way, the world will be the right place to live.”

Learn more and support the International Fund for Africa.

Photos and interview by Jo-Anne McArthur. Text by Corinne Benedict.  


Young Women Changing the World for Animals

Young Women Changing the World for Animals

“Young people have such an inspiring capacity to hope and dream which is what we need to keep building momentum to push this movement even further!”



T he face of animal farming is changing. As industrial farming spreads to all corners of the world, the fate of billions of animals hang in the balance and the effects of raising animals for food are becoming clearer. The environment is on the edge of catastrophe, human health is being compromised, and hunger is affecting more people than ever.

But there is cause for hope! A new generation is on the rise, bringing with it innovations and a fresh world-view. Veganism is the fastest growing social movement, and young people are speaking up about the challenges that threaten our future. Through tireless passion, dedication and command of new ways of communicating and organising, young people are challenging the injustices of our world, and demonstrating that there is another way.

Meet several young women working to change the world for animals.


Haile Thomas – The Happy Org. 

Haile Thomas is a vegan activist and social media influencer, and, at just 17 years old, is the youngest Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach in the United States. She founded non-profit The Happy Org to bring plant-based nutritional education to youth in some of the country’s most underserved communities and to empower young people and their families to make health and lifestyle choices that are good for them, for animals, and for the planet.

By providing nutrition and humane education to youth through cooking classes, summer camps, and in-school programs, Thomas is improving individual health outcomes and subsequently public health outcomes for entire communities.

“Knowing that I can contribute positively to the changing narrative surrounding veganism and also that every dish I order, every trip to the grocery store I make, and every bite I take makes a difference and a statement to the world, means everything to me. “

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


Zofia Pawelska – Lab Rescue 

Zofia Pawelska is the 22-year-old founder of Lab Rescue, a Polish not-for-profit organisation dedicated to rehoming animals used in scientific testing. Since arranging to take 16 rats from a laboratory two years ago, Pawelska has built relationships with laboratories to promote adoption for animals who have been used in research. She says that people in Poland are becoming aware of the use of animals in laboratories, and that there is a trend building to adopt rescued animals, rather than buying them from a breeder or pet store. Lab Rescue is bridging the gap between laboratories that seek an alternative to euthanasia for animals, and families wanting to offer a loving home to them.

“Before Lab Rescue, laboratory animals were forgotten, but now I can see it’s common to have a rat rescued from a laboratory, not bought from a shop.”

Follow Lab Rescue on Facebook and Instagram to learn more.


Yuri Suzuki – Animal Rights Centre Students

Yuri Suzuki is the 22-year-old founder of Animal Rights Center Students, a student group of the Animal Rights Center, Japan, where she also works in corporate relations for farmed animal welfare. The group, which is open to middle school, high school, and university students, does outreach work such as leafleting on campuses, as well as community building through study groups and vegan social events. Animal Rights Center Students aims to expand its network of advocates, empowering young people all over Japan to engage in animal rights activism.

“I first came to learn about the suffering of animals when I was studying abroad in California and meeting many vegetarians and vegans. After returning to Japan, I was shocked by how few young people were working for animals here. There are many club activities on my campus, but there was no club working for animal rights and welfare, and I thought that there should be.”

Follow Animal Rights Center Students on Facebook and Instagram to learn more.


Zoe Rosenberg – Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary

Zoe Rosenberg is a 16-year-old animal rights activist and the founder of Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary, a California-based sanctuary for abused and mistreated farmed animals. Rosenberg founded Happy Hen when she was just 11 years old, and since then she has saved over 600 animals from the food industry, sharing their stories with the world. This year, Rosenberg received media attention when she was arrested for chaining herself to a slaughterhouse chute while protesting the exploitation of cows at the meat processing plant at California Polytechnic State University.

Rosenberg is also a sought-after speaker, who shares the story of her journey in activism to change the perception of activism as something extreme, and inspire others to take action for what they believe in.

“I spent my entire childhood dreaming of starting a dog and cat rescue. At school, I would walk around asking people to sign petitions to ban puppy mills and hand out information about local dogs who needed homes. It never once occurred to me that there were other species who needed help, let alone other species that needed help significantly more than dogs and cats.”

Learn more about Rosenberg’s work, and follow Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary on Facebook and Instagram.


The women of Young Voices for Animals

Young Voices for Animals (YVA) is an Australian non-profit organisation dedicated to educating and empowering young people to build a better world for all animals. Harley McDonald-Eckersall, 21 and Kianna Hope, 25, are two of the members who founded YVA in 2017, and they have since been joined by Emmy Montgomery, 24. These young women are part of the powerhouse team leading the way for youth animal advocacy in Australia, creating events and workshops, to inspire and engage young activists. This year YVA launched Catalyst, a leadership and development program that supported 15 passionate young people aged 15-19 to become effective change-makers for animals. They also hosted Australia’s first ever Youth Animal Rights Conference.

“YVA was started because a few of us developed the same realisation that, whilst there were a lot of young people who were really passionate about making a better world for other species, there was a lack of youth specific groups who were dedicated to building empowering communities for young people.”

Learn more about YVA’s work and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.


Mónica Salvado

Mónica Salvado is a 17-year-old animal rights activist from Portugal, working to expose the suffering of farmed animals, and raising awareness about the reality of life inside Portuguese industrial farms. Salvado uses her Instagram account @thisveganteen_ to show the lives of animals who are kept invisible behind the walls of factory farms and slaughterhouses. She is currently planning an activism tour of Portugal during which she will give lectures about The Save Movement, and host vigils showing people simple ways that they can get involved in activism.

“After seeing all the things I’ve seen, I couldn’t continue staying at home, knowing that animals are suffering. When we are with friends, they remain in factory farms. When we are at the cinema, or at a restaurant, they remain in slaughterhouses. They never have a break. So, why should I be silent?”

Follow Salvado’s work on Facebook and Instagram to learn more.


Avalon Llewellyn 

Avalon Llewellyn is the 17-year-old vegan activist and mental health advocate behind the Instagram account @tiedyedtofu_. Llewellyn became involved in animal activism as a child, learning about the lives of animals in the food and clothing industries, and at 13 she went vegan. In the years since, she has inspired countless others to do the same, using social media as her main tool for reaching and engaging with other young people. She organises meet-ups where groups of young people can connect with peers, explore shared values, and discuss animal rights issues, and provides mentoring by email to those wanting to learn more about or try veganism.

At just 15, Llewellyn published an e-book titled “The Modern Guide to Going Vegan at a Young Age” (full disclosure: she donates a percentage of proceeds to We Animals!).

About writing her e-book, she says, “There are lots of things for people who are going vegan, but I found that there was almost nothing for young people who are still living with parents, who can’t choose everything. There’s peer pressure. There’s family pressure. There’s school pressure. So I kept that in mind.”

Follow Llewellyn’s work on Instagram.


Avalon Theisen – Conserve It Forward

Unbound Project

Avalon Theisen is the 17-year-old animal activist and conservationist behind the non-profit organisation Conserve It Forward, which she founded at just nine years old. Based in Florida, Conserve It Forward runs educational programs on subjects including amphibian conservation, animal advocacy, sustainable eating and peacemaking. The group promotes education and action that benefits the natural world, humans, and non-human animals. The connection between the food we consume and the damage we cause to the environment continues to drive Theisen’s work. In the years since founding the organization, she has given a TEDx Talk on her journey in conservation, attended the 2015 COP 21 climate change conference in Paris to speak about environmental issues, and has visited the White House to discuss how our food choices affect the environment.

“Children and teenagers may think that because of their age, they cannot help or that what they can do now is not impactful. I don’t agree. Youth make up a large proportion of the population, and so even if our acts our small, each action adds up to a lot of positive change. Young people’s voices are important because they show that we can all make a positive difference!”

Learn more about Theisen’s work and follow Conserve It Forward on Facebook.


Lila Copeland – Earth Peace Foundation

Sixteen-year-old Lila Copeland is the force behind Earth Peace Foundation, a California-based non-profit focussed on bringing humane education about the animal welfare, environmental, and human health impacts of animal agriculture into schools and clubs for young people. The foundation also petitions government agencies for legislative and policy change to protect animals. In 2015, Earth Peace Foundation launched the Healthy Freedom campaign, with the aim of bringing vegan meals into all California public schools every day of the school year. So far, Earth Peace has been successful in petitioning the Board of Education to pass a resolution that mandates vegan meals in the Los Angeles Unified School District, California’s largest district by number of enrolled students.

“Kids literally are the future. If we can get in at school age and educate them about what animal agriculture is doing to animals, the planet, and human health, kids will make the right choices. I know they will.”

Learn more about Copeland’s work and follow Earth Peace Foundation on Facebook.


Genesis Butler – Genesis for Animals

Genesis Butler is the 11-year-old animal activist behind Genesis for Animals, a non-profit organisation that raises funds for animal sanctuaries around the world. After visiting animal sanctuaries and seeing how much time and money was required to care for the animals – and that most sanctuaries were struggling to meet their costs – Butler decided she wanted to help.

Butler is already a sought-after speaker, regularly speaking at animal rights events across the United States and in Canada, sharing her story of activism and compassion. She is one of the world’s youngest TEDx speakers, and has won numerous awards for her advocacy.

“Advocating for the animals is so important because the animals need our voices. Animals aren’t voiceless, it’s just that people don’t listen to them, so it’s important to speak up for them so they will never be silenced.”

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