“Thinking of the biggest target that we can move the furthest.”
When Leah Garcés was in college, she wanted to be a veterinarian. She had grown up in the swamps of Florida and was fascinated by the wildlife in her backyard. She knew from a young age she wanted to help animals and, after watching PETA’s pioneering documentary “Meet Your Meat,” she became vegetarian at age fifteen. After completing college however, a mentor took Garcés aside and told her: “You don’t want to be a vet, because vets fix animals once they are broken, and you’re curious about the root of the problem.” He was right, she says. “My whole career after that was looking at pieces of the root, at all the ways we cause suffering on the planet.” It has been that desire, to get to the root of animal suffering that has led Garcés down an impressive path of animal advocacy, working with World Animal Protection, Compassion in World Farming USA, and today, as the first female president for one of the largest farmed animal advocacy organizations in the world, Mercy for Animals (MFA).
“You don’t want to be a vet, because vets fix animals once they are broken, and you’re curious about the root of the problem.”
Leah Garcés and a rescued pig at Charlie’s Acres Farm Animal Sanctuary.
By age 30, Garcés had travelled to 30 countries through her work overseeing global campaigns and programs for World Animal Protection (known then as World Society for the Protection of Animals). “Stray dog control in India, bear bile farming in China, stopping dolphins being transported from Fiji to Mexican dolphinariums,” she says, exposed her to animal exploitation on a global scale from early on in her career. But while she felt she was tackling important pieces of the problem, she still sought to dig deeper toward the true foundation of animal suffering. And today, Garcés says, her work with MFA is getting her there. “It’s the place where we can have the most impact, where I can do the most good, for getting to the root of that problem, of solving and ending factory farming, ending the exploitation of animals for food.” And at that root, Garcés explains, is a complex intersection of many social justice issues.
Garcés says her inevitable move to veganism was inspired by her three kids. “I went vegan because of them,” she says, explaining how it was through breastfeeding that she finally made the connection to the exploitation of dairy cows. “I thought, that bond that I had with my son was the bond that the mother and the calf have, and – what am I doing? This isn’t necessary.” She did have fears however, as so many vegan parents do, of social ridicule and closeminded pediatricians. But now, only a few years later, she says her perspective has changed. She says she considers herself as working to change that dominant narrative in society, “the more I come forward that my kids are vegan, and they are super healthy, and fantastic. It’s consistent with my principles and morals and values, and it’s very a natural thing for a kid to recognize and understand.”
Leah Garcés and her family.
True to that nurturing nature, for Garcés, the fight to end the exploitation of farmed animals also includes fighting to end the exploitation of people. By taking an intersectional approach to animal rights as a social justice issue, Garcés believes we can all gain both a broader picture of the suffering inherent in factory farming, and a stronger united voice to fight it. “Workers’ rights is a big area, and especially latinx women who are in the [US] processing plants,” she says. “Let’s call them what they are, they are slaughterhouses; they are violent and bloody and fast and cold, and the labour force that is there is being abused as well, and they can’t speak up,” she says. “They are also voiceless.”
“And that’s America’s favourite food, favorite protein: chicken. And it’s built on the back of these humiliations and abuses.”
Increased kill-line speeds in the US is one example of an issue Garcés says animal rights and workers’ rights activists can and should unite on. “Line speeds right now are sped up to 175 birds a minute. Not only is that horrific for the animal – a horrible death where they end up scalded alive – the women have to do these repetitive motions, where they can’t even leave to go to the bathroom. If they leave their station, the whole thing falls apart, so they wear diapers or pee in their pants, and that’s humiliating,” she says. “And that’s America’s favourite food, favourite protein: chicken. And it’s built on the back of these humiliations and abuses.”
Garcés takes a similarly intersectional and empathetic approach to her work with animal farmers and animal product producers. In September of this year she will publish a book entitled Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry, which will detail her experiences working with farmers, suppliers, and restaurant chains to seek an end to factory farming. Listening to industrial farmers can be an important strategy for animal advocates, Garcés says. “At worst, you’re going to find out something that helps you with your movement. But at best, you’re going to find some common ground to build on.” Go in with the mindset, she adds: “that you don’t know who they are and why they made their choices, and that you need to learn that to solve the problem.” That’s how to get to the root, she says. “Why did a farmer make that choice to become a factory farmer? Go back and back and back, and we get to the point before they made that decision and tackle it there; which is poverty in rural America, and lack of job choices. So, we need to find jobs for them, and then they won’t choose factory farming.”
“Go back and back and back, and we get to the point before they made that decision and tackle it there.”
Leah Garcés, President of Mercy For Animals, and a rescued hen at Charlie’s Acres Farm Animal Sanctuary.
Garcés’ holistic approach to animal protection has also led her and the MFA team to now shift focus to include much broader targets. “Institutional change is the most important use of our resources and time right now,” she says. “Thinking of the biggest target that we can move the furthest.” So as Garcés and MFA move forward, their sights are set on putting pressure on companies and government, “to make big meaningful steps, that we can hold them accountable to and we can measure.”
Seeking to find what lies at the root of animal suffering has allowed Garcés to truly see the whole problem, to empathize with all individuals exploited by institutionalized animal cruelty, and to set her sights on the powers that be. As the first female president of one of the biggest players in the global animal advocacy movement, this strategy is set to have a profound impact.
Photos courtesy of Mercy For Animals and Charlie’s Acres Farm Animal Sanctuary. Interview and story by Jessica Scott-Reid.
Jessica Scott-Reid is a Canadian journalist and animal advocate. Her work appears regularly in the Globe and Mail, New York Daily News, Toronto Star, Maclean’s Magazine and others.
“Working together makes us, and our impact, stronger.”
Last month, the Unbound Project partnered with Encompass to highlight the work of women of colour within the animal advocacy movement.
Encompass is a non-profit organization committed to building a more effective animal protection movement by fostering racial diversity and inclusivity.
With Encompass’ support, Unbound’s platforms were used to help amplify the voices of women of colour working in animal advocacy, and further the discussion around the topic of racial diversity, equity, and inclusion.
A big thank you to Encompass and all of the amazing women who shared their advice and insights with us. Read on to get inspired by their wonderful stories!
Founder and Executive Director of Encompass
Aryenish Birdie has worked in various social justice movements, including those striving for racial equity, queer rights, and reproductive freedom. Since 2017, she’s been fully focused on building the foundations of nonprofit organization Encompass.
Encompass empowers farmed animal organizations to operationalize racial diversity, equity, and inclusion to further our collective mission of animal protection. It also empowers advocates of colour by cultivating leadership potential and providing a space for individuals to enter and thrive within the movement.
Birdie founded Encompass after witnessing firsthand the urgent need for a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive animal protection movement.
“As a queer, light-skinned woman born in the Midwest from immigrant parents, I’ve struggled with identity and place my whole life. I never feel totally at home anywhere, so I’m always searching to belong. Working to develop Encompass has been personally satisfying because it’s an organization I myself need, but more importantly, it feels wonderful to build something for the animal movement that supports other people of colour.”
Former Managing Director at Better Eating International / Managing Director at Encompass
Michelle Rojas-Soto is the former Managing Director of Better Eating International, an organization using customized digital media to deliver progressive vegan education on a massive scale. She is a founding member of Gender Equity in Animal Rights (GEAR). Rojas-Soto just recently joined Encompass as Managing Director. Her work is focused on the interconnectedness of issues and manifests her commitment to fighting prejudice, hate, and apathy on all fronts.
She shared with us her insights on how we can work together to make activism spaces more open and inclusive:
“Using language from Tamika Butler, activists who want to support women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour should shift from being actors to allies, and from being allies to accomplices. Tacitly supporting women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour is not enough. Instead, we must actively engage with women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour in their journey, share and even transfer resources to them if we are to achieve meaningful transformation and justice. Essentially, what I am advocating for here is love, the action that requires us to extend ourselves for the benefit of someone’s growth.”
Here are some of Rojas-Soto’s specific suggestions on ways we can do this:
•Connect with women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour doing work in animal rights, ask questions, find out what they need, volunteer, and help them secure additional resources.
•Become a vocal advocate for women of colour and gender non-conforming people of colour in forums with other activists who know less than you about the subject.
Through a personal journey to take charge of her own health, which started almost five years ago, Anahata launched The Soulful Veganista, which aims to support people in finding the healer within themselves and to decolonize their lives through a conscious lifestyle. Anahata does this through a variety of mediums including writing and social media, holistic lifestyle coaching, and hosting local events.
“When I first went vegan, my goal was to spread awareness about wellness, holistic living, and veganism in the Black community. Those are still my missions but my advocacy slightly changed after I got into social justice because it’s something we don’t always incorporate in every movement. Now I advocate considering (hopefully) everyone’s level of ability, accessibility, and needs.”
Anahata’s suggestions for building a more inclusive movement:
“The best thing activists can do is to use their platform to amplify the voices of women of colour. Listen to us, respect our stances, learn more about our struggles, share and credit our work, and don’t police us about our delivery as if our words are more violent than the oppression that plagues us and other marginalized folks.”
Billie “Bee” Bryan
Billie “Bee” Bryan on the power of shared values.
Billie Bryan, affectionately known as “Bee,” is an eco-conscious graphic designer, web designer, artist, musician, activist and vegan. She is also a pansexual, polyamorous, transgender woman advocating for the representation and visibility of her LGBTQIA+ community. When “Bee” is not organising queer meetups and hosting workshops, she’s working from home or on the go as ‘Bee The Designer’, providing design and marketing services to small businesses with big ideas!
“Use what you’ve got to make a difference. I decided to put my greatest skills to use in the best way I knew how and to fill a need that few others were able to. That’s how I contribute. Through all of the work I do, both as part of my own non-profit and as a service provider to others championing a similar message, I hope to help open people’s eyes to rampant inequality affecting human and non-human animals alike.”
Born and raised in the Cayman Islands, eco-conscious creative professional Billie “Bee” Bryan is working to radically reshape the prevalent conservative mindset of her country and create a safe, social environment for LGBTQIA+ people across the Caribbean and Latin America through the work of Colours Cayman, the nation’s first LGBTQIA+ non-profit organization that she founded in 2018.
“I consider animal advocacy to be something of a gateway drug to the recognition of a myriad other socio-political issues. And with so many other social movements breaking ground and continuing to gain momentum, people are beginning to connect the dots. The fact that we’re now considering issues of race, gender and diversity when discussing animal advocacy speaks to that.
There’s a significant amount of overlap and I feel that our commonalities will lend strength to all our efforts. When people with a common interest band together to achieve a common goal, your gender, your nationality, your age or your background is virtually irrelevant; they will fight with you, side by side, as equals. And very few have shown as much empathy and compassion as the activists that I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”
Having worked with or volunteered for animal advocacy groups from around the world, ‘Bee The Designer’s’ clients consist largely of like-minded eco-conscious or vegan non-profits and solopreneurs. “Bee” aims to align her values with those she caters to and amplify their efforts with the help of her creative genius and marketing know-how.
Former International Director of Corporate Outreach at Animal Equality
Jaya Bhumitra has nearly 20 years of campaigns and public affairs experience in both the private and non-profit sectors, including a decade in animal advocacy.
Recently, she served as the International Director of Corporate Outreach for Animal Equality, an Animal Charity Evaluators Top Charity. She serves on the advisory council of Encompass, and on the governing board for the Los Angeles chapter of New Leaders Council, the premier leadership training program for young progressives.
In the two-and-a-half years since launching the corporate outreach department for Animal Equality, Bhumitra hired, trained, and led new teams in Mexico, Brazil, India, Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. to achieve 115 animal welfare policies from the world’s largest food companies, meaningfully reducing the suffering of approximately 40 million animals raised and killed for food each year.
Bhumitra’s suggestions on how we can work together to create more open and inclusive activism spaces:
“One of the most important ways activists can support women of colour – and non-binary folks of colour – in the animal protection movement is by elevating their voices. Rather than posting your own thoughts on social media, share a blog or status by a woman or non-binary person of colour who may have a more acute social commentary to provide, but who may not have as wide a platform from which to be heard.
This doesn’t mean only reposting when we have something to say about our gender or racial identities. This means making space for all of our good ideas and to acknowledge our professional expertise, resharing our content whether we’re describing our varied philosophical and practical approaches to activism or opinions on animal-protection- and vegan-related news.
Likewise, it’s crucial to fund the organizations and advocacy efforts of women and non-binary folks of colour who bear more emotional labor and are stretched in more directions than white-led organizations. If we want to see activism spaces become more open and inclusive, we need to make it possible for those initiatives by women and non-binary folks of colour to thrive.”
Culture and Engagement Specialist at the Good Food Institute
Inspired by the possibilities for growth and innovation in the plant-based foods market, Anastasia brings her skills and passion to The Good Food Institute where she supports the creation of a respectful, fair, diverse, and high-performance culture that enables employees to contribute their very best to the organization.
“Before 2015, I admittedly knew very little about industrial animal agriculture and its impact on the environment, food security, global health, and animal welfare. Four years ago, I just happened to pick up and read Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz; that book turned my world upside down. I spent many hours after work and on the weekends binge-reading everything I could about animal agriculture, thinking to myself, ‘how is it that I am only now learning about all of this?!’ The more I learned, the more difficult it became to focus on my tech recruiting job knowing what was going on all around me.”
Orth graduated with honours from the University of California at Berkeley. After beginning her career in sales, Orth was a recruiter for startups in Silicon Valley where she witnessed first-hand the power of technology to transform and disrupt long-established industries and practices.
“In my pursuit of a career transition, I discovered The Good Food Institute and was immediately inspired by the organization’s multi-faceted approach to using markets and innovation to create a more sustainable, healthy, and just global food system from the inside out.”
Orth’s advice to other women looking to make an impact in the movement:
“Many studies show that women are only likely to apply to jobs if they feel they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men will apply to jobs if they feel they meet 60% of the qualifications. I’d encourage anyone who wants to get professionally involved in activism to just GO FOR IT. Acknowledge your learning capacity. Don’t think that you have to know everything before stepping in. I didn’t know much before entering this space—I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. We can learn just about anything, but what’s most important is having the drive and desire—a growth mindset, if you will. If this is truly your heart’s passion, then get after it, sisters! You WILL learn.”
Open Wing Alliance Events Coordinate at the Humane League
Romina Giel is the Open Wing Alliance Events Coordinator at The Humane League, an organization that exists to end the abuse of animals raised for food. Giel’s personal mission aligns with The Humane League’s mission; end the abuse of animals raised for food.
“Since joining The Humane League’s Open Wing Alliance, which works to end the use of battery cages globally, I’ve deepened my appreciation for collaboration. Working with them and knowing that we all have one common goal, is incredibly fulfilling.”
Giel’s advice to other women looking to make an impact in the movement:
“Get involved! Reflect on the skills you have and how you can apply them to activism. Organisations in the movement have volunteer opportunities in every department. Don’t ever doubt yourself or assume you won’t make a difference because you absolutely will! And if you’re not ready to commit to an organisation, showing up to local protests or signing up to receive online actions, makes a huge difference too.”
Founder of Stray Dog Capital
Lisa Feria is the CEO of Stray Dog Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage, mission-driven companies that aim to take animals out of the supply chain using innovative products and services. With over 26 investments, Stray Dog Capital is one of the leading early-stage investors in the plant-based market.
With the drive of Lisa Feria behind it, Stray Dog Capital works to accelerate a massive shift away from animal agriculture by helping amazing entrepreneurs deliver incredible food that doesn’t require people to radically change the way they eat!
Feria’s advice to other women looking to make an impact in the movement:
“Don’t be afraid to be visible and open with your thoughts, ideas and brand. Find great mentors and leverage them for introductions and influence. Finally, don’t stop learning and leveling your skills up.”
“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, 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
Follow Christine Vardaros on Facebook and Instagram to find out more about her cycling achievements and advocacy efforts.
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.
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.
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.
“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.