Women’s History Month: 9 Women Making Vegan History

lauren Ornelas, founder of the Food Empowerment Project.

Women are everywhere in the vegan movement though they are often given less credit than men, and still receive fewer book deals, TV spots, and other high-profile engagements. This Women’s History Month, we celebrate just a few of the women who made, or are making, history for animals, people, and the planet.

Maud Freshel

If we thought meat-free recipe books were a new thing, we would very much be mistaken!
In 1908, Maud Freshel, a Boston socialite and ethical vegetarian wrote The Golden Rule Cookbook, featuring no fewer than 600 meatless recipes—from the “dainty” Jerusalem Artichokes with Tomato Sauce to Mexican Macaroni to Roast Nut Loaf with Hominy. True, not all the recipes are fully vegan, and some, like Lettuce Sandwiches, may not have needed a recipe of their own, but Freshel certainly blazed the meat-free trail, making the case for ethical dietary choices, while also making it easier for others to try.

You can find and make her recipes here.

Ruth Harrison

Born in 1920 to Quaker parents in the UK, Ruth Harrison was a conscientious objector during the war and dedicated her life to protecting displaced people and animals in need. In 1964, she published Animal Machines, setting out the horrors inherent in the new methods of industrial factory farming. This book had a profound impact. Not only did it prompt the government to set up an advisory body that is still operational today, but her work also influenced philosopher Peter Singer, whose own book Animal Liberation helped shape the modern animal rights movement.

Animal Machines is still available to buy.

Dolores Huerta

Intersectionality is not new, and countless women have worked across multiple social justice movements, including labor leader and civil rights activist, Dolores Huerta. A feminist, community activist, and organizer, Huerta founded the Agriculture Workers Association, and later co-founded the National Farm Workers Association. As a skilled lobbyist and strategist, she obtained disability insurance for farm workers and aid for dependent families. She challenged gender discrimination within the farm workers’ movement and later joined a campaign “encouraging Latinas to run for office”. With an ingrained commitment to fairness and justice, it is no surprise that Huerta is also vegetarian.

Read more about Huerta’s work at the Dolores Huerta Foundation for Community Organizing.

Rukmini Devi Arundale

As the first woman in Indian history to become a member of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament), Rukmini Devi Arundale is fondly known as the mother of modern India’s animal protection movement. She was instrumental in getting the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 passed, spearheaded the setting up of the Animal Welfare Board of India, and was conferred the Prani Mitra (Animal Friend) award in 1968 for her contributions as an animal rights activist. She remained on the board of the AWBI till she passed away in 1986 at the age of 83. She was also  Vice-President of the International Vegetarian Union for 31 years from 1955 until her death, and is hugely respected for her work to promote vegetarianism in India.

Hannah Testa

Hannah Testa is a sustainability activist, an international speaker, an author, and a TEDx speaker. Her key focus is protecting the planet and wild animals, and she has worked with both school children and big business to change hearts and minds, and to inspire meaningful action. As a vegan, Testa knows that our dietary choices have a real impact on planetary health, and she advocates veganism to protect the environment, its wild places, and animals—both farmed and wild. Through serving on the board at The Happy Organization—a youth-founded non-profit that seeks to promote youth empowerment—Testa helps inspire a new generation to make decisions and take actions that are good for all.

Read more about Hannah’s work at Hannah4Change.

Sunaura Taylor

As an artist, writer, and academic, Taylor works at the intersection of disability studies, animal rights, and environmental justice. She asks what it is to be human, what it is to be an animal, and examines how the oppressions of disabled people and animals have historically been intertwined. She challenges perceptions of disability, celebrates the values of “crip culture”, and urges animal rights activists to work within other social justice movements too. “If animal and disability oppression are entangled,” she asks, “might not that mean their paths of liberation are entangled as well?”

Find out more about Taylor’s work, including her excellent book Beasts of Burden.

lauren Ornelas

Long-term vegan, lauren Ornelas has been active in the animal rights world for more than 30 years and has a long list of achievements to her credit. She was part of the team that persuaded Trader Joe’s to stop selling all duck meat, for example, and helped halt the construction of an industrial dairy operation in California. Recognizing that vegan food is not “cruelty-free” if it relies on exploitative child labor, Ornelas founded the Food Empowerment Project. Through it, she works to create a more just and sustainable world, to advance the rights of farm workers, liberate animals, and advocate veganism as a way to better protect our planet, animals and people.

Read more about Ornelas’s work at Food Empowerment Project.

Rebecca Knowles

A background in farming has made Rebecca Knowles an invaluable advocate for the “stock-free” movement. As an ethical vegan with a strong strategic sense, she recently launched Farmers for Stock-Free Farming to act as an advisory body for British animal farmers wishing to move towards a more sustainable and ethical business. Knowles has built a determined and motivated team around her and is already helping a number of farmers move away from animal agriculture, while simultaneously lobbying for political change to remove barriers and create incentives.

Read more about Knowles’s work at Farmers for Stock-Free Farming.

Gauri Maulekhi

A recipient of the prestigious Nari Shakti Puraskar  (Woman Power Award), Gauri Maulekhi is the founder of People For Animals (PFA) in Uttarakhand, India. She has worked extensively on the legal aspect of animal welfare and animal rights in India and lobbied in Nepal to end the mass religious animal slaughter at Gadhimai festival. In 2013, there was a climate disaster due to unusual torrential rains and Maulekhi helped evacuate more than 6,000 animals from the flooded Kedarnath region. Saving these animals influenced future national policy for animals trapped in disasters. Maulekhi also helped the campaign to end the illegal wildlife trade at the Sonepur Animal Fair.

Watch our video to celebrate the amazing women who are actively working to change the lives of animals for the better:

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