After the #Fearman’s pig tragedy: Ways you can create a more vegan world

Many vegans are feeling gutted right now, after the horrific incident in Burlington on Wednesday, Oct. 5 when a truck carrying more than 100 piglets tipped over, injuring many but of course resulting in the deaths of all.

I wrote this on Facebook and it was shared and liked many times:

This is an update for my friends who may not be in the same vegan circles as I am, seeing all the updates, on the Burlington pig truck tip-over…

The pigs are all dead now. Of course, they would have died anyway as they were en route to be slaughtered. But a number of them were injured which means they cannot be rendered for meat. Steve Jenkins from Esther the Wonder Pig Sanctuary traveled to the scene and he – along with others – pleaded to be allowed to take some of these injured pigs into sanctuary.

They were ignored, and then before their eyes the pigs were shot with bolt guns and left to bleed out before being tossed in the garbage, including these ones.

It would have cost the perpetrators nothing to allow these pigs a chance at life, but instead they chose to kill them and literally throw their bodies away.

Science shows that pigs are smarter than dogs. Not that it should matter, since as a society we don’t kill other humans who are lesser intellectually. But my point is, they’re not empty vessels who don’t know what’s going on. And maybe you can relate to a dog’s capacity for thought and feeling better than a pig’s.

I’ve met quite a few pigs during my visits to sanctuaries and they’re adorable. Check out Ester – her page is linked above. They don’t deserve this just so we can have bacon.

Please, consider if the industries that profit from the killing of individuals are the kind that you want to give your money to.

If you want to make a change, reach out. There are people who can help you, and resources readily available. You’re not alone.

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The question now, for many, is what can we do to stop this?  Many people feel helpless and feel like they need to do SOMETHING to make a difference.

Unfortunately this isn’t going to be something we can change overnight, as unjust and horrific as it is.  Eating meat and using animals as commodities is deeply ingrained in our society.  It’s hard to reach the realization that there isn’t one single thing we can do that will directly lead to the end of using animals. We need to systematically dismantle it by creating a new narrative, and a new normal.

I believe that there are small things that each of us can do – in addition to going vegan – that will help us reach the point where we are no longer seen as weird and radical.  Unfortunately, there are very few people who are willing to do things that will see them socially ostracized. We need to overcome the barriers that people have when it comes to veganism so that:

  • Veganism is perceived as accessible by most people
  • Veganism is seen as aspirational, rather than punishing
  • People feel supported in their efforts to become vegan, rather than socially isolated
  • People have access to concrete resources and information about the practical HOW-TOs around becoming vegan
  • People are able to find, buy and prepare vegan food as easily as they can the alternatives

 

Not everyone feels comfortable using every tactic, but perhaps from the following list you can find some things that you can do to channel your energy towards creating a more vegan world:

  •  When you share information about what’s happening to animals, try to avoid language that will raise people’s defensiveness. Be firm and straightforward, but avoid insults and hyperbole.  Once someone turns away from us, it’s hard to get them to turn back and listen – let alone to change their behaviour.
  • Speak about veganism like it’s perfectly normal. Don’t apologize for being vegan. Don’t feel like you have to give non-vegans a pass – “it’s okay”, or “it’s your choice” – Don’t be rude, but also don’t accept their status quo so readily.  It’s the “normalcy” that gives these things their power.
  • And remember, it’s not vegans who are “forcing their views” on society.
  • Support restaurants and businesses that provide vegan food and services. Tell people about them. Buy your holiday gifts for your friends and family from these companies.
  • Tell restaurants and businesses that don’t have vegan options – or that have limited options – how to introduce more vegan options. I’ve written a 25 page ebook on exactly how to do this. It’s currently licensed to the National Capital Vegetarian Association. Email them and ask them for it – ncva.avcn@gmail.com
  • Show people how to create vegan versions of non-vegan favourites. Make them FOR people.  Feed them to those people.
  • Proactively offer to help people. Meet them where they are. Ask what are their barriers, and help them to find solutions.
  • Praise people for the positive steps that they take. Effusively.
  • Hold a vegan potluck or dinner party for your friends and family – even if they aren’t vegan.  Offer to plan one for your local veg association.
  • Share the articles, photographs, events, and other work of local vegan advocates who are trying to make a difference.  Maybe you can’t find the words, but they can.
  • Donate money to vegan organizations that are systematically working towards improving the lives of animals. (Maybe not PeTA. ) Support and share their fundraisers.
  • Adopt an animal.
  • Volunteer to help out at a farm sanctuary, or an animal shelter. Volunteer with your local vegetarian/vegan association – often these groups are starved for volunteers and could do so much more outreach if they had more help.
  • Take care of your mental health so you can be a strong advocate for animals.
  • If you’re in Ottawa, share my directory, Vegan Eats Ottawa so people know where they can eat out.

Advocates, I want to hear your ideas: What other ways do YOU channel your energy to create a more vegan world?


IMG_1493Get Pamela Tourigny’s Five Favourite Smoothies when you sign up for the Vegan Eats Ottawa newsletter here.  Pamela is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.


A Few Resources for Vegan Information:

Ottawa Specific – Vegan Eats Ottawa

More general:

Vegucated list of links

Forks Over Knives

NutritionFacts.org

Hyperbole and anti-intellectualism dominate the BSL debate

 

On Sept. 27 Montreal city council voted in favour of adopting  Mayor Denis Coderre’s proposed bylaws prohibiting new pit bulls across the city’s 19 boroughs. Please speak out against this by signing this petition.  Lives – human and animal – are at stake.

I was reading the comments section recently of an article about something bigoted or racist that Donald Trump had said (there’s something new every day, I can’t keep up), and I was struck by how – even when confronted with crystal clear evidence to the contrary – many people insisted on clinging to their “beliefs” and parroting their talking points repeatedly.

It’s one thing to hold an opinion; It’s quite another for that opinion to be based on science and evidence. And it’s quite another thing yet when that “opinion” has the end result of many thousands – and possibly millions – of innocent sentient creatures being killed needlessly.

It seems to me that when the stakes are high, so should be the standard of evidence required to put into place policies that will impact many. Yet, much like Donald Trump’s bigoted ostracizing of many societal groups, our dialogue around BSL – or banning “pitbull type” dogs – tends to be reactionary, hyperbolic, and based on irrational fear.

I have felt frustrated by this low level of dialogue, and sought to understand how seemingly “normal” internet commentators could so blasé-ly advocate for legislation that essentially will result in thousands of dogs are killed for no reason aside from how they look, even as virtually every single body of experts in existence argues AGAINST the very same legislation.

Think about that for a moment.  BSL results in thousands of dogs being killed for absolutely no reason.  Dogs are wonderful and joyful creatures. Do they really deserve to be put to death because some uninformed person on the internet is scared because one dog somewhere at some time hurt a person?

Doesn’t it seem almost…sociopathic…to argue so passionately in favour of the death of many thousands of individuals who have done nothing wrong, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that your set of beliefs are actually objectively wrong?

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Then it occurred to me that it’s just a continuation of the anti-intellectualism that permeates our society.  Wikipedia defines anti-intellectualism as hostility towards and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals and intellectual pursuits, usually expressed as the derision of education, philosophy, literature, art and science, as impractical and contemptible.

It was on full display during the presidential debate on Monday night, and it was on full display during the council meeting where some council members implored council to make a decision based on the evidence – that BSL doesn’t work – rather than out of misguided fear – and then the majority voted against logic and evidence anyway.

I believe strongly in making decisions based on science, evidence, and rational thought, even though I do not have multiple degrees or an intellectual pedigree. I have a bachelor’s degree, but would not count myself amongst the intellectuals.  I grew up in a rural area, and my family is not particularly well educated.  I have a job, but I am not wealthy.

I fail to comprehend why anyone would think that it’s somehow morally or objectively superior to base important decisions – particularly those of public policy – on personal anecdotes and irrational fears.

While I am glad that the internet has offered us unprecedented opportunity to learn and communicate and build community, I regret that it has also resulted in an anti-intellectual mentality that all opinions are somehow equal.

Some random person on the internet’s opinion, formed from anecdotes and reading a couple of articles, does NOT matter, and is NOT as valid as the Canadian Veterinary Association, or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals when it comes to BSL.

And yet, many think their opinions are not only valid, but MORE valid than those of the experts, of those individuals and bodies of individuals who have committed their entire lives to accumulating and exercising their knowledge in the field of animal health and behaviour.  This is absurd.

(If anyone is wondering why I feel qualified to write an op-ed, I do have a four-year journalism degree and I’ve worked as a writer and communicator for more than 13 years.)

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I used to be afraid of dogs.   I remember being especially afraid of German Shepherds and Dobermans as a kid, despite never actually meeting a dog of either breed.   They were the scary dog du jour of the 80s, I learned later.

I remember pedalling as hard as I could down the dirt roads on which I lived, trying desperately to cycle away from the neighbours’ dogs who roamed the neighbourhood at large, and bit my legs as I tried to pass.

It left me terrified of dogs until I adopted my my own less than five years ago. The dogs who chased me were mutts.  They were also completely untrained and left to roam. Even though they actually did bite me, it would never occur to me to ban their breed, or ban their existence.

I’ve become resigned to the fact that many people simple cannot and will not be reasoned with; that no amount of evidence will sway them from their dearly held “beliefs.”  I accepted that long ago with my vegan advocacy, but I somehow thought that most people could appreciate and value that beauty of dogs since they aren’t eating them.

As we often say on the internet, “haters gonna hate.”

But if only they were the only problem! I have low expectations of lay people, but what about legislators?

It’s legislators who are pushing for BSL and enacting it where it previously did not exist. It’s legislators who are making decisions that do NOT take into account facts, evidence and science.

It’s legislators who are refusing to listen to the multitude of experts – veterinarians, dog behaviourists, animal shelter policy makers, and people who work with dogs every day of their lives – and who instead push forward with anti-intellectual policy based on the hyperbolic nonsense of a few.

I expect more from the people who make the decisions that govern our society.

Tone deaf politicians like Anie Samson who when confronted with the SPCA’s public announcement that they will no longer provide canine services to Montreal boroughs if the BSL legislation is implemented, insisted that Montreal “would not back down.”

The SPCA said in a statement that the bylaw would result in putting down healthy dogs, and that is a practice it cannot support. “We’ll be forced eventually to euthanize hundreds of dogs in good health,” said Benoit Tremblay, the SPCA’s executive director.

The SPCA rightly argues that it cannot ask that of is staff.  Suicide and mental health issues plague those who work in animal care as it is. (These issues are also apparent amongst slaughterhouse workers.) Arguably, the mental health impacts on those forced to carry out unjust BSL will be even more marked than the danger to humans that we see in the rare but highly publicized dog attacks.

But Samson and her ilk have instead wrapped themselves in motherhood statements about safety and protecting people.

It is undisputedly a tragedy when someone is hurt, maimed or killed by a dangerous dog.  We absolutely need to have laws and tools in place to address these situations. Nobody disagrees with that.

There are many things that hurt, maim and kill humans. Cars, for example.  Other humans. Guns.  As a civilized society, we seek to address the individuals who brandish them in harmful ways by developing laws and policies that hold them accountable.

Aside from the facts that 1. It’s very challenging to identify a “pitbull type dog” by appearance only, 2. Even if a dog is a pitbull, that doesn’t mean he or she is dangerous, 3. Many dogs will be misidentified and will lose their lives as a result and 4. It’s virtually impossible to enforce the laws, evidence from other jurisdictions show that BSL simply doesn’t work.

In the short term in makes politicians feel good about themselves because they are “doing something,” and it makes everyday people with no skin in the game feel “safer” – but it’s all smoke and mirrors.   If we don’t address the key issues (responsible pet guardianship, seeing animals as “things”), and simply focus on the bogeymen (in the case of BSL, pitbulls), we do little to create a tangibly safer world.

And if you think you’re in the clear because your dog is a Labrador or you don’t have a dog at all, think again. BSL gives “authorities” sweeping powers to confiscate and kill ANY dog – all they have to do is “look like a pitbull” according to the judgement of any appointed authority. Plus, many of the people supporting BSL also appear to advocate for things like mandatory muzzling on all dogs over 20 kg.

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Even if you aren’t a pitfall lover,  surely you can agree that it’s important to make decisions and public policy based on facts, rather than fear mongering?

Who do you really think has the evidence on their side – veterinary associations, animal behaviourists, and animal services organizations that spend their entire lives working with the animals in question?

Or people like Anie Samson and the rhetoric charged internet peanut gallery that seeks to ban anything that they don’t understand?

From the American Veterinary Medical Association:  “Don’t rely on breed stereotypes to keep yourself safe from dog bites. A dog’s individual history and behavior are much more important than its breed, and since you don’t always know a dog’s history or behavior, it’s not a good idea to make assumptions. Instead, concentrate on prevention: educate yourself, teach children about proper interactions and behaviors with dogs, and learn how to recognize risky and escalating situations with aggressive dogs. These steps — not breed-specific legislation — will lead to fewer dog bites.”

Further reading and resources:

Why Breed Specific Legislation is Not the Answer – American Veterinary Medicine Association

Toronto Humane Society position and backgrounder on BSL

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association position statement on BSL

HugABull Advocacy and Rescue Society – check out the evidence based citations

Humane Society International

Australian Veterinary Association

A list of position statements from training, veterinary and breed organizations

A list of some organizations that do not support BSL

Vegans are not the ones forcing their views on society

Every vegan has heard the tiresome accusation that vegans “force their views” on others.

It’s often witnessed in the comments section of online articles – even those penned by non vegan journalists,  based in science and evidence – that touch on the many benefits of the vegan lifestyle, or the down side of the status quo.

But I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me personally that they only like those vegans who don’t “force their views on people.”  What does that even mean? They only like vegans who are silent about their beliefs and their choices?  Or are there really armies of vegans out there cruelly forcing themselves on beleaguered non-vegans who are just trying to live and let live?  As a vegan community organizer who knows hundreds of real life vegans, that just doesn’t match up with my experience.

Yet with each new scientific article, study,  newly ignited celebrity vegan champion, or mainstream uprising against a specific kind of animal cruelty, the refrain is repeated.  “Vegans are forcing their views on everyone!”  (Vegetarians sometimes experience the same accusation, but also make it against vegans.)

This is true.

This is true.

Before I get into the specifics of how vegan view forcing is a pale shadow of the overwhelming rule of the status quo, non-vegans, try to imagine something.

Imagine you have spent your life going with the flow, and eating and wearing whatever you want, whenever you want it. (Observationally, it never seems to be marginalized or impoverished people making the accusation that vegans are forcing their views.)

Then imagine you come to the realization that something you are doing each and every single day is having a tragic impact on our physical environment, results in the  deaths of billions of innocent animals, and is in fact on the whole undeniably awful for human health.

And instead of turning away from this, as most people do, you sit with it. You let it marinate in your mind, and you become conscious of not only the horror and the devastation, but also, the immense power you have to change your own behaviour. To opt out of the system of oppression and suffering that you’ve uncovered – and now cannot turn away from.

Now imagine that you also – based in a deep and abiding love for your friends and family – assume that the people you know and love can’t possibly be aware of what you’ve learned. Because surely, if they knew, they would stop participating in the actions that are causing so much needless devastation.

Wouldn’t you want to share the information to help the people you love?  To help the animals? To help the world become a kinder place?

And wouldn’t you be surprised – even distraught – if your loved ones chose to ignore or fight the information that you were providing?

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This is not “forcing views” on others.  This is learning, sharing, and growing – on everyone’s part. It isn’t easy to make big changes to our diet and lifestyle.  People very often change their beliefs FIRST, but then struggle to align their actions with those.

It’s easy to understand why many people become defensive and upset when presented with information that challenges their actions, and their view of themselves.  It’s actually really hard to avoid using and abusing animals in our society. Our society is structured to make it EASY to exploit animals.

That’s something each individual needs to deal with internally – and then either move towards change, or don’t. Shooting the messenger helps no-one.

All animal advocates have is the conviction of their beliefs, and the strength of their own voices.

The “vegan views” that are being “forced” upon others are rooted in a powerful sense of justice, and the urgency to use their voices to somehow make a difference in the lives of animals. They are pleas for compassion, kindness, and consideration for the world outside of one’s own palate.

On the other hand, here are just a few fun facts about the “views” that we absorb from the animal agriculture and food industry – what I was able to find in about 20 minutes of googling:

  • The Dairy Farmers of Canada alone have an $80-million yearly marketing budget.
  • In order to increase domestic pork consumption the Canadian pork industry has implemented a  successful marketing strategy reaching consumers directly through advertising and recipe dissemination, and indirectly via programs with influences, such as the media and health professionals, the retail and the foodservice trade.
  • In America, Fast food advertising – increased by 8% between 2009 and 2012, reaching $4.63 billion including $2.3 billion targeted at children under the age of 11
  • The fast food industry spends more than $5 million every day marketing unhealthy foods to children.
  • Kids watch an average of more ten food-related ads every day (nearly 4,000/year).
  • Nearly all (98 percent) of food advertisements viewed by children are for products that are high in fat, sugar or sodium. Most (79 percent) are low in fiber.
  • Only 21% of youth age 6-19 eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
  • By 2030, American healthcare costs attributable to poor diet and inactivity could range from $860 billion to $956 billion, which would account for 15.8 to 17.6 percent of total healthcare costs, or one in every six dollars spent on healthcare.

In contrast, game changing start up Beyond Meat (a company putting considerable efforts into engineering fake plant-based meat products that look and taste like the real thing) announced in late 2015 that it had raised $17 million in start up investment for product development.  That’s only a few days worth of junk food advertising directed at children.

Sure, there are other vegan brands that do a bit of marketing, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to big agriculture, fast food, and grocery.  Barely even a blip.

We have all been more or less indoctrinated into terrible habits that do NOT serve us, or the world within which we live, since we were old enough to breathe. THAT is what vegans are fighting against, and what each of us is up against when we try to bring our actions into alignment with our stated values of peace and respect for all beings.

As a new vegetarian, I remember how hurt I felt when some vegans I’d met on the internet informed me about the reality of dairy and egg production during yet another thread on Veggieboards.com seeking “humane” dairy and egg options. “Those vegans are so holier than thou!! They think they’re so much better than me!” I seethed.

It wasn’t until I made the decision to become vegan that I realized the problem wasn’t them; it was ME and my emotional responses to the ethics-driven position that they’d taken. They weren’t being holier-than-thou; they were living their lives according to their values, and sharing information that I didn’t want to hear which made me feel judged. When I was honest with myself, nobody had been rude about presenting this information; my reaction was entirely due to my own feelings of guilt. The simple act of being vegan is taken as a personal judgement.

The information vegans (and for that matter, participants of any social justice movement) are sharing isn’t comfortable information. It is never an enjoyable experience to realize that actions which we undertake every single day are causing harm – to ourselves, to the environment, and to the animals.

Vegans “forcing their views” – to whatever extent that there’s a kernel of truth – comes from a sense of frustration and urgency over the horrors that animals are enduring every second of every day. They want the exploitation of animals to stop, NOW.

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As a vegan who has tried to speak openly to hundreds, or maybe even thousands of non-vegans about veganism, I am truly sorry if you felt I was “forcing” it on you and if that evoked negative feelings for any of you, although I hope you can try to open yourself up to understanding the  urgency I feel about making things better for animals.

If you’re someone who feels judged by someone else’s veganism in the absence of overt condemnation, consider that  maybe you have some things to work out with your own conscience.   Remember that you – and everyone around you – have been subjected to a relentless stream of messaging and advertising, designed to normalize a treatment of animals that most of us find truly abhorrent when forced to confront its reality.  Any vegans who are talking to you about veganism are aware of what you’re subjected to, because they too had the same experience.

We live in a society in which  98% of restaurants have animal ingredients in 98% of their menu items, in which every holiday is celebrated with ritualistic dead animal eating,  in which it’s still socially acceptable to mock vegans. A society in which millions of animals are euthanized in shelters every year, most people wear animals, and events like “Rib Fests” and “Bacon Fest” are sanctioned by the government.

Think about that for a minute. Please, don’t try to tell me that it’s vegans who are forcing their views.

If you’re someone who wants to learn more about the lifestyle – there are so many resources available!  I’ve listed some below.  Or if you’re someone who has already carefully considered the ramifications of your lifestyle choices and have taken it as far as you’re currently willing, but respect and support vegans and the vegan way of living – thank you for not contributing to our marginalization.

Whatever you’ve settled on for your beliefs, own your choices and be true to your conscience.

And above all, be kind, always.


IMG_1493Get Pamela Tourigny’s Five Favourite Smoothies when you sign up for the Vegan Eats Ottawa newsletter here.  Pamela is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.


A Few Resources for Vegan Information:

Ottawa Specific – Vegan Eats Ottawa

More general:

Vegucated list of links

Forks Over Knives

NutritionFacts.org

Oh, and a few more LOLZ

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Ottawa area vegan cheesemaker opening fauxmage factory, cheese shop + a contest!

(Please read on for contest instructions.)

Canada’s purveyor of fine vegan cheeses – Fauxmagerie Zengarry – is dramatically expanding its production and will be opening Canada’s first all-vegan cheese shop in Alexandria ON on Wednesday, August 10. (For now the cheese shop is a little table and a freezer.)

When I went vegan, vegan cheese wasn’t really a thing.  I bought a cookbook full of recipes for “uncheese,” but since none even came close I eventually gave up and for nearly six years, I simply didn’t eat anything that involved “cheesiness.”

Twelve years later, we are awash with vegan cheese options, ranging from shreds, to blocks, to spreads, and made from a multitude of ingredients.  Vegans, unless you have been vegan for more than six years, you have no idea how lucky we are today!

Opinions about which vegan cheese is best vary wildly, and online discussion is heated. But one vegan cheese brand that virtually everyone can agree is pretty fantastic is Fauxmagerie Zengarry.

Lynda Turner got her start experimenting with making vegan cheeses  five years ago, and began selling them at health food stores in Ottawa about three years ago.  Today, she has distribution across Ontario and Quebec, and she’s working on national distribution.

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You can now buy her creamy cashew cheeses – some spreadable, some not, all delicious – at health food stores and fine food retailers all over the place; flavours include brie, sundried tomato and basil, garlic and fine herb, gruyère, and smokey jalapeno. Her extended Réserve Spéciale collection is available only by direct order and include fauxmage bleu, rosemary blueberry chèvre, pub cheddar and holiday brie.

The company has reached the point that it can no longer meet consumer demand by producing fauxmages out of Turner’s home kitchen; on Wednesday it opens its cheese factory and shop doors after weeks of renovations to the space at 209 Main St. N., Alexandria.  An official grand opening will follow in the fall.

Turner, who left her job as a government scientist to focus full-time on making vegan cheese, is excited and nervous about the big move.

“I’m going to have to sell a LOT of cheese!” she says with a laugh. “Fortunately our distribution continues to grow, right along with the army of fauxmage enthusiasts.  My goal  – my dream – is for everyone to be able to buy delicious dairy-free cheeses wherever they buy their groceries!”

The Fauxmagerie Zengarry website includes an online store, as well as dozens of recipes, many of which use the cashew cheeses as an ingredient.

Like this one:

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And this one:

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This homegrown vegan business needs our support as it takes its next big step!  Let’s rally behind Lynda and Fauxmagerie Zengarry to Spread the Love!

HOW TO ENTER:

Visit the recipe section of the Fauxmagerie Zengarry website.

Choose one recipe that you would love to try, and share in the comments below which recipe, as well as the link TO the recipe.

Contest closes Friday, Aug. 12. I will randomly choose one entry to win a prize package of three Zengarry fauxmages, and a box of (yes, gluten-free) crackers!  Winner must be able to pick up their prize in central Ottawa.

Disclosure: I am a marketing advisor to Fauxmagerie Zengarry; as such, this post could be considered indirectly sponsored.


IMG_1493

Get Pamela Tourigny’s Five Favourite Smoothie when you sign up for the Vegan Eats Ottawa newsletter here.  Pamela is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.

Save

The dramatic fall – and triumphant comeback – of Auntie Loo

In spring 2015, Mandi Lunan and Auntie Loo’s Treats – Ottawa’s first vegan bakery – seemed to be on top of the world.

They had sold out of treats during a wildly successful Veg Fest in early June, they had held a successful vegan brunch pop up, and had secured wider distribution than anyone ever could have imagined.  The bakery had just introduced vegan macarons using aquafaba, which was all the rage, and people were going wild for them.

Then on June 19, seemingly out of the blue, Auntie Loo’s Treats announced that it was closing the next day via a message on Facebook. The vegan and foodie communities in Ottawa were left reeling.


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Mandi and Pamela at the Save ZenKitchen fundraiser, June 2014.

Ali Pester is one customer who was shocked.  “On a more personal level, I knew it would really change the Ottawa vegan scene and the presence of veganism in our community at large and my own relationship with the city. It was such a well-known establishment and most of my non-vegan friends, who wouldn’t have regularly made the decision to choose a cruelty-free treat, loved Auntie Loo’s and credited it for being delicious and accessible vegan food,” Pester says.

Pester had discovered the bakery as a new vegan at the age of 17.  “I ventured to Auntie Loo’s to try my first vegan baked good. Not only was Mandi so kind and helpful to me when she found out I had decided to go vegan, but her food was amazing and helped me to really believe that veganism was something I could do for the rest of my life.”

I learned about the bakery closing when Mandi called me, asking for help with her written statement.  On the heels of the death of ZenKitchen, I was crushed. I knew it couldn’t compare to what Mandi or her staff were experiencing though.

After the announcement was posted, speculation swiftly followed.  Many wondered if they had not supported the bakery enough.  Others questioned the seemingly explosive growth of the previous couple of years.  There was plenty of snark, but there was also a tremendous sense of loss (to read my post on it, including the statement issued on social media, click here).

Mandi Lunan promptly disappeared from public view, keeping in touch with only her family and a small handful of people.  She felt humiliated, and couldn’t bear to face anyone.

“Devastated is not a strong enough word for how I felt,” she told me recently.  “The hardest part was disappointing and letting down everyone who had trusted and believed in me, but I own my mistakes. The demise of the business was no one’s fault but my own, and I’m still trying to forgive myself for it.”

So, what happened?  How could a business that appeared to be thriving close its doors so suddenly?

The accidental entrepreneur

Mandi Lunan became a bakery owner almost by accident.  Upon first becoming vegan in 2000, she was disappointed by the lack of edible vegan options.

“When I moved to Ottawa in 2002, I began baking rich tasty goodies for friends and roomies,” she says. “Then co-workers started giving me money to cook vegan meals and treats for the week for them. Then I got roped into a craft show. The response was massive. I realized I had a business on my hands.”

Punk music promoter Shawn Scallen made it his personal mission to get Lunan up and selling desserts in Ottawa, and finally after beginning by wholesaling to a few local health food stores, Lunan was able to open her first location on Bronson Avenue.

“After a few years of craft sales, business school, personal orders and being incubated (when you use a city approved facility to produce your product), I opened my first location on Bronson Ave in 2009. It was one of my favorite memories and accomplishments, and was years in the making!” Lunan says.  The business continued growing; Farm Boy became a point of sale, followed by Aramark and Algonquin Food Services. For a period Auntie Loo’s Treats were available at Second Cup cafes.

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Photo by Ben Welland.

When the producers of Donut Showdown called from the Food Network and invited Lunan to audition, she could hardly believe it. “Something so small I did for fun became an internationally known brand. I was thrilled,” she says.

The Ottawa vegan community was also thrilled to see one of its own not only gaining so much prominence, but also providing much-needed vegan options.  Michael Schnier was one of them.  “It was just three blocks north of my old apartment in Sandy Hill, and I was sad to see it go,” says  Schnier, who runs the @YOWVeggies Twitter account.  “In my experience, omnivore bakeries, cafes, pubs, and restaurants can be very good at accommodating vegan customers, but I have given up on reading desert menus. I’m not sure if I have ever been to a non-vegetarian sit down restaurant that had a single desert option I could order.”

But Auntie Loo’s filled that void. “What Auntie Loo’s offered was variety. Sweet and savoury scones, half a dozen different flavours of cupcakes all with perfect icing, and pizza rolls made with Daiya,” Schnier says.

By 2013 the bakery was juggling huge clients, so Lunan decided to move and expand the bakery to accommodate the growing demand.  It opened on Nelson Avenue in Fall 2013.

It should have been the business’ critical next step to success.

Death by a thousand cuts

The move did not go as planned.

“I hired all the wrong people for the construction and underestimated the permit process with the city of Ottawa,” Lunan says. Construction dragged on for months. Managing the day to day of the business and trying to build the new space ran her ragged.

She admits to struggling with mental illness her whole life, and says that the added stress took her out. “I wasn’t sleeping, having nightmares and panic attacks, and just generally burning out. I should have asked for more help, but I was proud and didn’t. This was my first mistake.”

With the bakery finally up and running, it seemed like Lunan and her team were in the home stretch.  But the trauma lingered. Lunan couldn’t get it together.

“I was so burnt out I didn’t prepare for finances properly. I was overwhelmed,” she says.

Lunan was once again kicked while already down; in June 2014 she had a bicycle accident, shattering her right leg between her knee and ankle.  She endured nine hours of surgery and the insertion of multiple metal plates, and given a recovery time of one year.  She would be unable to walk for the first 4 to 6 of those months.

But the world wasn’t finished with her. “Upon calling my insurance, I was I informed that I wasn’t covered for loss of labour for myself. The burden fell to my staff and family. I was exhausted and again, didn’t ask for help,” she says.

Knock out punch

After half a year of of being almost entirely unable to work, Lunan attempted to return to manage the business.

“Upon my return, the business was in financial turmoil due to me being physically unable to do my job. I ignored all the warning signs and continued to avoid the financial issues. I had no fight left, I was too burnt out.”

For my part, I  sensed that all was not right.  She was kind and pleasant as always, but I could sense there was an edge. But when asked, she insisted she was fine.  On the surface everything seemed great.

In June 2015, she says the Canada Revenue Agency called and told her that everything she had now belonged to them; accounts, space, outstanding payments clients owed her, everything.

“I was devastated and had no choice but to abruptly close my business. In not paying attention to my self care, in not asking for help, in not addressing the issues head on and making hard decisions, I had let down everyone. My staff who had trusted me for their livelihood, my family, and my customers,” Lunan says.

Rock Bottom

Lunan had realized that she had nowhere to turn, and no way to salvage the business. She had let things become too far gone, and the dream was over.

On June 18, she had shared adorable photos of a resident squirrel to the bakery’s Facebook, to the delight of customers. On June 19, she announced the business closing, and on June 20, the last Auntie Loo’s treats were sold.

And with that, the deafening noise in Mandi’s head was silenced.  There was nothing left.

“I fell apart. My father came and got me to stay with them in their tiny hamlet in Prince Edward County until I was better. I was so despondent I had to be supervised and was not even allowed to drive a car. I pulled away from everyone and everything. Turned off my phone, deleted my social media, deleted my email,” she says.

Her partner took her to France for a few weeks in August, and her profound sadness persisted.  “Though I enjoyed the experience, I was deeply sad during the trip too, and couldn’t hide it. That’s when I knew I was truly heartbroken- you have to be pretty fucked up to be sad in France!”

Upon her return, she went back to her parents’ home and tried to figure out her next move.   In September, a longtime friend offered her an admin job with his company.

“I learned that you can’t be admin once you’ve been the boss. I did a few months there before we all realized it was a mistake. We consciously uncoupled. That’s when I decided it was time to apply my knowledge and network,” she says.

And with that, her consulting firm, This Charming Mandi, was born. (You can follow her in IG: @thischarmingmandi) and Facebook.)

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Recovering: Mandi Lunan. Photo by Chris Wattie.

A brighter future

“I’ve learned that entrepreneurs are forever,” Lunan says. “Trying to work a 9-5 seemed like a luxury, but ended up being difficult as I was not accustomed to it, and I struggled not being the boss.”

These days, she is working part time at the LCBO while building her consulting business. She enjoys the friendly low-stress interaction with LCBO customers.

So far her consulting clients have included a government run daycare centre, a tiny restaurant, a rock band, and even some visual artists. She offers services including business plan writing, speaking and lectures, social media strategy, and an “introduction” service for which she pairs clients with people from her personal network based on personalities and needs.

“What I’ve learned in the past year is that I’m so much more than just the Auntie Loo’s brand. There’s value in my life, in my knowledge, in my family and friends,” she says.

Her longtime friend Mailyne Mae agrees. She first met Mandi in Small and Medium Enterprise Management at Algonquin College, and says that while Mandi  was courageous enough to pursue her passions,  she had not yet reached that point .  “When I finally jumped into self-employment, Mandi was always at the forefront of my mind, ” she says.  “She gave me courage and words of wisdom and was even one of my first clients. To me, Mandi wasn’t someone I knew as a vegan baker, she was and is a dear friend who has inspired me and who also happened to feed me through her baking. The closing of her business has definitely left a hole in the community but it will never leave a hole in our hearts, especially not mine.”

Lunan has also been working diligently on an upcoming cookbook, Auntie Loo for You, with a planned late autumn release.  She will be sharing her favorite recipes from the bakery, as well as many of the ones she makes at home.

Now that she’s given herself an entire year to grieve, she is ready to resume being the fabulous Mandi Loo.  She’s cleaned up her diet and shed 30 pounds, has her business designed, and has taken tentative steps back into the public eye, on social media and otherwise.

“I was welcomed back with open arms and frankly, it was overwhelming. There were tears in my eyes as the well wishes poured in. I love this community so much,” she says. “The support I’ve received through all of this means everything.”

“I’m still in recovery so I have my down days or things that make me sad. I’m slowly coping and moving on, doing the best I can and being grateful for what I have now. There’s a lot of joy in my life, and I’m happy.”


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Get Pamela Tourigny’s Five Favourite Smoothie when you sign up for the Vegan Eats Ottawa newsletter here.  Pamela is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.

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Get your vegan ice cream on

Are you looking to get your vegan ice cream on this weekend (or every day!)?  Then this post is for you.

Back when I first went vegan in 2004 ice cream options in Ottawa were scarce.  There was a hard to find Tofutti option, and Rice Dream.  I thought about getting an ice cream maker, but the truth is I’m just not that industrious. So, there were a few ice cream-less years.  Things have changed a lot in 12 years!

Before too long So Delicious became available in Ottawa, and slowly but surely ice cream options began to expand.  Today So Delicious makes ice cream out of coconut milk, cashew milk, almond milk and soy milk (perhaps even more) and is widely available.  They also make ice cream sandwiches and bars.  Larry & Luna’s Coconut Bliss also arrived on the scene, offering decadent coconut milk based flavours. Ben & Jerry’s has launched vegan flavours in the US and it’s expected that Canada is next.  These days Tofutti and Rice Dream are rarer, but overall vegan ice creams have never been easier to find.

The most wildly popular by the tub vegan ice cream in Ottawa is no doubt Oat and Mill. This locally produced ice cream is made from oats, and has a wild array of flavours.  I’ve tried a few of them and they are on point. Oat and Mill sold cones at Ottawa Veg Fest and had a line up throughout the whole event. I managed to get mine before the doors even opened.

Unfortunately at this point Oat and Mill is only available by online ordering (with pick up points) and at the Carp and Westboro farmers markets on Saturday and at Lansdowne on Sunday… but I have reason to believe that is going to change!

oat and mill at VF

The past couple of years have also seen the growth of vegan ice cream being available at ice cream shops and restaurants.   Thimblecakes has led the way, offering by the pint or scoop coconut based ice cream out of its Centretown shop. It’s dairy free, gluten free, and nut and egg free, and made in small batches daily using seasonal local organic flavours as much as possible. It’s a special treat to be able to walk into a shop and walk out with vegan ice cream in a waffle cone.

In a very exciting development, Strawberry Blonde recently began offering vegan soft serve ice cream!  It’s soy based, and free of gluten, dairy, eggs and nuts. So far they have offered strawberry and vanilla, and vanilla / coffee bean flavours. They are having some challenges with keeping it in stock though – it’s been so wildly popular that they keep selling out!  Best to check their Facebook or to call ahead to avoid disappointment. Of course, even if they are out of soft serve, they still have plenty of delicious treats for you to enjoy.

Since it opened this spring, Little Jo Berry’s has also had ice cream options – they serve Oat and Mill.  Milkshakes are on their regular menu, and sometimes sundaes are offered on special occasions.  I recently enjoyed one:

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There are a couple of new players to the ice cream game:  Recently opened Moo Shu Ice Cream opened in Centretown in mid-July, and has a vegan chocolate ice cream option.  Because it’s just opening they are struggling a bit with supply and demand, so it may be prudent to give them a bit of time to get up and running.

And it has been reported that Mantovani 1946  in the Byward Market (Murray Street) has gelato options that are not only vegan, but also aren’t fruit based.  According to Camille Labchuk, “They have vegan gelato options that aren’t just fruit sorbets! Vanilla and tiramisu, plus more to come. I went in last night and they said consumer demand for the vegan gelato is so strong that they got cleaned out as soon as their vegan flavours arrived, so they’re ordering more and will expand the flavour options.” It may be best to call ahead to determine availability.

Many gelato spots in Ottawa have a vegan gelato or sorbet option – you can find one near you on the Vegan Eats Ottawa Guide.

I know that there are probably other one-off options that I don’t know about – if you know about them please share by posting a comment!  What’s your favourite kind of vegan ice cream?


IMG_1493Get Pamela Tourigny’s no-fuss recipes when you sign up for the Vegan Eats Ottawa newsletter here.  Pamela is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.

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Vegans, we are SO on point

Dear vegans,

I know that it is really challenging right now not to be discouraged about some of the terrible things that are happening to animals. It’s one thing after another – Harambe the gorilla, Juma the Jaguar, the  breed specific legislation nonsense in Quebec that could see thousands of dogs sentenced to death because of their appearance. This is layered on top of the day to day devastation that we are keenly aware is happening in the background.  It can be really hard to not feel despair, and hopelessness.

Summer also represents the time for Rib Fests far and near, with several new ones popping up in Ottawa alone this year.  Rib Fest is the ultimate assertion of carnivorousness, and raises the ire of vegans and vegetarians in a way few other things do.  It’s hard not to feel like we’re losing the battle when it’s seen as seen as socially acceptable, and even cool, to eat the flesh off of the rib cage of a formerly living being.

We may not be winning the Rib Fest battle, but the good news is that all indicators show that we are making serious traction with winning the war. Never have we ever been more socially accepted, and never before has vegan food and lifestyle appealed to so many people.  Vegans and allies, we are so on point right now that it’s ridiculous.

Here are five things that show how very on point we are.

1. According to Google Trends, people are looking for information about the vegan lifestyle in record numbers. Look at how vegan compares to vegetarian, paleo and gluten-free. For all the noise you hear about the latter two from nutritionists and “natural health” proponents, it’s VEGAN that people are searching for.  Even just between 2014 and 2015, google searches for “vegan” increased by 32%!

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2. Places can’t keep up with the demand for vegan options. A few examples: One Ottawa gelato shop has said that demand for their vegan gelato options is so strong that they got cleaned out as soon as their vegan flavours arrived.  Vegan bakery Strawberry Blonde brought in soft serve ice cream this past week, but haven’t been able to keep it in stock. And a non-vegan restaurant made special vegan sausages from scratch to serve on Canada Day.

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3. Top people in every field are speaking out in favour of veganism. Arnold Schwartzenegger, California governor and the most famous body builder of all time, is advocating for eliminating meat from ones diet, and has spoken of its immense environmental impact. Incidentally, the world’s strongest man and top ultra marathoner are also vegan… along with some of the world’s most well known business people, politicians, and entertainers.  Bill Gates is backing Beyond Meat, which as the mission of creatingmass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein.

The Washington Post published an article recently called Meat is Horrible, and increasingly online dialogues on the topic show a level of thoughtfulness previously unheard of; even those who are not vegan are increasingly acknowledging that perhaps they ideally should be.  (There are also still plenty of people whose contributions are limited to “I love meat!” and “But bacon, tho.”)

4. Mainstream brands are introducing vegan versions of their products; and they aren’t accidentally vegan.  Gay Lea has a vegan coconut whipped cream. Becel has vegan margarine.  Hellman’s has introduced vegan mayo.  Ben & Jerry’s has jumped on board with vegan ice cream.  These introductions have helped to put vegan products on the same shelves with their non-vegan counterparts, introducing them to a whole new audience.  In the United States, you can buy vegan Just Mayo at the dollar store. The dollar store!

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5. The most influential health organizations in the world are using the V word.  The World Health Organization and The United Nations have both recently called for people to adopt plant-based diets in their reports. Okay so maybe the UN and WHO aren’t trendy, but it’s definitely indicative that the science supporting vegan and plant-based diets has attained mainstream acceptance and support.  Plus, the President of the American College of Cardiology and Chief of Cardiology at Rush University, Dr. Kim Williams, is a vegan and advocates a plant-based diet for heart disease prevention.

We are making headway.  I get it – we are all impatient and want to see faster progress, as lives depend on it – I’ve been vegan for 12 years and have been waiting longer than many.   We are reaching the critical mass.  Hang tight, and keep being vegan loud and proud. Keep it positive, and show people how it’s done.  A better, kinder world is just around the corner.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. ~ Ghandi


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Get Pamela Tourigny’s no-fuss recipes when you sign up for the Vegan Eats Ottawa newsletter here.  Pamela is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.

Shortcut vegan food for home or work

A lot of people derive great joy from cooking and spending time in the kitchen. I am not among them.

As someone who is self employed, time is money, and when I do the cost benefit analysis it simply doesn’t make sense for me to spend that time cooking.  There are others out there who can do it better – and more efficiently – than I can.  Plus, I spent the first 8-10 years of being vegan making most things from scratch.  Now I don’t have to – that’s a huge bonus!

Needless to say, I LOVE eating out at restaurants, but there’s a cost benefit analysis there too, since there are no vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants closer than a 15 minute drive to where I work (aside from Panago, and they also deliver – I exercise a great deal of self restraint where that is concerned.) Plus, who can afford to eat out all of the time? Not Pamela, that’s for sure!

With the brain-powered work I do, plus my physical activity level, I can’t afford to skimp on calories or nutritive value. Aside from my penchant for vegan fast food and shortcuts, I am militant about eating at LEAST eight servings of fruits and veggies each day, and my average is closer to ten.

Here are a few of my favourite quick meal ideas, which when supplemented with fresh fruits and veggies or a smoothie (or even a <gulp> salad), make a delicious and reasonably healthy meal!  Note that these may not be the cheapest options out there, but they do tend to be less expensive than eating out, and less time-consuming than cooking from scratch.

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Amy’s Thai Green Curry entrée with fresh fruits and vegetables.

  1. Amy’s microwave entrees

Back when I first went vegan there were few – if any – options along these lines. So at first I felt like I was cheating and being “bad” for loading up my cart with frozen dinners. Now, I just feel joy. It makes me so happy to enjoy nutritionally balanced and tasty meals that I didn’t have to make.

Yeah, I know. Some people don’t like microwaves. There are oven instructions for you too! But I love being able to pop it in the microwave and five minutes later, ta-da!  These entrees are actually really yummy too!  They are a bit higher in sodium than I’d prefer, but when the rest of your diet is basically raw fruits and vegetables, soups, salads, beans and legumes, etc. a bit of sodium in your Amy’s entrée really isn’t a big deal.

My favourites?  Thai Green Curry, Enchiladas, Vegan/GF Lasagne, and Pad Thai.  I am sure that some of the other ones are great too but if they contain mushrooms I haven’t let them cross my lips.

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Pasta and kale with a Zengarry fauxmage sauce.

2. Fauxmage, hummus, dips and more!

My quickest meal is part of a container of Zengarry fauxmage, crackers, a smoothie and fresh fruit/crudités.  Use hummus if you’re a bit more budget minded or don’t have any fauxmage on hand.  Other times if I feel like I want more carbs, I heat the fauxmage with some other ingredients and use it to coat pasta (I almost always throw in some shredded kale too.)  There are about a million other things you can do with Zengarry fauxmages (like spreading it all over a wrap, which you then stuff with veggies), which are documented on the Zengarry website.

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Despite having never eaten crab in my life, I LOVE crab-less cakes!

3. Faux meats and prepared pilafs

President’s Choice has made my life SO MUCH EASIER with their bagged sides, like this one. No more cooking quinoa, then chopping up veggies into mitty bitty pieces, then trying to figure out how to season it. Just empty the contents into a frying pan and stir around for a bit and you’re done!  I often will eat these with a modest portion of Gardein crabless cakes, a Gusto sausage, and of course, a smoothie. I also usually mix in extra kale into the pilaf, and if I have lots of kale, I will sauté some up as an additional side.


There is absolutely no shame in taking short cuts and saving yourself the time and stress of cooking if you don’t enjoy it.

There is a nutrition trend towards making pretty much everything from scratch, and for those who enjoy that, more power to you!

But for the rest of us, who struggle to find the time to nourish ourselves properly, don’t sweat it. Try these short cuts, and use your smoothies as a vehicle for nutrition.  Being vegan can be simple and accessible to all!

If you are really strapped for time, you can also consider signing up periodically for a vegan home meal delivery service such as those offered by Naturally Vero, Purple Radish Kitchen, and The Kneaded Kitchen.


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Get my no-fuss recipes when you sign up for the Vegan Eats Ottawa newsletter here.  I am an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  I also consult with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.

 

 

 

Fettuccine alfredo that’s delicious AND healthy

Tonight we had a dinner guest, so I figured we should take it up a notch or two past “order pizza.”  I needed something that would be pretty quick, feed five, and also incorporate vegetables.

I decided to make fettuccine with cashew alfredo sauce.  I used to love alfredo sauce as an omnivore, and as a vegetarian. It was the only dish I would order at restaurants, and I was preoccupied with trying to replicate it at home.  I used to spend hours whisking away, trying to create an alfredo sauce that matched how I imagined it should be, using butter, parmesan, and heavy cream. Everything I made came up short.

If only I’d known sooner that it is as easy as using raw cashews!  Soaked raw cashews make it super easy, and the result is a smooth, rich, flavourful alfredo sauce that also happens to be pretty darn healthy!

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Here’s the recipe that I followed/created for tonight’s dinner:

Cashew alfredo with veggies
(Serves 6)

Cashew alfredo sauce

  • 1 cup cashews, soaked for at least one hour
  • 1/4 cup white miso
  • Half cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)
  • about two cups water
  1. Blend all of the above in the best blender you have, until smooth.
  2. Chop up whatever veggies you want. I used zucchini, red pepper, onion and kale. I also used two Gusta sausages that I happened to have on hand.
  3. Bring a big cauldron of water to boil, and cook the pasta of your choice.  A pound or a pound and a half is about right (454-600 grams). Gluten free if that’s what you want, but be aware that it won’t re-heat well.
  4. Sauté the veggies in coconut oil until tender.
  5. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and rinse. Turn burner to the lowest heat. Then return the pasta to the cauldron, and stir in the sauce.
  6. Either stir in the cooked vegetables, or put the veggies on top of the piles of alfredo drenched noodles that are now plated.
  7. Enjoy!

On another note, the next Eat Your Veggies Institute workshop, Super Snacking, is coming up on June 1. There’s early bird pricing until May 15.   Naturally Véro’s Véronique Daoust will show the ins and outs for healthy snacking, just in time for summer!  On the (vegan and gluten-free) menu:

  • Pina Colada Smoothie
  • Hidden Greens Chocolate Protein Smoothie
  • Coconut Lemon Bliss Balls
  • Vanilla Chia Pudding

Register here!


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Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.  Sign up to receive her monthly e-newsletter here.

“No aminal, cow muk, egg:” Raising children vegan

What happens when a child is raised with vegan values and habits, right from the moment she is born?

I met Dee Campbell-Giura on the National Capital Vegetarian Association Facebook group in very early 2012.  She was a new vegan, full of questions and observations, and with great hair. We became friends as I helped her navigate her new lifestyle.

A year or so later when she was 40, her baby Bianca was born, after a healthy vegan pregnancy.  Three years later, Bia is a happy and healthy mini vegan who is already reading labels and questioning her mother on food’s vegan status.  It’s a fascinating glimpse into what happens when a child is taught to foster her compassion, rather than suppress it.

Dee graciously agreed to share her story, as well as some of her tips and advice for those who want to raise their child(ren) vegan but who may be wary of the societal stigma. (Hint: It’s become much less severe.)

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PT: How did you become vegan?  What were your reasons?  Challenges?  Supports?

DCG: My partner and I were talking about marriage and a baby. With age not in my favour (I would likely be 40), I wanted to offer a baby the best ‘host’ possible. So I read “Skinny Bitch Bun in the Oven,’ not knowing it had a vegan angle to it, and was repulsed/saddened/grossed out – within days I cut out meat, eggs and dairy from my diet.

The last to go was fish. I couldn’t connect with fish; they were too different (I know that’s funny coming from an evolutionist). I ate it two more times before I purposely watched videos and read online material with the intention to remove fish from my diet too. It worked. Once you know, you just can’t un-know. I couldn’t contribute to it anymore, at all.

Then I looked at my wardrobe. I got rid of anything that was obviously animal flesh (leather jacket) and kept the things that weren’t. Why? Because I’m also eco-minded (knowing what I do about the impact of animal agriculture and husbandry on our environment, it’s laughable that I called myself “green” or “eco” when I ate meat!).

The other challenge was learning to cook vegan. I had no clue what I was doing. I had been eating things like “steak and salad” and chicken breast sandwiches. What would we eat?? That’s where SUPPORT came in. The first person who helped me was, well…Pamela (editor’s note: That’s me!)  No, she did not pay me to say that. I would text or email or call with questions like, “what do I eat instead of mayo?” or “is chocolate vegan?” She was my local coach, helping me become – and stay – vegan.

My next support was Credible Edibles, vegan cooking classes. These were fabulous. I learned how to make apps, mains and desserts with legumes. I learned how to make meals that my Italian husband loved, and he never complained about being hungry afterward. The classes were integral to building a roster of dishes, and learning about cooking vegan, and healthy. Yes, we eat vegan crap too, but the majority of our food is way healthier than it was when I cooked non-vegan – and we have a much wider variety of meals and foods now. I’m a better cook as a vegan than I was as a non-vegan.

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PT:  How long had you been vegan when your daughter was born?

DCG: Just under two years.

PT: Was there ever any question that you would raise her vegan?

DCG:  Never. Not even a smidge. My husband is not vegan (he eats meat at his own discretion outside the home) but he too was 100% about her being raised vegan. The only disappointment for him was that she would never eat his favourite recipes that his mother makes, but he got over that quickly. My only disappointment was that she wouldn’t see many animals up close like I did growing up (at both land and aquatic zoos).

PT: What are your goals with raising Bianca?

DCG: I want her to  have enough compassion that she won’t have any interest in eating animals, and ideally, for her to be repulsed at the thought of eating animals. I’m glad she will never think that eating dead animals is normal.

PT: How did the people around you react?

DCG: Because I was vegan for ethical reasons, I don’t think anyone was surprised that she would be vegan. I don’t recall any conversations about it. People may ask if she’s vegan, but I can’t recall anyone questioning her health. She’s above average in height, a healthy weight, very strong, and on target developmentally.

PT: What are the challenges of raising a vegan child?

DCG:  1. My first vegan-baby challenge was daycare. We had a bit of a checklist: cloth diapering, gentle parenting (no crying to sleep), babywearing a plus, and vegan-friendly. It actually wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and I think every parent checks out a few providers before deciding on one – vegan or not. Nobody turned us away because Bianca is vegan, but I do send her food most days because we also eat 50% or so organic (the Dirty Dozen, at minimum). Bia is only three years old so school isn’t an issue yet, but in our local support group, the Vegan Mamas, I can see a few obstacles to come. Eg. When schools are nut- and sesame-free, it becomes a head-scratcher for people who probably eat more nuts and hummus than the average omnivore (that’d be us…the vegans). Luckily we have several resources (including Dreena’s book), and share tips and ideas with each other.

Also, many baby shoes are made with leather. Ick. Every now and then, a Vegan Mama will ask the group for help finding vegan soft-soled shoes for their almost-walking babe. I’m a fan of MEC. Once in firm shoes, though, PediPed (and Payless!) has good options.

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PT: What have you done differently than parents who do not raise their children vegan?

DCG:  Not served Bianca animal flesh, milk, eggs, and not taken her to land zoos or aquariums 🙂 Otherwise, the rest would be similar to any other parent.

I supplement with b12. Since we’re the only species who can’t lick its own butt and we don’t eat animals, we need this one supplement.

PT: What misconceptions do you think exist around this decision?

DCG:  That she is somehow missing out, nutritionally and socially. Eg. Some may think that she is missing out by not being able to visit zoos/aquariums, eat turkey at Christmas, etc. We have traditions, too. We eat a celebratory meal at Thanksgiving and Christmas – a delicious, filling, nutritious and kind one that doesn’t require anyone die.

PT: How does Bianca feel about being vegan?

DCG:  Unprompted, she expresses disgust at eating animals. “Yuck!” She likes to serve and feed me pretend food. At around two years old, when I’d say “mmm” and ask what it is, she’s say, “Aminal,” smirking…and watching. I know she’s trying to see how I would handle it. She’s learning!

She also looks at containers of food, running her finger along it saying, “aminal. cow muk. eggs.” She’s already reading labels 😀

She doesn’t understand why people eat animals. It’s a question I don’t answer well, because I can’t think of an acceptable reason why people eat beings either. Even when I think back to my omnivore days, there was no good reason to do so. So my answer is “Sometimes people make silly decisions.”

PT: Fun stories/cute anecdotes?

DCG:  In Nemo, when the fishermen are unsuccessful in catching the net of fish, Bianca cheers and yells “Free!!!!!!!!!”  She’s super-happy about that.

Sometimes she questions the vegan-ness of food that I’m offering! She asks, “No aminal, cow muk, egg.” I reassure her that “No, none of those things are in it. It’s vegan. I’d never offer you food with animals, cow’s milk or eggs in it.” Then she eats it.

At a birthday party, I told her there was vegan cake. “Me! WUV! Vegah! Cake!”

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PT: Advice for parents who want to raise their children this way?

DCG:  Make sure your child is getting what s/he needs, nutritionally, so that a) you have peace of mind, b) your child is healthy and c) you can defend your case, if ever needed (I’ve never needed to, so don’t assume people will be all over you if you raise a vegan child.)  I supplement with b12 and vitamin D (both her mom and dad are always low in vitamin D so we assume that she will be too.)  Use a food tracker like cronometer to see what your child is eating. This will help you know where your child is missing out, and where he’s doing well. Truthfully, this tip should be for ALL kids, not just vegan ones.

-> Find support. The vegans are out there.

-> Arm yourself with knowledge about why a vegan diet is best for you, the animals and the environment. You are your baby’s first teacher

-> Don’t worry about offending people by choosing a vegan diet for your child. Lives, including the life of our planet, are literally saved.

-> BYOF – Bring your own food. Have snacks in your purse (don’t ALL parents do this?!)


Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.  Sign up to receive her monthly e-newsletter here.