Pamela’s Story

I was raised in farm country near Tweed ON.  Everyone around me hunted, fished, and farmed, which made using animals seem very normal.  In fact, I spent the first ten years of my life living on a farm.  I even helped raise chickens who my family would later eat.

pamela with chickens

I was not a self-proclaimed animal lover, although I was a picky eater and began cutting out meat as a teenager because I thought it was “gross,” what with all the blood, veins and gristle.  I consumed a diet of kraft dinner, microwave entrees, and canned delicacies.  Frankly, I am a bit surprised I didn’t die from malnutrition, so horrible was my diet.

While I had little concern for the animals whose life and death were a normal part of country life, I was however conscious of the environment which we all inhabit.  I have vivid memories of driving to the town dump to offload our garbage, and viewing the piles of garbage as far as the eye could see.  We lived in a house on top of a hill; since water doesn’t flow uphill, that meant water shortages!

I suffered from near crippling depression from the ages of 16-18.  I had no idea what I was experiencing, I just knew that I felt like a fish out of water and that I was not where I was supposed to be.  I was bullied by a group of boys at my school, for no clear reason, which added to my despair.  I spent many hours in the guidance counselling office soaking up whatever support and advice I could get, feeling increasingly isolated from my peers.  The one thing I knew was that I needed to get away from where I was, if I ever wanted to make something of myself.  I felt like a square peg in a round hole, but I did not know yet what my calling truly was. I just knew that I would never be satisfied by the life that everyone around me was choosing – a small town job and raising a family.

pamela on tractor

After taking a year off after high school to work at Denny’s as a line cook, I came to Ottawa to attend the journalism program at Carleton University in 1999.  Moving to a city was tough for me, after spending the first two decades of my life in a small town, and I was poor. Not student poor, where you can still afford trips and nights out at the bar. I had nothing. I was refused student loans because of a perception that my parents could pay my way, but that would not happen. I didn’t eat out at restaurants, cafes or even cafeterias for the entire four years I attended university, and I certainly didn’t buy anything for myself. I couldn’t even afford to put a $25 card every three months on my Motorola flip phone, so I went without. Every penny I had went to cover basic expenses and my tuition. I had a scholarship that covered part of that, which I drove myself to exhaustion to ensure I could keep it from one year to the next. I experienced significant stress and anxiety as I struggled to meet my basic life needs, and felt guilty that I wasn’t doing anything to improve the world around me.

During University, three things happened that changed my life.  Firstly, I adopted a cat.  Experiencing her unique personality played a pivotal role in starting to change my attitudes towards animals.

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pesto

Secondly, I read the book No Logo by Naomi Klein, which radicalized my perspectives on consumerism and opened my eyes to the unethical business practices of some multinational corporations.  It solidified in me a commitment to building community and supporting those within it.

Then, during my third year of university, I took a political science course that changed the course of my life.  I undertook writing a paper about overpopulation, and the earth’s carrying capacity, and through the course of my research I came across information that shook me to my core.  I learned about how incredibly wasteful animal agriculture is, and how horrifyingly damaging it is to our eco-system. I learned that it takes enormous amounts of water and energy to raise crops, which are then fed to animals who are then inefficiently turned into burgers and other “meat.”  I learned about the poisonous methane that’s produced, and the clear cutting of forest that occurs to create grazing land. As I read more and more I realized that meat eating was destroying the planet, and that I could have nothing further to do with it if I wanted to be able to sleep at night.

The only problem was that I had many months worth of meat already stashed in my freezer; when there was a sale, I stocked up. I had no appetite for it anymore, but I figured the damage was already done and so I choked it down for the next year. By the time I finished it all, I was quite happy to never eat it again.  I was blissfully vegetarian then for a few months before I realized what happens to dairy cows.

It was my father – a non-vegan – who pulled that trigger.  Perhaps frustrated by a moderately holier-than-thou new vegetarian attitude, one day he told me that if I was still consuming dairy, I really wasn’t reducing my suffering to animals quite as much as I thought I was. I had no idea what he meant. Then he gave me the book, The Pig Who Sang to the Moon. In that, a riveting description of the pain suffered by a dairy cow and her baby who had been separated at his birth so that humans could drink her milk and he could be made into veal shook me to the core. Despite having no maternal instincts myself, the description made me realize that I could not participate in consuming something that caused so much needless pain to others. I was already not a big egg eater, but the discovery that male chicks are ground up alive because they are useless to egg production made me commit to never again consuming eggs.

So here I was, the farm girl who hated eating fruit and vegetables, and I had no choice but to become vegan…. in 2004.  This was before there were lots of specialty products and hundreds of vegan cookbooks. Before Ottawa had vegan restaurants, a veg association, or Ottawa Veg Fest (the last two were partly my doing.)  It was before Facebook and the existence of most websites. I had no idea how to do it, little support, but I knew I had to make it work because I knew I could no longer be a participant in the mass destruction occurring to our environment, and our animal co-habitants on earth.

I was also not in great health, no doubt a consequence of being entirely physically dormant, terrible eating habits, and the stress of being poor and enduring neglect for most of my life.  I realized that as a vegan, I would be under even more scrutiny from others and that the way I looked and acted would reflect on people’s perception of veganism, since I may be the only vegan that they ever met.  So after becoming friends with Ironman and ultramarathoner Brendan Brazier (creator of Vega products) back when he needed a couch to crash on because his venture wasn’t making money yet, I decided to change not only what I was eating, but how I lived my entire life.

pamela brendan

With Brendan in 2007.

In 2005, I was lethargic and ate maybe ten servings of vegetables in a year.  Now, in 2015, I eat that much vegetable matter every day, and am highly physically active. I would venture to say that at 35, I look far better and healthier than I did a decade earlier at 25.  My decade plus of veganism has been very, very good to me.

Processed with Moldiv

In 2005 (L) and 2015 (R)

Brendan also introduced me to the initial founders of the National Capital Vegetarian Association (NCVA), in 2006.  I felt compelled from the moment I went vegan to share what I knew with others, and was thrilled to learn that an association had recently been formed.  In 2007 I became its founding president, and I remained its president until 2011. I stayed on its board of directors until 2015.

In 2007, I founded the NCVA’s bi-monthly newsletter, single-handedly producing and distributing it until 2011.  In summer 2007, I launched a monthly vegan community potluck, which was held every single month until July 2011. In 2007 I created the NCVA’s official Facebook page, and was its primary moderator until 2014.   In 2008, along with Corrie Rabbe, we began building the NCVA’s member discount program, followed by Ottawa Veg Fest in 2009.  We anticipated a few hundred visitors; instead, 2,200 people came that first year on an advertising budget of $0.  Here’s one of my first television appearances, in support of that very first Veg Fest.

In 2015 the sixth Veg Fest was held, drawing 6,000 visitors. I retired after the fourth year, but was the event’s official vegan ambassador in 2015.  It was through Veg Fest that I discovered my life’s purpose: To educate people about how to TRULY live in alignment with their values.

Volunteers from Ottawa Veg Fest 2009.

Volunteers from Ottawa Veg Fest 2009.

Between 2007 and 2015 I organized or co-organized about 100 vegan community events and meet ups, and have met and spoken to thousands of vegans, vegetarians, and veg-curious individuals.  I did all of this as a volunteer, while employed full time.  I have been driven by the belief that it is infinitely easier to take a principled stance that goes against the grain of society when you can draw strength from a community of others who are taking the path with you.

In 2012 I joined sustainable retailer terra20 as its head of community relations and communications, leveraging my connections and credibility to help the company with its entry into a niche market.  Under my guidance, the company adopted an icon identifier that is applied to vegan products.  I served as its public spokesperson, pitching to all types of media and making many television appearances. During my time with terra20 I was also privileged to experience rapid professional growth, especially in marketing and business principals.

In 2015 I joined Canadian wellness icon Kathy Smart in launching the Live the Smart Way Expo, which will be hitting ten Canadian cities in 2016.  I first met Kathy in 2011 when she was a speaker at Veg Fest, and we had kept in touch since.  I am thrilled to have joined forces with her; her belief in me and what I can accomplish was a driving force behind my decision within the past few months to step out from behind the scenes, and make my voice heard.  I currently work full time for Kathy and the Expo, but she is my most ardent supporter, and my inspiration.

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I am married since 2011 to a wonderful and supportive man, Yves, and I spend my days working with my rescue dog, Freyja, by my side.  I am an ultimate frisbee enthusiast, playing 3x a week most of the year, a runner (3x a week), and a reluctant strength trainer.  I walk/hike/run with Freyja daily.

I know now what I did not know as a depressed teenager; that it is my life’s purpose to bring vegan living into the mainstream. I do this through a variety of carefully considered tactics, because I am convinced that not all activism is useful for meeting our goals.  My background – growing up on a farm, financial struggles, belief in evidence, and many thousands of hours donated to advocating for veganism in a way that empowers rather than shames people – gives me a unique and effective approach.

I want to leverage my knowledge and story to inspire and inform others in their path to veganism, and apply that – as well as my many years of professional expertise – to assist ethical and health-focused businesses to grow and thrive.

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