Purpose-driven Chef & Food Journalist

Erin Ireland may be one of the most generous people I’ve ever interacted with. So when she emailed me answers to my questions for my Vancouver Sun article on Veganuary, she showed up just like Erin does, going above and beyond and giving me more than I could have wished for. I could only use about 20% of what she gave me for my article, but am so excited to release the rest below.

Every word below, besides the headers, are Erin’s. She covers everything from the pivotal points in her life, to the physical changes she saw and felt when she transitioned to a vegan diet, to how she raises her kids vegan and how she navigates if they want something non-vegan (read below, her answer is amazing!) to how she got her husband on board. There are plenty of links so you can access her suggestions easily, too.

Divided into 4 sections, Going VeganFamilySupport Systems and Vancouver Restaurants and Dining. Even if you don’t live in or around Vancouver, you’ll want to take note for the next time visit.

Photo Credits: Hofmark Photography + Erin Ireland

1. GOING VEGAN

On Erin: 

I decided to go vegan when I realized that killing animals for food is unnecessary in our day and age of supermarkets. Since we can thrive while eating plants, why wouldn’t we avoid the pain and destruction that is inherent in animal agriculture? 

I always considered myself an animal lover, despite eating meat and dairy for the first thirty years of my life. I never made the connection that these food preferences were contributing to the torture and killing of so many animals…animals that if I’d seen with my own two eyes, I’d want to pet, not eat. Connecting with my rescue dog Effie also made me realize that we have so much more in common with animals than not…we all experience joy, excitement, fear, pain.

Pigs, cows, chickens (“food animals”) are no different. In fact, pigs are smarter than some dogs. We’ve been conditioned by our culture to think it’s okay to eat some animals and not others.

I made the connection that animals are not food…they don’t want to die…and that if I’m not cool with dog meat, I shouldn’t be okay with other kinds of meat either. The documentary Earthlings (free on Youtube) also was a huge turning point for me. After seeing what happens to animals in farms and at slaughterhouses, I was so sickened by this industry…I wanted nothing to do with it. 

On adapting to a vegan diet:

Once I had learned how destructive animal agriculture is, I lost all taste for meat, dairy, eggs, leather, down etc. The thought of supporting those industries made me sick and really affected my taste buds. It’s funny how non-vegan food loses all its appeal after a certain point. 

In fact, I don’t even see ‘meat’ as ‘meat’ anymore; all I picture is the beautiful animal that used to be.

 

On physical changes after transitioning to a vegan diet: 

Overall I feel lighter and more peaceful. I think there’s a psychological effect of going vegan as well. Before animals are slaughtered, they are terrified, fighting for their lives and their bodies are pumping full of stress hormones. When we eat their flesh, we consume that. I experience much less anxiety as a vegan. 

Once I was fully vegan, I noticed incredible improvements in my health. My energy went through the roof, I noticed a general feeling of lightness and well-being, my acne improved, I was less stuffed up, I recovered faster after work-outs, my digestion improved, post-dinner bloating went away, I no longer suffered from meat hangovers. 

I also love that when I’m eating whole, plant-based meals, I feel like I can eat enormous portions – I love to eat!

Before I was vegan I couldn’t imagine running much more than 10km per run…now my average is about 15km (per run) and I feel stronger than I did in my non-vegan twenties. I fuel myself with nut or seed butters on toast (usually with jam) before my runs and I eat dates during — they give me so much energy. I never ‘bonk’ or ‘hit a wall’ like I used to. 

As a thirty-year-old (and now 38 year old) I had/have more energy now than I did as a twenty year old student athlete playing Division 1 volleyball in the States (when I ate a very meat-heavy diet). In university I remember feeling constantly hungry. I was never satisfied. In retrospect, I think all along my body was bogged down by the saturated fats and lacking nutrients and fiber that I now get in abundance from a plant-based diet. 

Also, I cut out dairy my acne drastically decreased. It was very clear the two were related. Every time I’d sneak a bit of dairy (this was in my early 20s), I’d have a flare-up. I also noticed much less mucus / phlegm when I had a cold (thanks to the lack of dairy). 

On getting started: 

You can start gradually by choosing one animal-based item to replace with a plant-based option. I’d start with dairy. There are just so many amazing dairy-free alternatives these days (for vegans and the approximately 65% of people in the world who are lactose intolerant). You could start with butter. I really don’t think you can tell the difference between dairy and dairy-free versions! We like Earth Balance or Miyoko’s. You could then move on to milks. Oat and soy milk are where it’s at these days! My favourite is Earth’s Own Barista Oat milk for my tea or coffee in the morning. 

On hesitations:

Progress over perfection. Do not beat yourself up if the journey isn’t perfect. Do your best and know that any reduction of animal-products is a good one. Watch documentaries like Dominion, Earthlings, Cowspiracy, Eating You Alive, What The Health — they’ll inspire you to keep at it! 

Surround yourself with vegan inspiration too . Listen to Damian Mander’s Tedx talk. Read Project Animal Farm. Follow @easyanimalfree on Instagram. Hopefully the way your body feels will be enough motivation to keep you on this path! 

 

2. FAMILY

On how her husband made the transition: 

By me cooking him delicious food and serving up big portions! I truly believe that very few people would object to eating a plant-based meal as long as the food is delicious and hearty…and that there is a lot of it! Many of the recipes I cooked didn’t change, actually. I just swapped in the animal-free alternatives and gradually these foods became our norm.

In addition, after switching, my husband soon began to notice that his sports injury recovery time drastically decreased. Meat and dairy are inflammatory, so the anti-inflammatory diet he had adopted really allowed his body to heal more quickly. Watching the documentary The Gamechangers really proved to us that a vegan diet is best for athletes — in fact, many of the world’s top athletes (including powerlifters and endurance runners) are vegan and funny enough, some of them have kept their diet a secret because they felt it was the secret weapon or “the edge” they held against their opponents.

On parenting/raising vegan kids:

I’m grateful that we discovered veganism before we had kids so that we can pass our knowledge on to them. Animal-forward diets are linked to some pretty unpleasant illnesses and I’m grateful we’re able to raise our kids on a plant-based diet and hopefully have a better chance of keeping our health. 

We still indulge in many of the same things non-vegan families eat (ice cream, cake, burgers, nachos), so I don’t think our kids have ever felt deprived. Those treat foods aren’t health products, but on many levels (environmental, ethical), they’re healthier than the animal-based alternative. Everything they can have we can have vegan. We’ve never felt like our diet / lifestyle is restrictive or limiting…just the opposite, actually.

There are so many different kinds of plant milks on the market. If you or your kid don’t like the first one you try, try the next brand or the unsweetened version or the vanilla flavour. Same goes for things like yogurt or ice cream or vegan chicken fingers. Also know that sometimes, our taste buds will need to time adjust. 

For someone who has grown up drinking cow milk every day, a glass of soy milk is going to taste different (the same way cow milk will taste weird for someone who has grown up consuming soy).

If you or your kids are struggling to make the switch, try gradually weaning yourself off over time. Start by drinking a glass with 90% cow milk and 10% plant milk. Drink this until you don’t notice the plant milk. Then increase the plant milk percentage: 80% dairy, 20% plant milk, and so on.

 

On communication with kids: 

Our kids are two and five so we’ve kept the communication pretty simple so far. We tell them that we love animals so we don’t eat them and we don’t take their milk away because it’s for their babies.

They really seem to get that. There have been vegan options at most of the birthday parties we’ve attended so far (and if I don’t expect there to be one, I bring a cupcake so Roen doesn’t feel left out). If there was a non-vegan birthday cake that she was really wanting, I’d rather say yes to the slice than risk her resenting the lifestyle.

 

On favourite kid swaps for animal products: 

Roen (5 year old) loves Violife cheddar slices and their parm! They like literally any kind of chocolate and there are so many to choose from. My favourite vegan milk chocolate these days is called Nobo and I buy it from The Juice Truck on Main St. (in Vancouver). Our favourite ice cream is probably Say Hello Sweets.

 

3. SUPPORT SYSTEMS

On finding community and support: 

I can’t stress enough how helpful it can be to surround yourself with fellow vegans, especially early on in your journey. It’s so much easier to be tempted by animal products, and also to slip back into the mindset of ‘eating animals is normal, natural and necessary, when people around you are eating non-vegan foods. 

On the flip side, vegan friends who share the same morals and values can validate everything you’re experiencing which can be extremely empowering. It’s also just so nice to connect with others who ‘get it’ — you realize you’re far from alone on this journey.

I highly recommend searching for vegan Facebook groups for whichever city you are in; for example, search for _____ your city name plus “vegan”. There are vegan groups in pretty much every city! Here in Vancouver there are many groups including Plant-based Vancouver and the largest group, Vancouver Vegans. People share vegan tips, vegan offerings from restaurants or shops, vegan events, the list could go on. It’s a great way to connect with other vegans in your area.

 

On Social Media: 

It’s also a great idea to fill your Instagram feed with inspiring vegan content to keep yourself sharp or to keep your fire burning bright. I follow a few accounts who regularly post semi-graphic content, and though it makes me sad, it reminds me that animals are being tortured in factory farms and violently slaughtered every single second of every single day — seeing their truths inspires me to share on a daily basis in hopes of raising awareness. Some of those accounts include 

@thesavemovement 

@weanimals  

@seb.alex 

@earthlinged 

@peta 

@torontocowsave 

@LAanimalsave 

Vegan food accounts are amazingly helpful for mealtime inspo! Scrolling through a vegan feed while researching recipes is the way to go. You can’t be tempted by foods you don’t see, so removing non-vegan recipe accounts from your feed could be an option for you if you find them difficult to cut out.

If not, simply veganize any recipe. Depending on where you live, there are plant-based alternatives to just about every single animal product these days….even smoked salmon and chicken breast! A few of my favourite vegan food accounts to follow: 

@sweetpotatosoul 

@hotforfood 

@rabbitandwolves 

@cheaplazyvegan 

@minimalistbaker (not fully vegan but lots of options)

 

4. VANCOUVER RESTAURANTS & DINING

On her favourite spots: 

 Too many to list! We’re so spoiled here in Vancouver. I love TurF for a healthy-yet-delicious everyday meal. Juice Truck for an on-the-go kale caesar. MeeT for The Big Yum bowl (a favourite DoorDash dinner). Chickpea for Carrot Lox benechick brunch. Beetbox for the crispiest chickn burger. Grano for incredible pizza with a true Naples-style crust and cashew mozzarella (and the BEST tiramisu in the city).

 

On dishes meat eaters would like:

Beetbox has an amazing crispy chikn burger that I can’t imagine anyone not liking (they really prove that fried chicken is all about the breading / batter, not the base!). Veg Out food truck is another must-visit for non-vegans. It’s vegan comfort food heaven with over-the-top rich burgers, poutine, shakes and more. MeeT also has a great burger menu (try the Angry Burg with a buffalo sauce-lathered patty, guacamole and cool ranch dip). 

 

On navigating non-vegan joints: 

I think it’s important to first explain to restaurant staff what vegan means so they know which ‘foods’ we want to avoid (a lot of people still don’t know what vegan means). I usually starting by saying that the order will be vegan and I add that we would like to avoid fish, milk, butter, eggs and all meat. 

I also think choosing restaurants that have a separate vegan menu can be helpful — that way you can be certain everything you order will be animal-free. If you’re dining in, checking the menu ahead of time or calling in can help…but these days, any Vancouver-based restaurants in Vancouver without at least a few vegan options are pretty old-school.

 

 

-fin-