Frequently asked questions

Why did you become fully vegan at age 45?

Short Answer:

Initially my move to veganism was for health, longevity, disease prevention, athletic performance and recovery; all proven reasons to become vegan. Quite soon after, this motive was equalized if not surpassed by compassion. Compassion is the most solid and enduring motivation to stop consuming animals. Like any food-related eating plan, it is easy to ‘cheat’ when it is only about food. Becoming vegan is a way of life. It means you honor the lives of animals as well as the lives of your loved ones and the planet at large. I wish I had found veganism much earlier but am so glad for having made this commitment when I did. No sacrificing. Only good! Hoping you will join me on this journey, wherever you are at today.

This is a question I love to get as I shake off my 40+ years of being an ostrich (living with my head in the sand!). Like many of my peers who became vegan in middle adulthood, I was first drawn to eating predominantly plant-based several years ago as an elite age group triathlete. I saw a few documentaries around my 40th year and had always been interested in health, wellness, and somehow being more ‘pure’ in my diet. As an athlete, I began to follow a few plant-based athletes who claimed faster recovery times, enhanced (or at least not diminished) race performance and overall wellbeing. This was my first foray into cutting out meat and milk. I quite easily settled into what I’d call a cheese-fish-egg vegetarian, which is a bit of an oxymoron of a term but that’s for another FAQ.

My racing and training continued to improve. As an athlete who was training 15-20 hrs per week, there are always little niggly things that impact the body but overall, I was not getting run down and niggly things were managed well with self-care and professional body care (physio, massage, chiro). Its hard to compare improvements in races as no race course is the same (unless you repeat it) but as I aged into my mid-40’s, my half marathon time went from 1:46+ to 1:28:50. My sprint distance time at the North Shore triathlon went from 1:16 in the first year down to 1:03 in 2015 about 8 years later. I won two ITU Long Distance World Championships for Canada in my age group (2013 in the 40-44 and 2014 in the 45-49). In 2015 I was 2nd at Ironman Canada (Whistler) and made it to Kona for Ironman World Championships. The strength and speed I gained when I technically should have been slowing down is evidence to me that eating a predominantly plant-based diet was beneficial. I plan to race again in future years but am taking some time to explore yoga, more cycling, functional conditioning and, of course, venturing into vegan lifestyle educating.

Over the past several years, I have watched many documentaries on plant-based eating, treatment of animals and environmental impact of our food systems (see reviews for a list of recommended documentaries). I became increasingly aware and emotionally distressed by all that I was reading, watching and listening to. There was no question in my mind that we had to move to be completely plant-based. Soon. My husband and two kids also watched many of the documentaries to give them points of view. Myself, I had moved substantially away from most animal products so the final transition to fully vegan was imminent. My only holdback was to not make a big change before Kona as I usually had a piece of salmon, yams and a salad the night before a race. The day after the race I was vegan and have not looked back. That was October 2015.

Since then, I have continued my studies in the three pillars of veganism (health, animal welfare and environment). I also continue to deepen my yoga practice and practice of ahimsa (non violence). In January 2016 I completed 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training at Karma Teachers in Vancouver and a further 50 hours of Yin training in April. This brought my understanding of compassion to a whole new level. In October, I attended Main Street Vegan Academy under the direction of Victoria Moran, in New York City to certify as a Vegan Lifestyle Educator and Coach so I could better share my knowledge and experiences with the community.

I am very proud to say that I am an ethical vegan and, while, certainly not perfect, strive every day to view the world around me from a place of compassion. What better place to begin than with the food on our plates. In summary, I became a vegan initially for health and wellness but find that the animals and the earth are equally as strong a driver for my veganism today and ongoing.

Is your family vegan?

Short answer:

Not fully! But definitely closing in on it. Each person needs to make their own decision. My husband is very close and my two teens are not far behind.

At time of writing, I am 47 as is my husband, our son is 15 and daughter is 13. I began exposing my kids to some documentaries about 3 years or so ago when they were pre-teens but old enough to fully grasp what they were seeing. This includes documentaries now available on Netflix and Ted Talks on sugar (teens LOVE sugar). While I was cooking vegetarian and since 2015 fully vegan at home and their lunches were vegetarian (lacto-ovo), they were never told to be vegan in their lives and always given full choice to order what foods they wanted when out (within price reason of course!) or to eat what they wanted at friends’ houses. My husband gave up meat fully about a year ago and today eats a bit of fish when out and a bit of cheese. The kids both on their own terms have in recent months decided to be pesco-vegetarian but have fish and other animal products not very often. We no longer have milk in the house, which was a big one for my son who loved milk.

The kids came to their own decisions over time and seeing, really how delicious and easy it is to live vegan. One day in November, my son out of the blue said that it had been two weeks since he’d eaten any meat and didn’t think he needed to again. Proud moment!! But more than proud, impressed with his decision. Whether they stay this way is up to them. But we eat great food at home and show them how to modify when out. They are strong, active and healthy and do not seem to be suffering from lack of anything. They would love to stay at Farm Sanctuary one day and appreciate the negative effects foods like dairy have on their skin and bodies. My husband has trimmed up which has helped his sports immensely. We feel like as a family we are close to being on the same page. I will lead by example and they can choose to follow. My husband is finding in the finance business, now that he is opting out of animal products, more people around him are curious or coming forward as plant-based themselves.

So is my family vegan? Not fully but they certainly understand why I am and I do think that they will get there one day. Their support of my journey has been amazing and now I can support them back. I am grateful that both kids are adventurous eaters and willing to try whatever ends up on the plate.

Are your home and all your things vegan?

If you haven’t had a chance to read my blog “There’s a Cow on My Floor” this offers some insight into one particular item in my house that is the opposite of vegan!

Veganism is not a diet. It is not a trend. It is a way of living that honors all life and the planet we live on. Vegan lifestyle sounds on trend but the word lifestyle is in place to move people beyond the term vegan as something strictly to do with food. Those who come to veganism for health are going to see great benefits. Those who then understand the compassion side of veganism will be vegan for life and all the benefits. Very cool.

So back to my house. People have different definitions of what vegan is. Many still refer to it as a food-based ideology without really understanding that food is just one of the many products animals are abused and sacrificed for. When one adopts a vegan lifestyle, it is through the understanding that there are no acceptable animal-based products. So that includes clothing, shoes, furnishings, cosmetics and household products. Most of us could fill bags with animal-based products if we decided to right now so what is a vegan to do?

I believe there are two basic schools of thought.

1) Quit animal consumables altogether and all at once. This would involve a total purge of everything leather, wool, fur, tested on animals, potable and edible. Do you even own a pair of shoes with no leather? (canvas Converse are vegan btw and there are vegan Doc Martens in black and burgundy) What about handbags and briefcases? Do you know if your cosmetics are vegan and cruelty free? How was your favorite wine produced? (see blog on vegan wine). A total purge would be such an amazing feeling and way to start freshly vegan but the ramifications include the cost to replace items with vegan items and what happens to everything you purged? It is not wrong and would allow you to live your truth immediately but needs some thought (and finances).

2) Phase out all animal consumables over time. The exception here is food – the food has to go. I follow this strategy for everything else. I know too much about the toxic waste of fast fashion, household goods, etc that are a global environmental issue unto themselves so mass disposal does not sit well. While I find it tough to know the death that had to result so I could wear some boots or stay warm when skiing (wool long undies) I have endeavored to wear what I have until it is done and then replace with vegan items, which could take many years. We are very fortunate to live in 2017 when the vegan options for clothing, cosmetics, vegan leathers and so forth are getting better and better and much more accessible. When I needed to replace my foundation (from Lancome) I was able to find one I like even better from Tarte. I’ve culled my closet and sold a couple of leather handbags and a pair of Frye tall boots on Craigslist that I wasn’t using. But I keep my other things that I do use. At the same time I challenge myself every time I put an outfit together to see if I can do it vegan. It’s not that hard. Especially in the summer.

So my house is an ongoing vegan project. As I said in my blog about my cowhide rug – having non-vegan things around serves as a reminder and motivator and for that I’m grateful.

Where do you get your protein?

Vegans get their protein the same way large herbivores such as cows do – from plants. Pretty much all foods contain protein. Plant foods actually contain protein in the more appropriate proportion for our subsistence (in the 10% – 15% range) as opposed to over-protein hype we hear so much about today. Most people only need about 10% protein to live well, work hard, train hard and play hard. The exception would perhaps be an athlete training several hours per week who may need up to 20%.

So which vegan foods for protein? There will be more on this on the site including a plant/protein chart (no link yet) but just for fun, did you know that a single packet of organic plain instant oats (the one you add ½ cup water to) contains 8 g protein and that’s before you add any nuts or seeds and non-dairy milk. An egg has 5 grams to compare a breakfast food. Oats have fibre (which we desperately need more of) and eggs have cholesterol (which we need less of). Green Leaf Lettuce is 10% protein and low cal. 100g of lettuce has 15 calories and 1.4 g protein which is just under 10%. Beans/legumes are almost on par with meat in the mid-high teens% and offer a ton of fibre and none of the saturated fat. Today, majority of the meat you will eat is fattened with animal/fish meal and gmo grains like corn and coy. The reason for this is to fatten them faster to be killed sooner than on a plant-based diet. Why don’t people don’t see the connection to humans getting fatter?

If you are really concerned or need a little boost for an active day, use a high quality vegan protein powder such as Genuine Health’s fermented vegan protein (not a sponsor) to add 20g to your day. But note that the human body can only process 30 grams of protein at a time and anything exceeding that cannot be stored for future use so much be eliminated, which taxes the kidneys and liver. Excess protein consumption has been linked to certain cancers, kidney disease and osteoporosis (surprised?).

I delve deeper into protein in coaching or education sessions, but rest assured, it is VERY rare that anyone in the developed world will suffer from protein deficiency.

How do I talk to my friends and family about my choice to move to a vegan lifestyle without sounding holier than thou?

This issue is close to my heart as I know that my instinct is to preach the virtues of veganism as I know how great it is for people, animals and the planet! I am constantly trying to find the line between living my truth and not making others feel bad, when I actually want people to be at least somewhat uncomfortable so that they, too, will begin to question. I’ve found my best approach is to just live a healthy vegan life and lead by example. When I made the final conversion in 2015 fellow athletes started expressing their curiosity in becoming more plant-based. Friends hosting us for dinner started asking about what we could eat or went out on a limb to prepare vegan meals for the whole group (which are always delicious). Or I bring some things to share. Community Vegan was founded to be a resource for people like me who are looking for every day ideas, information, experiences and not just a food blog. So please subscribe or check in to see what’s new.

My sports and yoga thrive on vegan lifestyle. That says a lot.

I recommend a great intro documentary like “Forks Over Knives” which highlights the three pillars of veganism (health, animals, earth) but with emphasis on health and anti-aging. Most people can sit for 90 minutes and watch something on Netflix and the expertise and visuals are compelling.

Never feel awkward or apologetic about being a new vegan or a long-time vegan. I strongly feel that the more people know about the food on their plate, change is inevitable.

How do I go out with friends to restaurants?

Dining out, particularly in urban areas, has never been easier for vegans. Vancouver is experiencing new vegan or plant-based restaurants popping up every month and more restaurants will have one or two vegan-friendly options or vegan-able items. As you model how a vegan lifestyle is not inconvenient (mostly) you need to have more of a game plan when heading to a non-veg spot. Here are two strategies I use all the time:

1) Review the menu ahead of time. Most restaurants post their menus online. See what options you have or if something is simple to modify (ie: the salad, the pizza, the pasta, etc but hold the cheese is very common and easy). Or perhaps there are already vegan options.

2) Email or call the restaurant to ask about vegan options if you don’t see something on the online menu. Often the restaurant will already have in place modifications to certain items and/or a vegan dishes not on the menu.

Here is one example: In 2015 when I was newly fully vegan, we went with friends to a local fish house that literally did not have an item on the menu that was vegan. But what they did have were steamed or stir fried veggie sides for the entrée fish selections. I phoned to make the reservation and asked about putting together dinner from the veggie sides. Not a problem and done all the time. I loved having a plate of warm veggies at the same time as the others’ entrees. Most restaurants can put together some steamed veggies even if not on the menu. Keep in mind that if a restaurant is unwilling to accommodate, they risk losing business, especially as plant-based eating grows. Vegan is often easier for a chef than nut allergies or true gluten free (celiac).

Why do we need Vitamin B12 and why must vegan supplement this?

Defined (Wikipedia): Vitamin B₁₂, also called cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin that has a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and the formation of red blood cells. It is one of eight B vitamins.

Vitamin B12 is needed to regulate homocysteine. As Dr. Weil simplifies: “Homocysteine is an amino acid and breakdown product of protein metabolism that, when present in high concentrations, has been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. “ If homocysteine is not regulated (this is where B12 comes in) there is two times the risk of Alzheimers Disease, other neural problems, pernicious anemia, and leads to renal failure (diabetics). B12 deficiency takes about 5 years to show in adults so it is important to continuously supplement when following a vegan or largely plant-based diet. Consider this a lifetime supplement, even if you still eat some meat.

B12 is found in the meat/flesh of herbivores as it is produced by the bacteria in their digestive systems. Cows and other animals can actually absorb the B12 from their own system for their use and it stays in the flesh that humans then consume. Once upon a time we were able to get enough B12 from the soil and the plants that grew in that soil. A key reason why we need to supplement today is that our soil is so void of nutrients it is no longer reliable or even viable source of vitamins and minerals for humans.

The good thing is that B12 is super easy to take. There are some food sources (nutritional yeast for example) and fortified vegan milks but my preference has to be a sublingual supplement taken once or twice a week. There are several on the market. I happen to use Natural Factors 1000 mg sublingual. Teens and adults should take 2500mg/week. This can be smaller doses daily or larger doses once or twice per week. I like twice/week but if I’ve forgotten, I just double up.

If you want to know you B12 levels, the only reliable test is an MMA (methylmalonic acid test) with second best being a urine test that tests for creatinine levels which then indicates adequate B12 levels. You need to consult your health care provider for testing.