Vegans of Ottawa – Aly Lepkey

Photos: Aly Lepkey

In this series, we chat with vegans from around the region to find out what it’s like to be plant-based in Ottawa, discovering tips and tricks for living a like a local – vegan style.

“Just a small-town girl”, Aly Lepkey (soon to be Muldoon) is originally from Embrun and is currently living in Greely, just south of Ottawa. A vegan since June of 2017, she is still going strong – though her passion for health started long before that as a 10-year cancer survivor. She has since launched her own vegan blog for moms, food and fitness lovers. We spoke with the fitness competitor and animal advocate about standing by your choices, the importance of gradual change and how an appreciation for the lives of animals has helped her find meaning in her own.

Ottawa Life: What inspired you to become a vegan?

Aly Lepkey:  I would have to say a combination of becoming a mother and a growing concern for animal welfare. After I had Jack, in October of 2016, I new something was changing in me that was a very hard-to-ignore kind of feeling. I have always had a passion and deep connection with animals, but I was finding myself feeling an overwhelming sense of connection to them as individuals. I would often see cattle grazing in fields with their young, causing me to feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, thinking of the bond I shared with my own child. It was gut-wrenching to say the least and I found myself having to look away as I drove past them on daily outings – and you can’t go far from Greely without passing a cow field. At the time, I was reading a book called Eating Animals by Johnathan Safran, which was an eye opener into the world of animal factory farming – a world I had been closing my eyes to for 30 years. After educating myself further on the subject, it was not a hard decision for me. I had to stop living a life I did not agree with in my heart. I realised very quickly that for myself and especially for my son, I wanted a world where all living beings are treated with compassion and kindness.

Was it difficult for you to make the transition to veganism? Why or why not?

It was not a difficult transition for me, as I had the support of my family and was already developing an interest in cooking and meal prepping – owing this to my days of fitness competitions. At the time of my transition, I was also learning about preparing food for my son, who was just getting into solid foods. Together, we experimented with cooking, spices and a variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes. The interest turned to a passion!

What do you find to be the most challenging part about being a vegan? How do you try to overcome that challenge?

The most challenging part about being vegan is people challenging my veganism. There are some people who do not want to hear about all the benefits of this way of life and more times than not, they are the same ones who start the conversation. I don’t let the conversations get heated because I know that this type of judgement stems from a lack of knowledge and awareness – I was there once too. I can overcome anyone’s negativity because I believe so strongly in how I choose to live.

What is the greatest benefit that you have gained from being a vegan and why?

The greatest benefit is a greater appreciation for all life. Whether you become vegan for health, ethical or environmental reasons, you start developing a sense of awareness and responsibility for all of them. As you look in depth at your food choices for health, you also see how your choices affect the environment. Having concern for your environment turns into a concern for those who are involved in our food production – the farmers and the animals. Once you see how much better you feel eating a plant based diet, you can’t help but want others to benefit from it too – your family, friends and people around the world. This kind of appreciation for other lives gives you a new purpose and meaning in your own.

I also attribute losing my last 10 lbs of baby weight to my healthy plant-based diet, as well as placing 3rd in a fitness competition 5 months after going vegan.

What are your favourite vegan spots in Ottawa and why? What are your favourite things on the menu?

Pure kitchen for dining out. It has a fresh atmosphere and great food with a variety of options. Even the non-vegans I know love Pure Kitchen, so it's a great place for any social group. I highly recommend the Liberty, a spicy cauliflower wrap, with the kale caesar salad – I literally dream about this one.

Where do you get your groceries in Ottawa? What does your grocery list typically include?

I typically buy groceries from the local Independant grocer, they have a very good selection of organic and vegan products. During the Spring and Summer, I am all over the farmer markets – supporting our local farmers is so important! I also shop at Farmboy, Bulkbarn and Kardish on a regular basis. Farmboy has a really nice vegan selection in their salad and hot-food bar for on-the-go meals. Kardish has a wide selection of vegan products and supplements with knowledgeable staff to help you out.

My grocery list is packed with fruits like berries, avocado, apples and bananas, both fresh and frozen. Veggies include kale, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, portobello mushrooms, all the dark leafy greens and anything with color! We love tofu and tempeh as well as a few of the meat replacements like Yves Veggie-ground. Vegan cheese, mayo, greek yogurt, almond and soy milk, bean burritos, quinoa, rice, nut butters, beans, canned and uncooked, oatmeal, nutritional yeast, to name a few. It seems like a long list, but, it really doesn’t take very long once you get the hang of it. I also skip over more than half of the grocery store, so I’m often done in 20 minutes or less.

Do you find that there is an active vegan community in Ottawa?

I am so excited to say that the vegan community is active and growing in Ottawa! Everyday I hear of new vegan restaurants and cafes opening up and many establishments are adding vegan and vegetarian options to their menus. More stores are providing ethically sourced food items and products as well as cruelty free and vegan brands. I recently found Maui, a certified vegan, eco-friendly shampoo at Shoppers!

What advice would you give to people interested in or thinking about going vegan?

It will be the best decision you ever make for yourself and your family to choose a healthier, more sustainable, cruelty-free, wholesome way of living.

Any other tips and tricks?

Make the transition a gradual one. Don’t go around throwing out all non-vegan items in your house and spend hundreds of dollars trying to “veganize” your environment, it will be too overwhelming. Get a few simple recipes and get used to them for a few weeks. Gradually introduce new recipes, spices and foods. Once you run out of something, such as a makeup product or household item, try to find an eco-friendly version or vegan brand. Go slow, and have fun learning about all the opening doors in your life!

Read nutritional labels! Many items are vegan, that don’t say it and some that do say it, actually aren’t.

Be proud of your way of life. Don’t be bothered by those who disagree; they may not actually understand all the benefits and that isn’t a “YOU” problem. Be positive and inspiring, not forceful or disagreeing.

Aly’s Vegan Essentials:

Vegan Snacks (Homemade or Purchased) – I usually stick with homemade foods, because I enjoy making them. Hummus and veggies, nut butters and fruit, nuts and seeds, and vegan protein shakes.

Vegan Desserts (Homemade or Purchased) – Frozen banana “nice-cream” (mashed frozen bananas garnished with vegan chocolate chips, coconut and shaved almonds) is a favorite, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies or chia pudding.

Sources of Plant-based Protein – A wide variety of vegetables is the best source of protein such as spinach, kale, Portobello mushrooms, potato’s and broccoli. We also eat a lot of beans, nuts and seeds, tofu, tempeh and vegan yogurt. Other sources are vegan meat replacers and protein powders.

Blogs and/or Social Media – I have started my own vegan lifestyle blog for moms and fitness lovers call Bites, Babies & Bikinis. I also have a lot of recipes and tips on my Instagram account Aveganbikini. There are so many people on social media who inspire me with their vegan life style. Nem_belair, vegan, mother and humanitarian. Sam Shorkey, fitness competitor, coach and blogger. Sammantha  Margaret (@Sfisherx), photographer and animal advocate. Pennylane Farm Sanctuary, a local vegan rescue for farm animals.

Cookbooks and/or Recipes – “Oh She Glows: Every Day” and “The Oh She Glows Cookbook” by Angela Liddon are amazing resources for first timers. There are a lot of non-vegan favorites that have been veganized! Try some Chilli Cheese Nachos, Portobello Tacos or some Mac and Peas!

Local Takeout Spots – In my area the best place to go for take-out is Pirho grill which has a great selection of vegan options. I go on lunch dates with my 1 ½ year old son, who loves it!

Books – Eating Animals by Johnathan Safran, The China Study by Dr. Colin Campbell, Be Great Be Grateful, a journal By Patternity.

Clothing Brands – Local vegan products and animal awareness brands, such as Wully Outterwear, a vegan Canadian coat company, and Wholesome Culture, a Montreal-based clothing brand supporting animal charities and cruelty-free lifestyle.