Vegans of Ottawa – Kara-Lynn Garland
Photos by Becka Yates of Miaou Photography
Kara-Lynn Garland (known as Kara or KL for short) has been a vegan for just over 4 years. She grew up in Kanata and Stittsville, later hopping all over the city from Westboro to Gloucester to South Keys before settling in the Market. According to Kara-Lynn, “each neighbourhood has something special to offer.”
The Registered Holistic Nutritionist started the popular blog Nomshell while taking courses at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, inspired by the plant-based social media stars she had followed when first becoming a vegan. We caught up with her to discuss all things nutrition, blogging and recipe creation.
Ottawa Life: What inspired you to become a vegan?
Kara-Lynn Garland: I have always been passionate about preserving our environment and saving animals. From a young age, I made the connection between meat and animals. I remember arguing with my parents for years, telling them I no longer wanted to eat meat, I felt it was wrong. (I was around 7 when this started.) My parents had no idea what to do with me, but they allowed me to reduce my meat consumption to only poultry, eggs and dairy when I was 11. I lived my life that way until I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia in 2012. After much research, I transitioned to a fully plant based anti-inflammatory diet a year later.
Was it difficult for you to make the transition to veganism? Why or why not?
It was not particularly difficult for me because it’s something I had always wanted, I just didn’t know how to get started or how to keep my diet balanced without animal products. Because veganism is not yet the norm, you have to search for the information. The great news is, vegan food options, books, blogs, etc. are becoming more and more abundant. This makes it more accessible for anyone who is curious about it. I’m not sure I would have been successful as a vegan had I tried it when I was really young. There just weren’t as many options in Ottawa back then. But I am now a happy, healthy vegan, my pain is well managed and that alone is enough for me to continue a plant based diet for life.
What do you find to be the most challenging part about being a vegan? How do you try to overcome that challenge?
Travelling is a bit tricky. My partner’s family lives in Northern Ontario, and driving up there to visit, there are very few places to stop and get drinks, coffee or snacks. They don’t really have vegan options unless it’s black coffee, water, juice or chips… I also travel for work occasionally, to Toronto, Kingston, Belleville etc. When I’m traveling I just bring my own food to be safe (I keep a cooler bag in the car) and I make sure there is a fridge in my hotel room. Often, I look up vegan restaurants in the city I’m traveling to before I go. (Thank the Universe for Google! LOL) When flying, I bring lots of vegan snacks like “ProBars”, vegan protein powder pouches and a shaker cup, homemade kale chips or cut veggies that I keep in my backpack for the plane/airport layovers.
What is the greatest benefit that you have gained from being a vegan and why?
A reduction in the symptoms of my auto-immune conditions. Living with chronic pain and fatigue that comes from these disorders is overwhelming. Until you’ve experienced chronic pain or fatigue, you don’t know just how much it affects every aspect of your life. Regular tasks felt strenuous, everyday used to be a struggle; I was unbearably tired all the time. I have noticed a huge increase in energy since I have been vegan and eliminated other food sensitivities. I eat whole foods as much as possible to avoid additives and other irritants. The pain and stiffness I used to have in the morning is drastically reduced and my outlook on life is much brighter and more positive. I am happy to have my life back.
What made you decide to become an R.H.N.?
When I started to notice great improvements in my own health, I wondered about our current healthcare system. I had suffered with mild to moderate health issues most of my life before I was finally diagnosed, yet I wasn’t able to easily access to the nutritional information that ended up drastically changing my life. I realized that although we have access to free healthcare, some of the puzzle pieces were still missing. I knew I had to find a way to share holistic eating and lifestyle with others, so they could experience its benefits too! Healing can be a long and winding road, but if we help one another, we may all find our way.
How did your popular blog, Nomshell, get its start?
Nomshell was an idea I had when I started classes at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. I had been so inspired by other plant based bloggers and social media influencers. When I first became vegan, I was always hunting for recipes and inspiration, I found it mostly through Instagram. I knew I wanted to share plant based recipes and lifestyle tips through a blog of some kind. I also have a background in the beauty industry. Nomshell allows me to combine beauty with Nutrition and wellness. I wanted to create a space where people could find beauty info, recipes, and nutritional information with a focus on supporting local and reducing their environmental impact.
What is the most rewarding part about Nomshell?
Oh my gosh, Nomshell has been such a delightful addition to my life. I am so touched by all the support I have received thus far. The most wonderful thing for me, is when someone tries one of my recipes and loves it. Those recipes are so personal and it warms my heart to know they are loved by others. On Facebook and Instagram, I also try to keep things positive with uplifting “wellnesswednesday” posts. Sometimes people send me private messages to tell me how much one of those posts made their day. What people don’t know is, I use those same affirmations in my own life when I’m having a bad day. Knowing that Nomshell is helping others in some small way is the best feeling in the world. It’s kind of surreal.
How do you go about developing recipes for Nomshell?
Many of the recipes on Nomshell have come to me out of necessity. Cooking and eating for my health has left me with some food limitations, so many recipes I come across have to be modified. At home, we enjoy simple food, we want meals that are easy to create, don’t require a lot of kitchen gadgets, have few ingredients and taste amazing. You’ll notice on the blog that all the recipes are gluten free, peanut free, low to no sugar and made up of whole food ingredients. Each recipe often requires several tests to get the right texture or flavour. (This is partially why there aren’t many desserts, I haven’t mastered vegan/gluten free baking). Usually I start with a random idea I had; sometimes they just come to me in the middle of the night, during a meeting or when I’m out running errands. I jot them all down in my trusty notes app on my iPhone and I come back to them later. These notes serve as the launching pad for each recipe. I’m sure if anyone read my list of ideas it would look more than a little nutty… but I maintain that every idea is worth a try and to avoid food waste in our home we EAT our mistakes.
What are your favourite vegan spots in Ottawa and why? What are your favourite things on the menu?
Ottawa has really upped their vegan food game in the last couple years. It’s actually getting hard for me to keep up with the great places popping up!
- I’d say our favourite restaurant is Cafe My House, especially for a special occasion. Everything on the menu is worth a try!
- Strawberry Blonde is our favourite bakery, the bread is so amazing and if you haven’t tried the chana masala hand pies, you’re missing out!
- Favourite cakes and cupcakes have to be Thimble Cakes on Bank street.
- Chickpeas at Ottawa Trainyards is hands down, the best falafel in town! We are obsessed.
- For fresh healthy food in a hurry, it has to be Pure kitchen, their Elgin street location is very convenient for us.
- When we are craving comfort food, Pressed is our go to. Can’t beat their black bean sammie, with salad and house made sweet potato chips.
- Grow Your Roots Cafe has awesome comfort food type brunch and lunch items, it’s perfect when eating out with my family, everyone can find something there to enjoy.
Where do you get your groceries in Ottawa? What does your grocery list typically include?
We get most of our groceries at Farmboy. I love that they have so many local suppliers, and all their house made products are amazing. Their Produce is always so fresh.
There is this adorable little Abby Hill Farms stand right across the street from my parents place in the West end. Whenever I am out there, I will grab some of their seasonal, home grown produce.
We find ourselves in Westboro a lot. I’m often there on my days off or when I’m working outside the office… then I’ll hit up the Parkdale Market. The people are so friendly and knowledgeable, you can ask them anything about their produce and farming practices and they will answer you honestly. In fact, some of the stands sell mostly organic produce, the farms just haven’t paid to get certified. It’s nice to know you are buying quality food and supporting local farmers.
If I am looking for a specific product that I can’t find at regular grocery stores, I will usually go to Herb and Spice on Bank, or if I’m in the West end, Rainbow Foods or Natural Food Pantry.
Our grocery list is roughly 70-80% fresh produce. We eat a lot of veggies – greens especially. We always have to have lots of kale and spinach on hand for smoothies. Broccoli is another mainstay. At any given time, we have around a dozen lemons; we love fresh lemon water and lemon is in most of the recipes we enjoy. Fresh lemons make the difference. We try to buy seasonally whenever possible, so right now we are enjoying lots of Ontario and Ottawa area produce like peaches, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, berries, rainbow carrots etc. I even grow a small veggie garden at my parents’ house (since we live in an apartment). I just brought home some awesome baby lettuces and watermelon radishes yesterday.
Do you find that there is an active vegan community in Ottawa?
I feel that there is a very active vegan community here. I mean just look at what Ottawans have been able to do. Successful crowdfunding campaigns saved Zen Kitchen, unfortunately it still ended up closing. But the same type of campaigns made the Cat cafe possible, with vegan food and gluten free options. Ottawa residents want access to vegan food options, and its proven by the number of plant based restaurants and vegan businesses opening here and thriving in our communities. Just the other day I was in confederation park and there were vegan messages all over the sidewalk written in chalk. It’s obvious that vegans in Ottawa are out there trying to make a difference.
I think it is important to find others to connect with in any sense. It’s proven that people who are involved in their communities have a greater sense of belonging, are less likely to be depressed and have a longer life expectancy. In terms of finding vegan community, you can find support anywhere. I am lucky enough to have a great group of vegan friends and a vegan partner, but remember, you can always find support online. When I was first vegan I only had 2 maybe three vegan/vegetarian friends… it took time to build a group. Because I didn’t have a large support network at first, I used social media to find other likeminded individuals, and that was extremely helpful.
What advice would you give to people interested in or thinking about going vegan?
The main advice I can give is BE PREPARED. When I first took this on, I committed to it fully for 30 days. I prepared myself for the challenge and decided right away that I just wasn’t going to eat the same foods I ate before, and I decided that that was ok. I think sometimes people get caught up in what they “can’t eat” versus what the CAN eat. At the end of the 30 days, I felt so good, I knew I would never go back.
Go at your own pace, you don’t have to make this change overnight, you can always reduce your consumption of animal products gradually.
Meal and food prepping is key. Take some time each week to batch cook full recipes or just ingredients you use often like quinoa, chickpeas, beans, lentils or other grains. Having them prepared on hand in the fridge or freezer makes life so much easier.
Don’t be afraid to ask others for advice. Asking for help from a nutritionist, dietician or fellow vegan on anything from nutritional information, to vegan food products, clothing, shoes, body care items etc. is very valuable. When I’m in search of a new product, I always check with others for recommendations.
Don’t get caught up on vegan food products. There are countless processed vegan “foods” showing up on grocery store shelves. Remember that the word “vegan” is not synonymous with health. Just because a product says vegan on the label does not mean it’s healthy, don’t fall victim to the hype.
Remember that veganism is about compassion. Extend compassion not just to animals but to other humans too.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If anyone is interested in more information about Nomshell, I am always reachable by email Info@nomshell.com. If you’d like to make an appointment to see me at the clinic, the link to our online booking is available on the “services” page of Nomshell.com. I am always happy to help answer questions or to guide others to their most vibrant health from the inside out.
Kara-Lynn’s Vegan Essentials:
Vegan Snacks (Homemade or Purchased) – Homemade: the “Nomshell Power Bar”, Kale chips or “Highly Addictive Coconut Snax”; Purchased: Farmboy Hummus or Zengarry cashew cheese with cut veggies, Mary’s crackers with smashed avocado, Vega Sport bars, Pro-bar fruit and nut.
Vegan Desserts (Homemade or Purchased) – Homemade: Crispy Almond Butter cookies from the Oh She Glows cookbook, “Bumbleberry Crumble bars” and “Raspberry Applesauce Cake” from the site; Purchased: Thimble Cakes cupcakes, Strawberry Blonde Brownies, So Delicious coconut ice cream in cookie dough.
Sources of Plant-based Protein – We go through a lot of chickpeas, black beans and lentils. We are always picking up canned and dried of each. Also Noble Bean tempeh, and Vega sport powder.
Blogs and/or Social Media – I am currently following a lot of vegan accounts on Instagram and Facebook, there are so many good ones out there. Oh She Glows is always a go to, as well as Yum Universe, Hot For Food, Nutrition Stripped, The Buddhist Chef, Minimalist Baker, One Ingredient Chef and I’m sure I’m forgetting so many. Amy Longard, of Amy Longard Nutrition, is a dear friend and her content and workshops are incredible. I try to support other Ottawa women as much as possible.
Cookbooks and/or Recipes – The Oh She Glows cookbook- Angela Liddon, Yum Universe- Heather Crosby, Thug kitchen, and Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen. We are Loving the Oh She Glows app right now too, every week we make the Energizing Broccoli Dahl when we are batch cooking.
Local Takeout Spots – Pressed, the Blended Berry food truck, the Green Door, Pure kitchen, Chickpeas, Farmboy Hot bar and salad bar, the Wild Oat. I’ve been meaning to try Mad Radish and the Bowl since they opened, I’m sure both will make it onto our favourites list.