Vegans of Ottawa – Lynda Turner

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.

When you want something done right, do it yourself. When local vegan and entrepreneur Lynda Turner couldn’t find a good vegan cheese, she decided to make her own. Word of her delicious creations quickly spread from friends to strangers and Zengarry fauxmages was born. Originally from Montreal, the vegan of six and a half years has lived in Alexandria (just outside of the capital) for over two decades. She took a break from her busy schedule to give us the details on fake cheese and facing challenges as a vegan.

Ottawa Life: What inspired you to become a vegan?

Lynda Turner: I was vegetarian for many years.  Then I started reading about the health effects of dairy consumption.  Kris Carr lead to The China Study, lead to Forks Over Knives, lead to a degree in Plant Based Nutrition.

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

It was easier than I expected.  I have a bit of a vegan cookbook addiction.  I actually only began to enjoy cooking after I become vegan.

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

Cheese was my biggest hurdle.  Six years ago, we didn’t have the choices we have today.

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

Peace of mind I think.  Obviously, there are all kinds of health benefits, but being comfortable with my choices and to feel like I’m doing my part to make the world a better place.  For me, this was an awakening.  Finally seeing things the way they are.  How unhealthy foods are subsidized, which leads to chronic illness and environmental issues, which supports the pharmaceutical industry.  Just how the food chain is linked to industry is very interesting. 

How did Zengarry get its start?

I started Zengarry out of necessity really.  I wanted a good cheese replacement.  I couldn’t buy it, so I made it.  I shared it with friends and family at parties and holidays and everyone loved it.  It just sort of took on a life of it’s own.

What is the most rewarding part about running Zengarry?

I never thought I would end up an entrepreneur.  But as a scientist, I learned to solve problems.  There is always something new to learn when you’re running a business.  There is never a dull moment.  But I think the most rewarding thing is to see people’s reactions when they try our cheese.  Some people are so surprised and some people have actually gotten emotional.  It’s great to feel like my products make giving up dairy feel less daunting. 

How do you go about developing Zengarry products?

Trial and error!  I just get in the kitchen and start experimenting.  Selfishly, I developed Zengarry fauxmages to suit my own tastes and I still eat them all the time.

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

I love Pure Kitchen.  They have so many amazing dishes.  The spicy cauliflower wrap is one of my favourites.  Grow Your Roots has the best brunches and amazing soups and sandwiches.  Hareg’s Ethiopian is another favourite of mine.

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

When in Ottawa, I love to shop at T&T.  There are so many foods there that are more difficult to find.  I love all kinds of mushrooms and they have an amazing selection.  I also love to shop at farmer’s markets.  At Zengarry we are a drop of spot for a local organic farmer, so we get most of our summer produce from there, and my garden.

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

I think Ottawa has an amazing vegan community, particularly considering it’s a relatively small city.  The NCVA, Vegan Eats Ottawa, tons of veg friendly restaurants and bakeries!  We’re blessed here!

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

I would say commit to it for 30 days and discover how many new options there are.  Invest in a good cookbook and take a stroll around your local health food store! 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think having a supportive veg community around you is super important for success as a vegan.  It was important to me to find other like-minded people that I could talk to about challenges like Christmas dinners, raising a family, non-supportive friends and family members and just help find suggestions for recipes, foods and restaurants.  A supportive community really helps keep you strong and sane, especially when faced with challenges.

Lynda’s Vegan Essentials:

Vegan Snacks (Homemade or Purchased) – Rice cakes with Zengarry Cashew Cheese is one of my go-to snacks. 

Vegan Desserts (Homemade or Purchased) – I’m not such a huge dessert person, but I love me a good vegan cheesecake!

Sources of Plant-based Protein – Beans.  I eat lots of chickpeas, kidney beans, refried beans, black beans etc. 

Blogs and/or Social Media – I love recipe videos on Youtube.  I could binge watch Hot For Food, and Bosh all day!

Cookbooks and/or Recipes – I love anything by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.  Veganomicon was one of my first vegan cookbooks and still a favourite.  Also, Isa Does it (her Glam Chowder and Red Lentil Thai Chili) and Oh She Glows (Savoury Breakfast Oatmeal).  I use those ones all the time.

Local Takeout Spots – Feline Café, of course!  And I love to grab a fresh juice at Urban Juice Press!