Vegans of Ottawa – Pamela Tourigny

Photos courtesy of Pamela Tourigny

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.

Pamela Tourigny grew up on a Tweed, ON farm in the 1980s, and never tasted most vegetables until she was well into her 20s. But when she learned about the ecological ramifications of our society's consumption of meat and animal products, she decided to become a vegetarian. Shortly after, while in university, she became a vegan.

Now living in South Keys, Pamela has been a vegan for nearly 13 years. Driven by the desire to connect people, she has since organized more than 100 vegan community events, including co-founding Ottawa Veg Fest (in its 8th year this June 3-4). While she holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree and wrote for the Ottawa Citizen for many years, she currently works as a marketing head for several vegan and vegan-friendly businesses in Ottawa. She tries to apply her experience and evidence-based approach to vegan outreach and education. Here she speaks about the Ottawa vegan community, taking care of yourself and letting things go.

Ottawa Life: What inspired you to become a vegan?

Pamela Tourigny:  I became vegan when I realized that I had to be if I wanted my actions to align with my beliefs and my compassion for animals.

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

Yes, it was difficult, but it was nearly 15 years ago when I started that process. Firstly, I ate very few vegetables during my entire life, so they simply weren't part of my diet. I had to learn how to feed myself all over again. It was also challenging because at the time there were not the same quality and quantity of animal product substitutes that are on the market today. There was also very little in the way of social acceptance of veganism. Most people had never heard of it, and had a tentative grasp at best on what even vegetarianism is. It is far, far easier to go and be vegan in 2017 than it was in 2002.

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

I personally do not find it challenging at all to be vegan, after so long. It would be far more challenging for me to NOT be vegan, as it touches nearly every aspect of my life by now. I sometimes feel frustrated by the lack of options at many restaurants and food service venues still, but I see that as society being slow to get with the program, more than I see it as a difficulty of veganism. I wrote a 25 page e-book to guide restaurants in this process – it's currently licensed to the National Capital Vegetarian Association if any restaurant wants it.

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

While I would be reticent to make unfounded health claims about veganism, I do believe that consuming a diet like what I eat has helped to keep me looking youthful and feeling well. Even through the past few years, which were stressful for me on a number of levels, I have continued to be healthy and I believe it's attributable to my good habits around food and lifestyle.

Being vegan – and the volunteering I have done as a result – has also introduced me to a whole world outside of my immediate surroundings, and I’ve met some truly amazing people. In the past couple of years those relationships have enabled me to make a career out of my passion, which is something for which I am grateful every day. I am so lucky!

What are your favourite vegan spots/restaurants in Ottawa and why? What is your favourite thing on the menu?

There are so many, and I have posted most of my reviews on my website.

Some of my very favourites include Grow Your Roots, Ceylonta (not a vegan restaurant but very vegan friendly), Asian Stars, Pure Kitchen, Chickpeas and La Belle Verte. Ottawa also has two terrific vegan bakeries – Little Jo Berry's and Strawberry Blonde.

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

I get my groceries at lots of places depending on what I need. My personal go-tos are Kardish Health Food Centre, Cedars and Farm Boy. My list typically includes staples like bananas, carrots, almond milk, kale and spinach, cauliflower and broccoli, brussels sprouts, salad fixings, potatoes, coconut milk, dates, soups, rice, fruit, bread, hummus, beans and lentils, Zengarry cashew cheeses, pasta, Gardein, Gusta sausages, and Amy's entrees for when I am in a pinch.

You are very active in the local vegan/vegetarian community and have a section of your website dedicated to helping others connect with local vegan/vegetarian communities, a few of which you developed. Do you find that there is an active vegan community in Ottawa? Why do you think that finding a community is so important?

Ottawa has an active, albeit fragmented, vegan community. I devoted 10+ hours a week of volunteer time for many years to building certain aspects of it, because I believe that a huge barrier for some people to moving towards veganism is rooted in a lack of social infrastructure and support around the lifestyle. I also think that there's no one size fits all solution. Some vegans find that social infrastructure within protest communities – I am not one of those. I have tried to create events, platforms and tools that are accessible to the widest number of people, and which meet people at whatever point they're at in their decision making and change making process.

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

This question is very à propos, and is the topic of my upcoming presentation at Ottawa Veg Fest on June 4! Here are a few tips:

  1. Don't take things too personally. Know that you're going to be ok. People may think it's weird, they may question you, they may be hostile towards you. Other vegans might make you feel not vegan enough. But none of it matters. Just be kind, do your best, and follow your heart. People will get over it.
  2. Don't overcomplicate it. The best way to ensure that you fail at something is by trying to do too much at once. If you want to go vegan, then go vegan. Don't worry about the trends, or sweat the small stuff. Eat abundantly, eat with gratitude, and eat healthily (most of the time!)
  3. Don't be too hard on yourself – or others. One thing that I see a lot in vegan outreach is a total lack of empathy for the challenges that people face in their lives that may make it difficult – or even impossible – to adopt significant changes. Those could be social, medical, socioeconomic, cultural, hard wired habits etc. That's not the same thing as "making excuses" or "giving people a pass," it's showing compassion and being a decent person. Try helping to find solutions, rather than condemning.
  4. Plan ahead. ALWAYS have purse food! Spend a bit of time googling or reading groups and forums about what mainstream products and businesses have on offer that is vegan. Look at restaurant menus online before you go, especially if they're not vegetarian/vegan restaurants, and call ahead. The best way to avoid starving or those very socially awkward moments is to be armed with knowledge and possibly snacks.
  5. Find Community. I am always shocked when someone joins one of the Facebook groups of which I am part and says they have been veg for 10 years but don't know any other vegans or vegetarians. That was the FIRST thing I did when I was a newbie vegetarian back around 2001. You don't have to ditch all your friends and family and make new ones (I actually don't recommend that) but finding likeminded people with whom you can share your experiences and get advice can often be the difference between someone staying vegan, or not.
  6. Pace Yourself. I am so proud of the work I've done within the vegan community, and the Ottawa community more broadly (I was awarded the Mayor's City Builder award in January 2016), but it did come at a personal cost. It is easy to be overwhelmed by what you've learned, and the desire to make a difference. DO find a way to make your mark, but take care of yourself above all. You'd be surprised how little a lot of things actually matter – save your energy for the things that do. Cherish those who cherish you.
  7. Remember you don't have to be perfect. A lot of well known vegans are also incredible athletes, or have perfect Instagram worthy diets, and that can be very inspirational. But some people also don't see themselves reflected in that. I hope that I am a bit more accessible: I am fit (I play ultimate, I run, I hike, and I've recently returned to the gym). But I am also a bit klutzy, lazy, ridiculous, and sometimes I eat Doritos (there's a vegan flavour). I do my best, and make good choices most of the time. That's all any of us can do! Don't let lack of perfection stop you from getting started.

Pamela’s Vegan Essentials:

Snacks – Zengarry fauxmages and crackers, Camino chocolates, roasted broad beans, smoothies, Clif nut butter bars.

Desserts – Oat & Mill frozen oats, Shockingly Healthy brownies.

Sources of Plant-based Protein – I eat Gardein products 2-3x a week, but otherwise it's mostly from beans and legumes, tofu/tempeh, quinoa, nuts and nut butters, vegetables. I don't worry about protein. The idea that vegans are at risk of protein deficiency is a myth.

Blogs and/or Social Media – I have moderated the National Capital Vegetarian Association's Facebook group for a decade. So I'm always keeping an eye on that, as well as the other local veg groups. I don't tend to follow as much as I used to as I am a content generator for many companies and that tends to take up a lot of my time!

Cookbooks and/or Recipes – I try to avoid cooking, but Oh She Glows and Dreena Burton's cookbooks tend to be no-fail. Natasha Kyssa's cookbook also has some great recipes.

Local Takeout Spots – Mucho Burrito and Harvey's are surprisingly vegan-friendly. I also recently discovered meal delivery and it has changed my life. Nothing like having Panago Pizza, Chickpeas or Ceylonta brought right to the door.

Hear more from Pamela at Ottawa Veg Fest on June 4 or on her blog/website.