Vegans of Ottawa – Sophie Raniere

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.

Sophie Raniere (aka @vegansophie on Instagram) has lived in Ottawa for her entire life. She grew up in Orleans and has been loving living in Centretown for the past 10 years. A vegan of 4 years, we got her advice on finding your people and the virtues of taking it slow.

Ottawa Life: What inspired you to become a vegan?

Sophie Raniere: Growing up, I always thought it was strange that people (including myself!) ate meat, but since it’s so normalized I learned to ignore the part of my brain that kept wondering. At the time, it was easy to live with a kind of cognitive dissonance, since most people in my life ate animal products. Moreover, consuming meat, dairy, and eggs seemed interwoven into the fabric of daily life, so how could I eliminate them? As time went by, the connection between the suffering caused by animal agriculture and what was on my plate became harder to ignore. At the same time, I was exposed to meat and dairy alternatives and began incorporating them into everyday life (shout-out to my mom’s famous tofu cacciatore!) and became a vegetarian with an eye toward someday becoming vegan (although it seemed daunting at the time!). Watching documentaries like Vegucated and listening to podcasts like Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Food for Thought really helped me as I made these changes, giving me the confidence I needed to try eating a completely vegan diet. On my birthday in 2013, I made it official by sitting down and watching Earthlings, aka “the vegan-maker.” That sealed the deal!

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

Because I did things gradually, my transition wasn’t too difficult in the sense that I was able to sort of fumble around, figure things out and make mistakes without putting any pressure on myself. I find that the hardest thing for a lot of people contemplating veganism is this pressure (from yourself and – sadly – sometimes from others) to be “the perfect vegan.” Despite increasing acceptance of and interest in veganism, we still don’t live in a particularly vegan-friendly world, so we can only do our best. The moment I took the pressure off of myself to be the Veganest Vegan Who Ever Veganed, I was suddenly able to joyfully make the changes I wanted to make.

Once I freed myself from this pressure, food itself was an easy transition, especially since I was transitioning from vegetarianism to veganism. I made the change one step at a time, switching out butter for Earth Balance, cow’s milk for almond milk, etc; and I experimented with lots of different recipes. I feel that it’s important to acknowledge that the ease with which I was able to switch my diet around was in large part due to the fact that it was practically and economically accessible to me, and that I have no food allergies or intolerances. I have so much respect for anyone trying to be vegan while also navigating food insecurity issues or health-related food restrictions.

The most difficult part about my transition to veganism was social situations and learning how to navigate them. I didn’t want to be perceived as a nuisance asking for accommodation, but I’ve since gotten over that, and never feel bad stating my dietary needs – I wouldn’t feel bad letting someone know I had an allergy, so why should I be embarrassed letting them know that I’m vegan? Moreover, I am more than happy to share food recommendations if asked – I think some people’s defensiveness comes from not knowing what they could possibly feed me, when in fact there are a ton of options. Also, I love to bring vegan food to share if I’m a guest somewhere, and I’ve found that vegan baking especially helps people see that it’s not a restrictive lifestyle. Who’s gonna turn down a cookie?!

Another social difficulty I encountered during my transition was being met with people’s assumptions about what a vegan looks like. As with everyone, regardless of diet or lifestyle, some of us are fat! And that’s okay. I became vegan for the animals and for the environment and because it makes me feel great.

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

I find misconceptions about veganism frustrating, especially when it impacts practical things like dining at an omni restaurant. Asking if there are any items that can be made vegan and being offered the gluten-free (but not vegan) option is always an awkward moment! I just try to have a sense of humour about it because the worst case scenario is that I will eat a garden salad without dressing and then whip out a Clif bar at the table. I try to stay cognizant of the fact that I am lucky to have another meal coming sometime soon.

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

It feels really good to be able to make a difference on the Earth, however small, to reduce suffering, and to be connected to a larger community of inspiring, progressive people who want to make the world a more compassionate place.

An unexpected benefit from going vegan is that my relationship with food has become healthier. Growing up fat (which I use as a descriptor of my body, not as a derogatory term for it or myself), you are told that food is the enemy. It’s hard to escape diet talk and body shame because we are surrounded by it (and complicit in it). Veganism has made food fun again!

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

Ottawa gets increasingly vegan-friendly every year, it seems! Here are some faves along with what you must try from their menu:

Little Jo Berry’s: PB&J poptart!
Strawberry Blonde Bakery: chocolate vanilla twist soft serve!
Grow Your Roots Café: cinnamon bun!

Chickpeas (@chickpeasottawa on IG): the fawaffle!

La Belle Verte: satay bowl!
Pure Kitchen: those damn cauliflower wings!

Omni w/Vegan Options:
The Fuel Bar: lemon zest wrap!
The Manx: chickpea burger!

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

There are tons of amazing vegan goodies that I regularly pick up from Market Organics or my favourite place on earth, Herb & Spice. Also, Bulk Barn is a great place for vegan staples like dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and nutritional yeast! Other than that, I just pick up the rest (fruit, veg, grains, etc) at Sobeys or Independent.

Do you find that there is an active vegan community in Ottawa? Why do you think that finding a community is so important?

Yes! It’s been so cool to get to know other vegans around the city, so I love that this series is being put together. One of the best things about the community continuing to grow so much is the diversity that comes as a result. As with any huge community, there’s a wide range of smaller communities, and you just need to find your people. It’s especially neat being able to support small businesses run by vegans!

A couple of shout-outs:

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

Do the best you can with what is accessible to you, and that includes the brain space/emotional energy to take on something new. It’s not a race or a competition. As Colleen Patrick Goudreau reminds us in her book On Being Vegan, veganism is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Be sure to extend the compassion you have for animals and the planet to yourself.

Do you have any other tips and tricks you would like to mention or anything else you would like to add?

I know I’m only one individual, but I still think it’s really amazing to engage in resistance a few times a day just by virtue of avoiding animal products. If I can help end needless animal suffering, help save water and the environment all while still being able to eat an ice cream cone? Sign me up!

Sophie’s Vegan Essentials:

Snacks – I am currently obsessed with nut butter filled Clif bars, fruit, homemade energy balls, and smoothies!

Sources of Plant-based Protein – Tofu, tempeh, seitan, beans, lentils, nuts & nut butters, and seeds. I also like Vega protein powders for my smoothies!

Blogs and/or Social Media – I am addicted to Instagram, so there are too many to count. I will try and just choose a few…

Cookbooks and/or RecipesIsa Does It! by Isa Chandra Moskowitz + all her other cookbooks, Chloe’s Vegan Desserts by Chloe Coscarelli + all her other cookbooks