Vegan Family of the Month: March (click the photo to read the full article)
The first time I got in touch with Brie was through a giveaway we both participated in with several other sustainable, ethically minded companies.
The first time I got in touch with Brie was during a giveaway that Dynur was participating in with several other sustainable, ethically minded companies. I was surprised when she reached out to let us know that she'd been following Dynur since her Instagram is named @sliceofbrie. I was very excited to find out that she and her family had recently transitioned to a vegan lifestyle. The stories behind people's decision to go vegan are fascinating and Brie in particular is such an authentic, thoughtful presence.
Brie lives in Alberta with her husband Jim, Sully (5 years) and Emmy (2 years). She has her own business called @cottonandstring, where she makes custom, modern cross stitch. It’s fabulous and a great idea if you are looking for a unique, personal gift to give to someone special. I'm very excited to share Brie's story so let’s get to the interview!
It was something that had been weighing on my mind for months beforehand. For years I had incorporated meatless meals into our meal rotations, but I had always told myself I could never give up dairy. Last fall, my mom had made the transition to being vegan and she was a huge inspiration. She kept sending my information on instagram and she really opened up my eyes to the horrors behind the animal agriculture industries. I knew that if she could do it, I could do it. While my husband was away for work one week, my mom came down to stay with me and my kids so it was the perfect time to just dive in. After a week I felt better physically and mentally and I realized it actually wasn't that hard to give up the foods I told myself I would never be able to give up. A week with my daughter off of cows milk instantly cleared up her constipation as well. Thankfully, my husband loves my cooking and was supportive of eating however I wanted to prepare meals. I told him I would not be purchasing any more dairy products, eggs or meat products to have in the house but that he could eat how he wished outside of the home. He noticed right away how much better he felt not eating animal products that for the most part, he chooses plant based meals when buying lunch at work. But overall, the transition was much easier than I ever anticipated. I do believe a lot of it is mind over matter and you have to allow your body to withdrawal from certain foods, such as cheese. So while I wanted to eat cheese once when I was at a party early on, I challenged myself not to cave and eventually, I stopped craving cheese. Now I don't even know how we were eating it so regularly?! But to be transparent here, my husband isn't vegan, but I would argue that he is 95% plant based. He doesn't eat meat, but he will eat fish on occasion and sometimes cheese when he is out.
2. Were your children vegan from birth, or have you changed their diet as they grow up?
No, my children were not vegan from birth, although I wish I had started this journey earlier in their lives! My son just turned 5, and my daughter turned 2 a few months ago. The transition for her was unnoticeable and she will never know any different (hopefully!). My son has adapted well, but he definitely noticed the changes and he was old enough that I had to discuss with him why we were making the changes.
3. Even though your kids are still young, do they ask about why they are vegan? If so, what do you share with them?
My daughter is too young to discuss it with, but my son is very intuitive and very wise. He is a thinker and I knew I had to be honest with him so that he could be a part of the change. Of course, I don't tell him the information that is going to give him nightmares, but we talked and still talk, a lot about how meat comes from animals and by eating meat, animals have to die. We talk about how all animals are our friends. We talk about why we don't drink cows milk or buy yogurt anymore, because by doing so, we are taking the milk away from the baby cows who eat it. My son just "got it' right away. Now he reminds his dad and our family members that we "don't eat chicken because then a chicken has to die and chickens just want to be our friends", for example. It's very humbling and eye opening. If my 5 year old son can understand it, why can't we all? I also started this thing at meal time with him where I will say "this meal is made all from plants! This cheese is made from plants! Do you know what that means? It means a cow is doing a little happy dance somewhere". He LOVED that. Now he reminds me all the time when we are eating that the cows and the chickens and the pigs are doing happy dances. Now, if we are out, he will specifically ask for a "veggie burger" or a "burger made from plants", and if I make him a grilled cheese, for example, with vegan cheese, he will confirm that it's cheese made from plants. I bought a really good picture book for the kids off of Amazon called, "Not a Nugget", by Stephanie Dryer. It goes through all the different animals that non-vegans eat and provides children with a different way to view them. And since we don't live on a farm and we aren't exposed to farm animals on a regular basis, I show my kids videos on instagram of rescued farm animals living on sanctuaries. I want them to grow up knowing the true behaviour of cows, pigs, chickens, etc so that there is never a disconnect for them between the animals and eating animals.
4. Tell us about the vegan community in Calgary? Are there many like minded parents? Do you ever encounter judgement from other parents about your lifestyle?
We live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It's a large city and there a lot of vegan options when it comes to grocery shopping and eating out. I feel very lucky to live where we do. My family and I recently spent a few weeks in Florida visiting my in-laws and I really noticed the lack of availability of vegan foods in the grocery stores and at restaurants. In fact, there were times were we would pop into somewhere for something to eat and there was literally no vegan option. Thankfully, I have not encountered any judgement from people about raising my children vegan. I think most are just curious so I try to educate by example on my instagram account.
5. What are your favorite parts of raising a vegan family?I feel really proud to be doing what we are doing. There's no denying that the world is changing at a rapid pace and change is desperately needed if we want there to be an Earth for our children and our children's children. I don't believe you can "do it all", but as an individual, and as a family, you can do your part. I take great comfort in knowing that we aren't contributing to the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industries, nor are we contributing to the suffering and slaughtering of animals.
6. Are there any aspects of your vegan lifestyle that present challenges to you and your family?Eating out on the go can be difficult at times as you can't just eat anywhere. There are certain places that it's very difficult to order anything off a menu that is vegan - places like bowling alleys, amusement parks, and the movie theatre. Fries and house salads become your best friends haha! I have just learned to be more prepared and always pack snacks and lunch for us when we do go to places where there won't be a lot of options. (I did this before being vegan, but now I *have* to as I know I can't rely on fast food).
7. Will you allow your kids to try non-vegan food if they express an interest?
This is a tough one, especially since we have only been plant-based for just under 6 months. At home, I don't bring non vegan foods into the house. But when we are out, especially if we are with friends, I try to make vegan choices for my kids where I am able to, but I also have to allow my son to make his own choices where appropriate. So for example, we were at IKEA with friends one day, and while my son was more than happy to eat a veggie dog there, when the other kids got ice cream, he really wanted ice cream too. I reminded him that the ice cream wasn't made from plants and he told me that was ok this time. I'm not going to sweat a tiny cup of ice cream once in a blue moon as that one cup does not define our family as a whole. My goal with my children is to provide them with the information and guidance they need in order to make good decisions. I also never want my kids to feel ostracized or that they are missing out to the point where they rebel the decisions we have made as a family. I know some vegans wouldn't agree with this, but I would rather we do the best we can do in certain situations then not be vegan at all, if that makes sense?
8. People are often skeptical that a vegan diet offers enough nutrition to thrive. Can you share any advice about ensuring that your children get all the nutrition they need out of their vegan diets?This is a tough one, and one I think all parents, vegan or not, worry about to some degree. I'm a pretty breezy parent and have never worried too much about how little or how much my kids eat. I don't look at their diets day to day, I look at it over the week. Because one day one might be extra picky or not have much of an appetite, and then the next day they don't stop eating. They might eat a ton of fruit over the course of two or three days and then declare they hate strawberries for the next few days. Their appetites and preferences are constantly changing! On days they seem extra picky, I remind myself that they were just as picky when we were eating meat! I just try to offer balanced meals, and like I also remind my husband all the time, they won't starve themselves! My kids were never big dairy milk drinkers and so they still aren't huge plant milk drinkers, but they like a glass here and there, so I make sure on days that they don't eat much, I offer them an extra glass of soy or pea milk, just for that added nutritional bonus. My kids also take a multivitamin daily and B12 spray.
9. Do you have any easy, go-to recipes for busy days that you’d like to share?One of our favourite, go-to recipes for busy days, or days where you really don’t feel like cooking, is creamy cashew sauce over pasta. The original recipe can be found via @easyanimalfree on instagram. I always keep cashews on hand because they can be blended up without soaking overnight, to create incredibly thick and delicious sauces! We add a roasted veggie of choice into the dish and either some white beans or vegan sausage. Other easy favourites are lentil bolognese, African Peanut Stew from @ohsheglows, and crispy tofu with rice and roasted broccoli.
10. Do you have any tips for families that are interested in transitioning into a vegan lifestyle but are hesitant to take the first steps?Just go for it! You don't have to go cold turkey, but for some things it might be easier that way. I don't believe you need to throw out all of your current food and be wasteful, so it's completely doable to make changes as you go forward. When you run out of dairy milk, don't buy it again. Try almond milk, soy milk, cashew milk, any plant milk! If you really like to drink a glass of milk, then I highly suggest you buy a plain plant milk and a chocolate plant milk and mix some chocolate into the plain. It will help with the taste transition and the chocolate plant milks are SO good! So creamy and thick. There are literally vegan options for everything. Plant based butters and margarines, plant based faux meats - these are great for those early days when you still want to rely on your go-to recipes. We still use them periodically, but as time goes on, we feel the need for them less and less. Plant based cheeses and yogurts. Depending on where you live of course, there are so many options available to us at the grocery stores now. Any recipe can be made with vegan ingredients! You don't need eggs to bake cookies or treats, that's just a myth ;) Also, if you're on social media, follow inspiring vegan accounts. Especially ones who share easy recipes and meal ideas. This has been a huge one for me! When I see other people cooking delicious looking (easy) vegan meals, it makes me want to cook them too! Some of my favourite inspiring vegan accounts on instagram to follow are @erinireland ; @easyanimalfree ; @thekindestplate ; @apinchofplants ; @mamapapabubba ; @nora_cooks_vegan_ and @minimalistbaker