Vegans of OttawaVegans of Ottawa – Chelsea Turcotte

Vegans of Ottawa – Chelsea Turcotte

Vegans of Ottawa – Chelsea Turcotte

Photos courtesy of Chelsea Turcotte

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.

Chelsea Turcotte has been a vegan for three and a half years. Originally from New-Brunswick, she embraced veganism when she decided to move away to Ottawa for university, knowing she would be able to make her own food choices. She has now calls the capital home and is living in the student neighborhood of Sandy Hill. We caught up with her about going from one nutritional extreme to the other, the social aspect of veganism and its lasting effects on one’s personal outlook.

Ottawa Life: What inspired you to become a vegan?

Chelsea Turcotte: I’m a big sucker for animals, and I made the switch for ethical reasons. I love the environmental aspect as well but I can’t imagine ever encouraging the harm of animals, which is ironic because I used to be the biggest meat-eater. I used to eat burgers and seafood (being from the east coast) and chicken almost every day. When my best friend from home talked about going vegan, I told her she was crazy and that it was impossible. What was she going to eat?! Then overnight I decided to try it and just never looked back, and everyday since I've fallen more and more in love with the idea and I would never have it any other way.

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

I really thought it was going to be more difficult to make the transition. I think if you’re motivated by the right reasons, and you’re passionate enough about helping the planet or being cruelty free, you tend not to look at the food you used to eat in the same light, and the cravings are less intense. Sure, there are a few things that I do miss, but I know that now you can buy almost anything in a vegan version and its scarily accurate. I never feel like I'm missing out on anything.

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

I think the most challenging part for sure would be the social aspect of being vegan. I am lucky enough to be able to say that most of my friends are vegan, or are very open to the idea. However, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to constantly be invited to restaurants and outings at restaurants where the only safe option you have is fries (and even at that sometimes they're cooked in beef fat: the reason for my trust issues). One thing that ended up being a big challenge for me was fast-food. In high-school, I was extremely involved in sports and always running around so I was a huge McDonalds fan, and I miss the convenience of a drive-thru. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of vegan fast food options, and thanks to all the pizza places in Ottawa adopting the vegan cheese option, you don’t have to miss out on super bowl day or your lazy girls’ night in.

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

I have become a more caring, passionate person in general. I never knew I could love animals more than when I was younger, but through watching documentaries and educating myself, I have learned so much about how smart and affectionate these beings we take for granted are. Of course, being a university student, I love the idea of avoiding the freshman 15, and eating healthier and being more conscious of what I’m putting into my body has permitted me to eat in larger quantities than I ever have, and still stay healthy and have to worry less about staying in shape. I rarely ever get sick, and I have tons of energy. Being vegan has also allowed me to connect with so many different people who have the same interests as me and educate some of my friends who weren’t aware of the negative impact they were making.

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

It’s so hard to narrow it down, but I definitely have a few go-to’s I always end up at. Obviously, Pure Kitchen has to be my all time favorite. If they allowed it, I would set up a bed and call it home. I have brought multiple non-vegans to this place and every single person has fallen in love. I always order the queso dip as an appetizer, and I’m in love with their Cheerful BLT. If I’m in need of comfort food, I always go for their ‘Fantastic” bowl, which has peanut sauce and rice noodles and reminds me of a Buddha bowl.

Another place I've completely fallen in love with is Score pizza, which is a new pizza place in the Rideau Centre. They have AMAZING vegan cheese, which tastes exactly like mozzarella, and they’re extremely accommodating with toppings. Its a “build-your-own” place, and they never go light on toppings or sauces.

Another smaller place I love is Asian Alley in the Byward Market, who are extremely open to veganism and have lots of options, including a killer Pad Thai. If I’m taking something to go, I love the hot food bar at Farmboy; everything is labeled and organized, so I know exactly what I can get my hands on.

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

I usually get my groceries at Farmboy or at Metro. There is also a really good place in the market called ‘Market organics” that has a lot of amazing vegan options. My grocery list typically includes rice, tofu, pasta, bread or English muffins, tortillas, lots of fruits and veggies, hummus, guacamole, crackers, and almond milk. Those are my staples, but depending on what I’m trying to make I'll switch it up.

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

I know there’s an active vegan community in Ottawa. I attended VegFest for the first-time last year and I was so surprised at the turnout. I get so much support by almost everyone I meet here for what I’m doing, and you can see that there is plenty of demand for vegan food in local restaurants because of the way their menus are expanding to accommodate the lifestyle. I really recommend joining Facebook pages, attending events or supporting local restaurants and really branching out to find people who have similar interests. I know that Whole Foods always has advertisements for events in the area, or opportunities that support veganism. One thing that really helped me find a community for myself is watching YouTube videos about veganism, interacting with people in the comments section and following people who have great content on Instagram. I really do think that social media has been a huge key in spreading the vegan message, and showing that us vegans don’t miss out on anything.

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

I would really recommend doing your research. Getting passionate about the cause will guarantee you stick to it. Educate yourself by watching documentaries (I recommend watching “What the Health”, it really shows how corrupted the meat and dairy industry really is. There are lots of other amazing documentaries on Netflix as well.) and reading books or magazines, because I think knowledge really is your best friend in this case. No one can tell you what you are doing is wrong if you have all the facts to back yourself up. To this day, I don’t think I've ever lost a single debate about veganism, because I’m able to intelligently voice my opinion, without being ignorant to other people’s beliefs. When I first became vegan, I was very angry at the world and at all the cruelty we are allowing to happen. It feels like the whole population is being brainwashed by the government and by cultural norms and it’s really hard to get people to see your point of view. However, I've found just by being proud of my lifestyle and letting people know why I do what I do, I’ve influenced so many people to change their ways or at least realize their impact.

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

One last thing I would like to mention is that there is no “right way” to be vegan. Eat the junk food, or eat whole foods, have fun with it! There are a lot of different communities within veganism who enjoy doing things a certain way, such as “raw ‘til 4”, or “high carb low fat”, or just simply being a “raw vegan”, and I say do things however you want! We already have more limitations than the usual population, so why make it any harder? Enjoy yourself! If you are thinking of going vegan, I say just do it. It might end up being the best thing you’ll ever do for yourself and for the planet, I know it was for me.

Chelsea’s Vegan Essentials:

Vegan Snacks (Homemade or Purchased) – My favorite vegan snack is usually crackers and hummus, but I'm a huge sucker for popcorn and I will eat an entire family sized bag of skinny pop in one sitting. If I'm in the mood for fruit, I always go for grapes.

Vegan Desserts (Homemade or Purchased) – I’m not a huge dessert person, but I love peanut butter and I'd probably eat anything that involves it. Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy line of ice cream is so close to the real thing its dangerous.

Sources of Plant-based Protein – I love tofu. I usually buy plain extra-firm tofu (any brand works) and then just grill it in a pan with some mixed veggies, then top it with some vegetable seasoning and throw it into burritos, pasta, rice, anything.

Blogs and/or Social Media – I don’t even know where to start. Like I mentioned earlier, HotforFood has a food blog, and is also on YouTube and social media and I love the things she does. She creates super intricate meals with whatever she has left in the cupboard and they always turn out incredible. I’m also a huge fan of Happyandhealthy96 (also known as Steph Yu) on Instagram and on YouTube, she gives great recipes and she’s a really down to earth Canadian activist in favor of spreading the message. She was one of the first people who really kept me going when I became vegan. If you’re looking for websites to buy merchandise or look for food inspiration, “Wholesome Culture” is a great website and I have ordered some of their stuff before and I was so pleased with the quality.

Cookbooks and/or Recipes – I have multiple version of the “oh she glows” cookbook, but I love to watch YouTube videos for all my ideas. I love ‘HotforFood” on YouTube, and they just released a vegan cookbook with tons of recipes. I cook pretty simple dishes for the most part so I rarely use recipes but when I am looking for something specific, I usually look for it on Pinterest! They have tons of ideas and different ways to create everyday dishes.

Local Takeout Spots – One word for vegan takeout food in Ottawa: pizza. From Pizza Pizza, to Milano’s, to Dominoes, and so on. Most places now offer vegan cheese, and dominoes offers a really good vegan thin crust. If we’re talking takeout, we’re also talking sushi. I love ordering sushi to my house when I'm too lazy to cook anything, and my go-to sushi place in Ottawa is Sushi Fresh, located in the Byward Market. Their shiitake roll, and their veggie California roll are to die for.

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