What’s in a name? An update on the Zengarry Cashew “Cheese” debacle

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Many people have asked me, so whatever happened with the situation with Zengarry Cashew Cheeses and the Canada Food Inspection Agency?

Zengarry received significant media coverage (mostly a lot of CBC)  in late June and early July when its owner, Lynda Turner, and the Plant Foods Council went public calling for changes to food regulations that discriminate against vegan products similar to traditional animal products such as meats, milks, cheeses and butters.  Turner’s business had been hit with an order to change the product name, because the word “cheese” is protected, and given a short timeline within which to comply.

After a few crazy weeks, resolution is near so I asked Lynda to give us all an update.

PT: Where do things stand now?  

LT: I submitted the Corrective Action Plan to CFIA  with requests to 1) wait until the new CFIA regulations came out to determine how this would affect the labelling requirements.  2) grant me permission to use up my remaining inventory of labels.

In addition I provided options in order of preference to change the production name.  My first preference was to use quotation marks around the word cheese.  The second was to say 100% dairy free raw cashew cheese.

CFIA responded without addressing the first point, but they did give me until early 2016 to use up remaining label inventory and accepted the proposal to label using the 100% dairy free raw cashew cheese product name.  All of these words are currently on the labels, but new labels will have to move words around to accommodate the CFIA requirements.

lyndaPT: So after all of the trouble, you’re allowed to continue calling your product what you were calling it in the first place. How do you feel about that?  

LT: I am VERY relieved to be able to continue using the word cheese on my labels because I do feel like this is the best description of what my product actually is.  To have to use a vague descriptor like ‘cashew spread’ or ‘cultured cashew product’ is less than appetizing and in my opinion would not effectively describe my product.  So I see that as a big win!

It is a bit frustrating to have to redesign my labels and website to rearrange the words that were already on the label in the first place.   It seems like such a waste of time and resources and I’m not sure that rearranging these words on the label makes anything clearer for the consumer.  I think that is what bothers me the most.

PT: How have the CFIA’s demands changed the way you operate?

LT:  I think it’s made me more cautious and wary.  I guess you have to be prepared for anything.  It has also made me much more conscious of what to document.  Keeping records of every part of my processing is very important.

PT: What would you say that you’ve learned from the whole situation?

LT:  I learned a lot about the regulations around food processing and labelling.  As an entrepreneur, I am CONSTANTLY evolving and learning. Trying new things and problem solving is a huge part of my job.  To be able to navigate my way through this situation gives me confidence that I can face the next challenge.

PT:  You received a lot of media coverage as a result of sharing your story.  What was that like for you?  Did anything come of it?

LT:  The media attention was a first for me.  It was intimidating but also wonderful to have that platform to bring attention to this important issue that is not unique to Zengarry.  I can only assume that CFIA was aware of interviews.  I’m not sure how it influenced them if at all.

Collectively as vegans we have a voice that can no longer go unnoticed.  The demand for plant based alternatives to animal based foods is expanding quickly.  This creates the need for an evolution and modernization of how these foods are labelled and regulated.  It’s a very real issue.  So is GMO labelling.  There is still a long way to go.  Let’s just hope the government is listening.

PT: What is next for Fauxmagerie Zengarry?

LT: Fauxmagerie Zengarry will soon officially be an ‘INC’.  That’s pretty exciting!  We are expanding in the Quebec market now with a distributor, allowing us to broaden our reach.

We have some really great shows coming up, Toronto Veg Food Fest, Montreal Vegan Festival and hopefully the Urban Craft Christmas show in Ottawa!  I have also begun to focus more energy on teaching my workshops.  There are two scheduled in Ottawa and one in Toronto this fall, so far.   Oh and…  cashew based Tzatziki.  :)

To stay up-to-date with Fauxmagerie Zengarry sign up for their e-newsletter here.

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(Disclosure:  I am working as a consultant with Zengarry on its marketing and PR.)

On Cecil the Lion, and extending our circle of compassion

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You would have to be entirely disconnected  from humanity for the past few days not to have heard about the tragic death of Cecil the lion in Africa, at the hands of a rich American sport hunting dentist.

Cecil’s death has caused an internet uproar. It’s almost all that I am seeing in my newsfeed.  Most of it is unadulterated outrage directed at the perpetrator.  The world (or North Americans, at least) are experiencing collective grief, horror, devastation and anger in a way that I haven’t seen for some time.  The desire for revenge is palpable.

There seem to be few exceptions.  I’ve seen well-respected business leaders call for the dentist’s Yelp profile to be flooded with negative reviews (made by people who have never patronized his practice), calls for the perpetrator’s death and injury, and demands that he be made an example so that others will think twice before hunting for sport in the future.  People are mad as hell, seething, out for blood.

That Cecil – a popular and important lion in his Zimbabwe home – was killed for sport is incredibly wasteful and terrible.  I’ve heard that now his cubs are at risk, on account of lion social mores; there could be more death compounding the horror of Cecil’s death. None of this is good news, and with lions dwindling in their numbers, it contributes further to the sense of waste.  I’m really sad to know not only of his death, but also that he suffered.

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While I am firmly against sport hunting, and would agree that the perpetrator is likely a special kind of douchebag based on what I have read on the Google, I can’t help but think about the nine billion land animals who are killed in North America every year, simply because people enjoy eating them, or are in the habit of doing so.

Where is the outrage and devastation for them?  As someone who has been vegan or vegetarian nearly my entire adult life, I have a very difficult time understanding the mental gymnastics that are necessary to evoke devastated outrage over the death of one lion, but complacency regarding the death of billions.

I know, I know. Those animals are bred for food.  They’re different.  Cecil was different.  Vegans are accused of anthropomorphism, but the case of Cecil shows that it’s possible to have it selectively. Just because we have made a point not to know the cows and pigs who inhabit this continent with us, that they are less capable of feeling. You cannot tell me that a North American cow or pig doesn’t also experience pleasure and pain, just as Cecil did. The science is increasingly in favour of run of the mill “food” animals experiencing these things not much differently than do human beings.

They too enjoy the feeling of the sun on their faces, the ground beneath their feet, the breeze on their skin. Sadly, most never experience these things, and they suffer immensely when they are kept in living conditions that deprive them of even basic amenities. Then their lives are snuffed out, often after a terrifying ordeal of transport, and after witnessing or smelling their peers being slaughtered.  This is not unlike the suffering that Cecil no doubt felt after being shot by a bow and arrow, 40 hours prior to his death.

I respectfully ask that those who are outraged by the death of Cecil the lion take a moment and think about how awful you’re feeling, and then consider the “holier than thou” or “militant” vegans you may have encountered – in truth or in stereotype – to understand where that outrage was coming from. Vegans are – at the very least – remarkably refined at hating the game, not the player — the rage towards Cecil’s killer has not shown this same restraint.  Admittedly, it’s harder to sustain the same level of anger when the “culprits” (vis-a-vis societal customs and norms) are people who you love and respect. But it’s still crushing to think about the death and destruction that occurs because of society’s collective appetite for eating animals.

It is my hope that Cecil’s perpetrator is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  He should not evade appropriate punishment because he is rich, or white, or American.   (And if the laws are not set up to protect Cecil, then perhaps it will affect needed changes to the laws.)

It is also my hope that people – in their desire to bring justice for Cecil, or to find some meaning in his death – may also consider the day-to-day ways that they can opt out of a food system that is rooted in a devastating and horrifying cycle of violence.

We could all benefit from extending our circle of compassion, and striving towards a kinder world.  RIP Cecil.

pamela july 29Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based vegan of 11 years, and health advocate. She is also a publicist, writer, marketer, speaker, and co-founder of Ottawa Veg Fest. For more information visit www.pamelatourigny.com.

A “free” dog isn’t the bargain you think: Why rescues charge an adoption fee

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I am a foster mom and volunteer with Sit With Me Dog Rescue.  I’m currently fostering this crazy hound/dane mix (he’s a 100 pound puppy!):

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As a foster and volunteer, I know first hand how much time, energy, and money goes into a dog rescue.  There are some volunteers within the rescue who literally live and breathe it, plus a network of dozens of other people all contributing in the way they can.

Every so often people complain about the “cost” of adopting a dog.  Hey, I get it. I’d love everything to be free too.  But economics do not allow that. There is a cost to our throwaway society, in which people treat their companion animals like disposable items.  And that cost is largely borne by the shelter system, and the rescues that work tirelessly to save animals from the prick of euthanasia.

And part of that cost, necessarily, is borne by the people who adopt the wonderful dogs who the rescues work so lovingly and diligently with to prepare them to be best dogs they can be.  Sometimes the dogs are shellshocked, and other times they have been dumped off unceremoniously rather than provided with medical care.  The loving arms of rescuers bear a heavy load, and none of them are making a single penny for their troubles.

While I can understand on a base level the rationale that charging less would result in more adoptions, it also will result in bankrupting rescues.  Volunteer-run, limited resource rescues.

Here is a Facebook post that was made to Sit With Me’s Facebook page this morning that explains why adoption fees are so necessary.

We received this email this morning. We thought long and hard about the kind of response that might educate the reason why rescue centers charge an adoption fee, and in this emailers opinion, a ridiculous adoption fee. There is still information we could gave added about how dedicated our volunteers are and how not a single one of us receives a penny for our time (and we cover our own gas for all of the transporting we do too).

We wanted to share the interaction in hopes of helping people understand why our adoption fee is what it is. 

“Hello, I just wanted to say my opinion on something, there are so many families that would adopt a dog but I find the adoption fees absolutely ridiculous. The price for dogs in general are crazy. $400 Is in my opinion too much, $200 would be sufficient to get these dogs adopted. Isn’t that the goal?”

Samantha: A recent Sit With Me intake

Samantha: A recent Sit With Me intake

Sit With Me’s Response:

Thank you for sharing your opinion. Hopefully we can help answer your question.

The simple answer is no. The goal is not to find homes for these dogs for an adoption fee that makes the future of the rescue unsustainable.

The goal is to be a sustainable group that can continue to find the best homes for dogs in need while also providing the dogs with the care previous owners neglected to provide.

$400 does not even begin to cover the cost of the vet care the dogs receive with us. In 2013, for example, on average, each dog cost approximately $1,000 to vet. That means we fundraised and volunteered outside of the regular rescue work to raise the other $600.

You are not paying for the dogs. You are paying for their health checks including vaccinations, vaccination boosters, spays/neuters and their microchip. Ìt is rare though that the dogs don’t need a little extra care such as medication for infections or deworming. In Timn’s case, he needed lumps removed that turned out to be cancerous; thankfully, the margins were good and he is doing well.

We want to be able to continue to give healthy dogs the best homes who will continue to love them as we do. And those homes, by paying the adoption fees are then helping us continue the work we do, saving animals that might never have had another chance (all of our dogs are from shelters where they would have been euthanized in the shelter system).

While you are welcome to purchase from an online ad for a low cost or free pet, beware of both the financial and stress that may come from this. You would have to, assuming you are a responsible owner, get the above vetting done, in at least three different trips to the vet. Four if the dog is a pup. The costs would be over $400. That is of course assuming the dog is healthy to begin with (not all online sales are honest and not all backyard breeders breed with health histories in mind). And beware of puppy mills too where dogs are bred within inches of their lives with rarely any medical needs met. Purchase one of those pups and you make cruelty profitable.

Then there is the issue of behaviour. What is the dog going to be like in a new home? Is he/she crate and/or house trained? Does he/she know commands? How is he/she off leash? Is he/she okay around kids/dogs/cats ? What happens when you take the dog home and you cannot handle the dog whatsoever? If you paid an a fee to a shelter, they will want you to return the dog but most will not return the fee. And if you purchased the dog online, often the previous folks disappear or tell you this is now your problem, which it is. Buyer beware.

We know our dogs. We provide them full vetting. We can tell you what works for them and what doesn’t. We help match you to a dog that will fit your lifestyle needs. You adopt a dog but you gain a support system and a community of dog lovers who, should you need advice going forward, we can either provide it or direct you to the right sources. You also receive an extendable week long trial to see if the dog you adopt is a fit in your home too. This means the financial commitment you make will not force you to keep a dog who is not a fit.

So all in all, we feel we have a very sustainable program for the wellbeing of our dogs, to not be tossed around ever again. And that is our goal.

Thanks for listening and we hope this makes sense to you and changes your views on what rescue is all about.

(PS If you want to adopt Gendry the hound/dane, email adopt@sitwithme.ca)

On orthorexia, body shaming, and having a healthy relationship with food

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A couple of months ago, I published a story to the PlantKind blog about my weight loss.  It was almost an ironic post – there’s nothing quite like a great weight loss story to serve as click bait, but the message underpinning my story is quite different than your typical weight loss story. For one thing, it’s old news. I lost weight about eight years ago. The real story is that I have kept it off since, because it wasn’t a diet, nor was it a cleanse or some other magic bullet.  It was a change of lifestyle.

before and after

My post caught the eye of an editor from the Huffington Post, and she asked me to be part of HuffPo’s weight loss series. Since I think my message of making sustainable and longterm changes to your habits – rather than dieting and seeking an easy alternative – is an important one, I agreed to participate.

What I did not expect – but perhaps should have – was a chorus of voices that declared me to be “anorexic” looking.  Others yet tried to knock down a straw man that they – not I – had set up, arguing that vegan diets can be unhealthy (indeed they can be, and I had not in any way attributed my weight loss to going vegan, and was clear that initially going vegan had contributed to my weight gain). I believe that you can be very healthy as a non-vegan if you’re shovelling in mounds of fruits and vegetables;  I just don’t think it’s very kind to eat animals.

It all got me thinking about the perils of judging a book by its cover, as well as the delicate balance that exists between eating healthily, and veering into orthorexia nervosa territory.

Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on food quality and purity…An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style.  Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise).  Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity of orthorexics’ diet and they sometimes feel superior to others, especially in regard to food intake.

Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.  Eventually, the obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous.

From: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/orthorexia-nervosa 

Indeed, I was tiny in my “after” photo. At the time I was running about 50 km a week, and weighed about 110 lbs.  Basically, I looked like an elite runner. But,  I was eating about 3,000 calories a day during that time, and there was no disordered eating on my part whatsoever.   Just because someone looks tiny, does not mean they have anorexia nervosa, and it makes me really angry that people on the internet toss around uninformed eating disorder “diagnoses” in this way.

It is essentially taking a serious and deadly eating disorder, and using it as an insult and as a body shaming tactic.  That is not okay. It’s not constructive, it’s not accurate, and in this case, it demeaned the efforts that I had undertaken to overhaul my lifestyle – from one that was sedentary and poorly nourished, to one that was active, energetic, and healthful.

That said, the comments didn’t “hurt my feelings.”  My self confidence is too high for that. I just made me worried for others who struggle. What kind of message does it send to anorexics – or anyone really – when someone who is physically fit and eats like a horse is accused of “looking anorexic”?

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Healthy and fit at 35.

What matters is not so much our outward appearance, but the way we deal with food in our minds and in practice. When I am fit and active and eating well, my body naturally becomes very lean.  I realize that most people will never be as tiny as I am. That’s neither a good or bad thing! It just is.  It doesn’t make me an anorexic, nor does it mean that someone whose body naturally levels out at a higher weight or size is “not trying hard enough.”  Healthy bodies can be in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Which leads me to our relationships with food.  I would venture to say that during the timeframe of my “after” photo, while I certainly had no issue whatsoever with calorie restriction, as a relatively new vegan (about two years) I was perhaps a bit overzealous in my list of dietary inclusions and exclusions.

This is something that I have seen over and over again in nearly 11 years of veganism. New vegans who, full of enthusiasm for their new lifestyle, become health obsessed.  They zealously restrict huge swaths of food (i.e. gluten, soy, artificial colouring, foods that aren’t organic, foods that contain any sugar) and consequently eventually find veganism to be impossible.

But the thing is, veganism isn’t about being perfect, and avoiding anything even remotely “bad” at all costs.  It’s about eating in such a way that reduces harm to animals.  “Health policing” other vegans serves zero purpose other than to assert some sort of health superiority over those who are exercising their right to occasionally indulge.

Plus, it doesn’t reduce harm to animals if your diet becomes so restrictive and socially isolating that you end up resuming eating them again.  Especially since, realistically, having a bit of gluten or sugar on occasion really isn’t going to cause any longterm damage.

Eleven years after making the decision to become vegan, I believe my relationship with food is better than it has ever been. I allow myself unfettered intake of fruits and vegetables, as well as things like lentils, beans, rice, quinoa, and other healthy starches.

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Post all you can eat at Hareg. June 2015.

I am high carb, because carbs do not make you fat, they give you energy. I need fuel; I run three times a week, I play ultimate three times a week, and i’ve recently added in strength training twice a week.  I eat close to 2,500 calories a day.

Sometimes I eat fake meat because it’s easy and I’m busy. I’m 100% committed to veganism, but a new vegan who comes to believe that eating a “processed” veggie burger is “bad” is someone who is at risk of reverting back to meat.  Is that what we want?  We shouldn’t shame people for consuming things that are less than 100% perfect.

Sometimes I eat a treat from a vegan bakery. Often I eat dark chocolate.  The other day I even had a little ice cream cone from Thimblecakes.

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I think the key is to see food as something that gives us life, and gives us energy to accomplish our day to day tasks, but which can also be a treat that should not make us feel shameful. Of course, the key is to keep it a treat.

If the basis of our diet is nourishing foods, then we don’t need to sweat the little things.

So I don’t.

Life after the NCVA: A memoir of 8 years of volunteerism

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Today was a bittersweet day for me.  After more than eight years, I stepped down from my board seat on the National Capital Vegetarian Association.

It was long overdue; my last term was somewhat involuntary, in lieu of folding the organization. We agreed to hang in there to give people a chance to get involved and carry the torch.  From the great turn out at today’s meeting, and the enthusiasm of the attendees, it seems to have worked. Since I’ve been much more focused on my own vegan projects for the past year or so, it was a relief to officially step down.  I had come to realize that I really did need to do so, so that others would realize how important it is that they step up.

Ottawa Humane Society Summer Harvest Garden Party - July 2014

Ottawa Humane Society Summer Harvest Garden Party – July 2014

It’s been quite the ride. I got involved with the NCVA just as its founders were finalizing its bylaws to make it a real legal entity. I had met vegan athlete Brendan Brazier at a talk, and it was he who made the introduction in late 2006.  I was two years into being vegan and wanted to do something constructive to spread the word. While I had a vegan partner, I realized that many others struggled with the social implications of taking a principled stance.  I wanted to strengthen the social fabric underpinning the movement so that anyone who wanted to follow their conscience could do so with support. I started by creating a newsletter, which we published for four years.  Then monthly potlucks, which also ran about four years.

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Volunteers from the very first Veg Fest, June 2009. The cow on the left is Gwen Hughes, one of the newest NCVA board members.

The initial board members drifted off, but were replaced by Corrie, who would be an incredible partner in building the association. The two of us toiled, creating the membership discount program that many of you know, and ultimately co-creating and organizing Ottawa Veg Fest for the next four years.  The first Veg Fest was really just two volunteers who wanted what they’d seen in Toronto trying to make it happen. And it was a success! On a marketing budget of $0 (but with help from PR wizard Camille Labchuk), the premier event drew more than 2,000 visitors.  The rest is history.  I am proud to be part of what I consider a landmark event, that’s so widely known now that even many omnivores are aware of its existence.

I worked with many volunteers over the ensuing years, and among the most noteworthy have to be Erin and Neil.  Those two are powerhouses, and it was gratifying to work with them both.  It was they who kept me going the past few years, even as I itched to branch out and do other things, and especially through my own personal burn out.  Neil is a numbers magician, and nobody holds a bake sale or caters an event like Erin.  I’ll never forget – or be able to thank enough – Erin cooking for nearly 24 hours straight for the Holiday Howl karaoke event that I put on at the Montgomery Legion with Jenn Lakeshore. Then there was the Ester the Wonder Pig bake sale, and perhaps the highlight – the We Animals reading at the Ottawa Humane Society.  People like Erin and Neil give me faith that we can make a difference.

Glebe Garage Sale, May 2014. We raised a lot of money for Esther the Wonder Pig's sanctuary.

Glebe Garage Sale, May 2014. We raised a lot of money for Esther the Wonder Pig’s sanctuary. Pictured with Josee, who is beginning her second term on the NCVA board.

Another source of pride (and never-ending frustration) is the NCVA Facebook group, which I created at least six years ago.  While I could live without the bickering and complaints, overall it has served as a terrific tool to connect vegans and vegetarians in the Ottawa area.  If you need to know where to find anything vegan-related, just ask it there and I guarantee you you’ll have at least five answers within the next ten minutes.  Friendships have been borne, and so many people have been helped.  I have met so many people through my NCVA work.  I like to say that I know hundreds of vegans, and it’s true. And now those people know each other.  It’s gratifying to know that I played a part in creating so many ties between people.

So in some ways it feels like goodbye, but really, it’s just goodbye to an official, provincially governed role within a non-profit organization. For the past six months I’ve been developing two side businesses, including PlantKind, which lets me continue to focus on vegan education and advocacy, while also hopefully eventually being able to earn some income from my passion.  And of course there’s this blog, which is now one and a half years old.  I’ll be around, it’ll just be in a different capacity.

I am also looking forward to helping like-minded businesses and organizations with their marketing, communications and public relations through my freelance business services.  I have accumulated a wealth of professional experience in this area, and after donating thousands of hours of my time to volunteerism, I do need to now focus on putting a value on my time.

Poster for the Holiday Howl, December 2013, which raised nearly $2,000 for animal rescues.

Poster for the Holiday Howl, December 2013, which raised nearly $2,000 for animal rescues.

To all of you who have volunteered, you have my deepest thanks. And to those who have become a part of our community, thank you as well.  We have built something real, something tangible, and I hope everyone can take a moment to appreciate that and consider the ways that you can contribute into the future. Each and every one of you has the potential to be a part of this, and not only do the animals need you, but your community does as well.

I truly believe that focusing on vegan retention is critical, and that creating that social infrastructure to support fledgling vegans and vegetarians makes a huge difference.

Best of luck to the new board. May your experience be as deeply fulfilling as my own.

Antiquated Canadian government regulations threaten vegan food manufacturer

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The impact of antiquated  government labelling requirements are disproportionately punitive to small manufacturers, discouraging innovation, and favours unhealthy animal-based products.

Lynda Turner, owner and founder of Zengarry Cashew Cheeses.

Lynda Turner, owner and founder of Zengarry Cashew Cheeses.

This is highlighted by the Canada Food Inspection Agency’s recent crackdown on a tiny Ontario company specializing in manufacturing vegan, dairy-free cashew “cheeses.” That company, Zengarry Cashew Cheeses, now faces weeks of bureaucratic wrangling that will at best hold up its expansion plans and cost the sole owner thousands of dollars, and at worst could shutter the business.

Zengarry clearly labels its products as “cashew cheese” and “dairy-free”. Zengarry was ordered by CFIA to change its business and product name so that it did not include the protected word “cheese,” claiming that cheese must be made from animal milk, and the term “cashew cheese” would mislead consumers.

Meanwhile, other protected words like “milk” and “butter” are commonly used on labels for “peanut butter”, “almond butter”, and “coconut milk” without confusion. The CFIA has not attempted to enforce labelling regulations against such products for use of protected words, and appears to be singling out Zengarry.

While Zengarry owner Lynda Turner was told by CFIA inspectors that they had received no complaints against her business, and her CFIA product testing came back with no concerns, the CFIA ordered her to complete two Corrective Action Plans – one to address manufacturing processes, and a second to address changing her business and product name so that it did not include the protected word “cheese” – within a matter of weeks.

“I received an email informing me that I had to stop using the word “cheese” on my label since my product was not made of milk. I was told that by using the term ‘cashew cheese’ on my label, I was identifying my product as cheese and that it does not meet the cheese compositional standard  under section of B.08.003(1) of the FDR and as such, would be in contravention of section 5(1) of the Food and Drugs Act,” Turner says.

The act states

No person shall label, package, treat, process, sell or advertise any food in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character, value, quantity, composition, merit or safety.”

Turner, a government scientist on unpaid leave for one year to expand her business, has been diligent to ensure her business complies with relevant laws at all levels of government. She now must drop her expansion efforts and instead grapple with paperwork and regulations that she says are beyond her capacity. even as a bureaucrat.  She says she asked if any resources were available to help small business owners with compliance, and was told that she was on her own.

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A platter of Zengarry Cashew Cheeses. The word “cheese” is currently considered a protected word under CFIA labelling regulations.

“The plans required and the deadline provided are unrealistic for small business owners. The average lay person has no hope of interpreting these requirements on their own,” Turner says. “While I 100% support the objective of securing food safety for Canadians, the process creates an unfair advantage for large industries with deep pockets, and puts undue stress on small businesses trying to produce natural, healthy products.”

Turner has requested an extension to complete the two Corrective Action Plans, as well as to postpone the requirement of a new name and labels as she has thousands of dollars invested in current inventory.

The Plant Foods Council, a new organization that seeks to protect and promote the interests of plant food manufacturers in Canada, and educate the public about eating plant-based foods,  asserts that the traditional animal food products in this category not only enjoy a deep and abiding cultural history with consumers, but also benefit from large government subsidies, powerful trade associations, a favoured bias in current labeling regulations and support from industry-funded nutrition associations.

Health Canada and the CFIA for their part would seem to agree that the regulations require updating: The agencies are seeking feedback on options to change food labels and modernize the food labelling system. Specific options, such as expanding food class names (i.e., “vegetable oil” or “flavour”) are proposed in an online survey for comment that’s available until June 30, 2015.

Zengarry will need to replace thousands of dollars worth of labels if it is required to comply with the June 30 deadline the company was given.

Zengarry will need to replace thousands of dollars worth of labels if it is required to comply with the June 30 deadline the company was given.

Nobody is sure why CFIA has taken such a keen interest in Zengarry, but this not the first time a plant-based manufacturer has been singled out. In 2014, the CFIA forced Seattle-based Field Roast, which makes vegan grain meats, out of the Canadian marketplace. The company was required to reformulate its products to mimic the nutritional profile of animal meat, a long and expensive process.

The Plant Foods Council is asking Health Canada and the CFIA to amend regulations to:

  • Recognize and regulate the term “vegan” as a descriptor of plant-based products.
  • Allow the use of terms like “cheese”, “milk”, and “butter” to describe plant-based products.
  • Remove the requirement that plant-based meats must have the same nutritional profile as animal meats.

“Plant-based products like grain meats, vegan cheeses, and soy milks are now pervasive in the Canadian market place. Food labeling regulations that prohibit calling a product ‘cashew cheese’ or ‘soy milk’ are out of step with the way consumers think about and refer to these foods. Health Canada and the CFIA must take immediate steps to modernize labeling regulations to reflect this reality and end the discrimination against plant-based foods,” says Camille Labchuk, a director of the Plant Foods Council.

Anyone who is interested in protecting the innovative and delicious products that vegan and vegan-friendly business are providing should fill out the survey, and consider joining the Plant Foods Council either as an individual member, or as a manufacturer.

On the Yulin dog and lychee festival

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There has been a lot of buzz in the media about the Yulin dog and lychee festival in Guangxi, a south-western province of China, for the past few weeks.  It is thought about 10,000 dogs (and cats) would be killed during the festival for their meat, which is a delicacy there.  People – Westerners in particular – have denounced the festival, and tried to stop it from happening.

I learned today that despite the worldwide outcry, the festival went ahead.  Ten thousand innocent lives were lost, all in the name of satisfying tastebuds, and celebration.

The creature who I love most in this world is a dog.  Freyja is very special to me and having lived with her for three years now I have witnessed how unique and individual she is. I would do anything to protect her, and am acutely aware of how wholly dependent she is on me for her protection and safety. I also foster dogs, and know many dogs through our park visits. Each and every one of them has his or her own personality; quirks, favourites, things that annoy them, and so on.

The thought of 10,000 Freyjas meeting a horrifying, torturous, and completely unnecessary death makes me feel like i’ve been punched in the gut.

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Many animal activists have fairly pointed out that the Yulin event is really no different from what we in the Western world do on a day-to-day basis to cows, pigs, chickens, and other “farmed animals.”  They also argue that we are taking a culturally imperialist position in protesting the slaughter of some types of animals, while turning a blind eye to the slaughter of other species of animals who share many of the same attributes.

I don’t know enough about the Yulin festival to know whether or not it is uniquely awful, but I do believe that it is probably a lot easier for people who choose to eat animals to protest a faraway festival’s horrors, than to turn a critical eye to the Western habits, customs and celebrations that lead to mass death and destruction on an even larger scale than Yulin.

I think it’s always a good thing when people are sparked in a way that results in empathy and a desire to improve the lot of others.  I would not want to discourage that.

But I do hope that those who oppose the Yulin festival also consider opening their hearts to the billions of farmed animals who suffer a fate not unlike the 10,000 dogs and cats at Yulin.

Each of those animals also has sentience, the capacity to feel harm (and pleasure!), and a desire to live. Some – like pigs – could think circles around dogs. Not that lesser intelligence = lesser right to life is a slippery slope that we should really go down.

I’ve seen lots of debate online about whether or not what happens to the Yulin dogs is worse than what happens to farmed animals. I’m not sure that it’s a distinction that’s really necessary or meaningful.  To me, it comes down to choosing kindness and life, or choosing to end lives unnecessarily.

Very often the passion and urgency expressed by vegans is read by non-vegans as being personal to them. It’s not. It’s my hope that non-vegans will consider how horrifying they find the Yulin festival, and all of the feelings that it evokes within them, and understand that this is not unlike the trauma that vegans experience when considering the fate of farmed animals. I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut when I think too long or hard about their demise, as well.

Be outraged and devastated for the dogs of Yulin, but also consider that similar treatment is doled out in the name of our own traditions and habits on a daily basis.  The difference between farmed animals and companion animals is pretty arbitrary. And know: You CAN make different choices.

In honour of the Yulin dogs, whose immense suffering I cannot even let myself think about, I have donated the shelter “pull fee” for a tiny pit bull girl who was used as a bait dog.  May she spend the rest of her days safe in loving care. <3

The end of an era: Auntie Loo’s Treats closes

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It’s always a sad day when a hard working small business owner closes the doors to his or her business.

But what kind of day does that make it when a trail-blazing, virtuous, culturally game-changing enterprise is shut down?

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When I learned the news about Auntie Loo’s Treats – in a call from Mandi Loo herself – I felt strangely unemotional.  I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel sick. I felt numb.  She needed my help, so I was strong for her.

Now at the end of a day of seeing tributes roll in for this magnificent punk rock bake shop – the first vegan bakery in Eastern Ontario – I feel gutted.  It’s like re-living ZenKitchen all over again (I still choke up a bit when I drive by).

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While my personal shopping habits tend to revolve around the Auntie Loo’s-type businesses of the world, I’m reminded that many people’s still don’t.  And that’s a big part of why so many of them fail.

Grab a well-designed package off the shelf.  Look for the cheapest option, not the best or most ethical product.  Complain loudly at the slightest mistake when it’s a small business because we feel we’ll be heard, but let it slide when it’s a conglomerate, perpetuating the tyranny of mediocrity and the race to the bottom.

The birthday card my colleagues made for me, December 2014.

The birthday card my colleagues made for me, December 2014.

Auntie Loo’s Treats has contributed profoundly to the development of a vegan culture here in Ottawa.  While Mandi herself is a deeply passionate ethics-based vegan, it manifested itself in the most positive way possible: Cupcakes and treats.  She was a legend in Ottawa for her birthday bashes, and her pop up diners – at which she would serve vegan comfort food classics – were hotly anticipated.  The wedding cakes that came out of the bakery were masterpieces.

Her brand of outreach was to feed people so that they’d smile. She opened countless minds to the possibility that vegan food could be not only edible, but delicious.  She truly became Ottawa’s lovable vegan Aunt, who happened to also be tough as nails and pretty in pink all at once. She’s a hustler, a connector, and a maven all at once.

She helped to make vegan seem… cool.

That’s to say nothing of the rest of her crew. Miss Kate, cake artist extraordinaire and crazy cat lady, Little Jo Berry,  a living doll, Darcia (who I did not know well), and various other staff who served bakery customers with trademark enthusiasm and zest. I hope that other businesses snap these ladies up.

mandi loo 1I am fortunate to count Mandi among my close friends, and I know she’ll bounce back. But I also know she’s in a world of pain right now. It’s the end of the era. When ZenKitchen folded last year, Mandi was among the first to offer her help in the resurrection campaign. That’s just how she is, always supporting others.

I know that the business has had its ups and downs, especially the past while.  Despite what I imagine must be crushing devastation, I hope that Mandi feels a small shred of relief that the merry-go-round has ground to a screeching halt.

And I hope that we can all give her our support, followed by some breathing room, so that she can find the next way to make her mark.

RIP Auntie Loo’s Treats, but Vive Mandi and her amazing team. xo

Finds from Ottawa Veg Fest

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Wow! What a weekend!

The sixth Ottawa Veg Fest was held this past weekend, June 6-7, and the organizers knocked it out of the park.  Words and even photos can’t possibly describe the amazing energy that characterized the event.  It was consistently busy, attendees were happy, exhibitors were happy, and all-in-all it was a terrific showcase of the vegan lifestyle (as well as some peripheral elements.)

This year I had several roles at Veg Fest, none of which included organizer. I was an exhibitor (PlantKind and Live the Smart Way), I was an attendee, and I also delivered a surprise cooking demo!  I was asked with about 24 hours notice, and ended up giving a humourous demonstration of mango summer rolls with peanut dipping sauce. I’ll post that as a separate post soon,

Our PlantKind booth was hopping! We gave people who signed up for our blog a sample of Kyle and Jane’s simple lentil dahl recipe – a nod to our “Vegan Living, Simplified” tagline.

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I was disappointed that some of the local veg hot spots were not represented at Veg Fest – it is a community event as much as a marketing opportunity, so big props to The Table Vegetarian Restaurant for its enduring support – but the event was definitely not lacking for great food!  On Saturday I forgot to take photos of what I ate. I had some of our lentil dahl, a Jamaican patty from Strawberry Blonde, and some amazing oat-based ice cream – fried banana and walnut – from Oat & Mill.  On Sunday, I bought a Caribbean platter and patties from Baccanalle for later (it was fantastic!), and then ate a decadent mac and cheese platter (three cheeses!) from Nona Vegan Foods. 

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Some of the other things that I picked up include:

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Squirrel spatulas from La Belette Verte

Butter Me Up moisturizer from Demes

Lip Colour from Penny Lane

Nettle mint stevia tea from Take Charge Tea

I haven’t tried everything yet, but I am so excited to do so!  There were also lots of products that I buy regularly that I didn’t happen to purchase at Veg Fest, such as Zengarry Cashew Cheese, Garlic Garden Hummus and Nelakee meats, and organizations that I support like Rideau Carleton Wildlife Sanctuary and the Ottawa Humane Society (I worked with them on a co-branded brochure about veg lifestyles).

Why don’t you share your finds now? :)

Six reasons not to miss the sixth Ottawa Veg Fest

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We’ve come a long way, baby.

Exactly six years ago today (May 31, 2009), the first Ottawa Veg Fest was held at the Glebe Community Centre. I was there; I was one of its co-founders. Corrie and I wanted to have a vegan festival like we’d attended in Toronto, to showcase all the great vegan products and services that we loved, and weren’t going to sit back and expect someone else to step up.

So through sheer grit and determination, Ottawa got its Veg Fest. We had no idea how many people would come – a few hundred, we thought hopefully? – and were stunned as more than 2,000 people poured through the doors.  Not bad for a promotional budget of $0. It was an early lesson for me of the power of social media.

Volunteers from Ottawa Veg Fest 2009.

Volunteers from Ottawa Veg Fest 2009.

This coming weekend, June 6-7, will mark the 6th Ottawa Veg Fest.  It’s now a two day event held at the RA Centre, and has nearly three times the number of exhibitors as the inaugural event.  I am no longer an organizer, but I am so proud to see how big it has become.  The best part is that many of those people are not vegan or vegetarian, but have come out because they want to learn more about kinder, healthier alternatives!  All the info you need is here: www.vegfest.ca 

Here are six great reasons to attend Ottawa Veg Fest 2015:

1. The Speakers

NCVA volunteers have lined up a fantastic roster of speakers, speaking on a range of topics. From internationally renowned cookbook authour Dreena Burton, to world traveler Kristin Lajeunesse, to pig father Steve Jenkins, to Ottawa vegan athlete Kyle den Bak, there’s great information at your fingertips from the experts.

2. The Cooking Demonstrators

The cooking demonstrators showcase a great variety of culinary talent; from Ethiopian to raw foods to gluten-free baking and beyond.  And you really don’t want to miss the demo by Auntie Loo, where she’ll reveal her top secret scone technique!

For a full listing of speaker/demo times visit www.vegfest.ca).

3. Learn Not Just Why, but HOW 

Veg Fest is basically like vegan immersion, or a vegan starter kit.  Many people want to reduce or eliminate the animal products that they’re consuming, but are hung up on figuring out HOW. If you don’t know how, you surely won’t succeed, and there’s all kinds of pseudoscience and complicating misinformation floating around, especially on the internet.  There are the speakers, cooking demos and food, but also the 31 Day Vegan Challenge led by registered dietitian Susan Macfarlane. Stop by the PlantKind booth to chat with medical and educational professionals with more than 30 years of combined vegan experience.  Also learn about household products, cosmetics, cleaning products and more that are cruelty-free and vegan. It’s all at Veg Fest!

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4. Source Allergy-Friendly and Ethical Products

Not only can you find vegan alternatives, but Veg Fest also tends to attract businesses that make products for all kinds of allergies and sensitivities.  Overall, there’s a much stronger awareness and sensitivity amongst product manufacturers that serve the vegan community. At Veg Fest you’ll find gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free options, and more.  Also, there are products that you can truly feel good about purchasing, such as fairtrade clothing from Adorit and coffee from the Barking Barista, which helps dogs in need.

5. Show Ottawa that Vegans are a Consumer Group Worth Serving

If as vegans we don’t even support our own vegan events, we can’t expect other businesses to provide vegan options for us.  So if you’re vegan, come to Veg Fest to show some love to the businesses that serve you and make your life easier and more delicious, and if you’re not vegan, come and see what all the fuss is about!  Some of the alternatives will surely blow your mind, AND you’re supporting great people who are trying to make our plates a little bit kinder. Which leads me to…

6. The FOOD!

Oh right. The food!! If you come to Veg Fest hungry I can guarantee you won’t leave that way.  Restaurants that will be serving food include The Table, Asian Stars, SimplyRaw Express, La Belle Verte, and The Tea Party, but some of the real fun starts with the speciality food vendors. From Magic Vegan Bacon Grease, to maple floss, to Zengarry Cashew Cheese, to Garlic Garden Hummus, to Oat&Mill oat-based ice cream, this is the place to find innovative plant-based alternatives.  It’s a far cry from the boring options I had as a new vegan more than a decade ago, so take advantage!

What’s your reason for coming to Veg Fest?

 

From Auntie Loo's

From Auntie Loo’s

 

Vegan omelette with Zengarry Cashew Cheese.

Vegan omelette with Zengarry Cashew Cheese.