Challenging the status quo and tempting taste buds is all in a day’s work for food reporter and bakery owner, Erin Ireland. This busy food activist, and mom-to-one, has a knack for making vegan meals magnificently mouthwatering. Founder and editor of itstodiefor.ca, she’s on a mission to change hearts and minds about plant-based eating and has amassed a loyal tribe of followers with her crave-inducing recipes. Those same recipes have also successfully sustained her pregnancy and helped bring up her baby on real, whole foods. Here, she tells us why this lifestyle is important to her and how it’s helping her thrive.
Q: You’ve been running a successful food site and a gourmet bakery company for years now. Your Instagram feed is, literally, to die for. What is your mission with the kind of food reporting you do?
I’m passionate about raising awareness of the importance of plant-based eating because going vegan has changed my life (and life around me) in so many amazing ways. Specifically, the mission of my food reporting is to prove that plant-based eating is no compromise…it’s just as delicious (or more so), it’s easier and its benefits are never-ending. Everything that I do with the bakery, my Instagram feed and business in general, is geared towards this one goal, which has really helped me find focus and clarity in my life. If any given task or job is not helping ‘the mission’, I don’t put my energy towards it. It’s really helped me say “no” to opportunities that used to stress me out – because they were good causes and I felt compelled to do them. But you can’t do it all and I’ve come to realize this.
Q: What motivated the switch from vegetarian to strictly plant-based eating a few years ago?
The switch began when I watched Forks Over Knives. I couldn’t deny the science behind a plant-based diet. It was so clear that food really is medicine, and that certain superfoods can have the power to prevent diseases like cancers, heart disease and diabetes – and potentially even reverse them. I kept watching the documentaries (Cowspiracy, Earthlings, Eating You Alive, What The Health) and came to the conclusion that I couldn’t support an industry that contributes heavily to greenhouse gas emissions and harms so many creatures (100 billion land and sea animals per year). I’m anti-violence, and eating meat and dairy meant that I was not eating in alignment with my values.
Q: You gave a compelling TEDx talk about the bias our food media gives to meat and animal products and suggested that celebrity chefs and food entertainment shows have a responsibility to include more plants. What were you hoping to achieve with that talk?
I was really hoping that everyone from the new food blogger to the accomplished newspaper columnist would realize that everything they put out there has an impact – and that impact is either positive or negative. It’s one thing to consume food in private – but when we display our food choices in any form of media, that influence is being innumerably magnified. I hope my colleagues consider this impact and get to know the industries they’re supporting before advertising to their fellow citizens.
Q: What kind of changes have you noticed in your health since becoming vegan?
I’ve never had the kind of energy that I have now as a 34-year-old. In university, I was on a meat-heavy diet (I often tried to consume nothing BUT animal protein because, as an athlete, I’d been misled to believe that this is what my body needed) and constantly felt hungry and tired. Getting up for morning volleyball practice was something I dreaded. I started drinking coffee in these years because I felt desperate for more energy – I even resorted to energy drinks at times. Nowadays, I jump out of bed at 6 am and feel amazing. I also used to be a bottomless pit when it came to food. I couldn’t imagine feeling full. I think the whole time my body was lacking nutrients that I’m now getting in abundance on a plant-based diet.
Q: Since having your baby girl, Roen, over a year ago, you’ve been very transparent about eating a plant-based diet as an expectant mother and now raising your young daughter on that diet. What kind of guidance did you have through those stages and how are you making it work?
I think it’s easier than one might think. My older family doctor (who is not vegan) didn’t flinch when I told her I was vegan and would be vegan, for the pregnancy. None of the health professionals did during my entire journey. In fact, when I shared my story online, I was flooded with messages from other moms who raved about their experiences being pregnant on a plant-based diet. I ended up having an amazing pregnancy and birth experience…who knows, maybe the plant-based diet helped! To new vegans who are looking for diet information, I recommend reaching out to a plant-based dietician or nutritionist in your area. Doctors don’t have much nutrition training, so they aren’t the ones to ask. If you need help finding someone, head to your area’s local vegan Facebook group (I think most cities have one) and I bet someone can help point you in the right direction!
Q: A lot of parents have fussy young eaters, have you run into any of those kinds of challenges with Roen?
All babies have their fussy moments with food, Roen included. I think the important thing is to start them on the healthy types of foods you want them to be eating later on in life, like green smoothies. That way, green things will be normal to them and not some weird healthy food they’re unfamiliar with. I also try to feed Roen the same things we’re eating, minus the salt.
Q: Everything you post is 100% drool-worthy and really shows off your creative flare in the kitchen. What advice do you give to other home cooks who are looking to go more plant-based, but are stuck in their routines?
Thank you! I think it’s important to have a database of recipe blogs you can turn to for information and inspiration. I have a list of my favourites on my website if you’re interested. Also, fill your Instagram feed with the stuff you want to eat! Follow the recipe developers who are sharing amazing plant-based recipes and you’ll never be short of inspiration.
Q: What are some of your favourite plant-based alternatives to animal products?
Oh gosh, the list is long! First of all, almond milk instead of dairy has changed my life. I went off dairy at age 19 to help reduce my constant stuffy nose and my adult acne – it helped tremendously. Nowadays, I make my own almond milk and it is truly the most delicious thing I consume on a daily basis. It’s nothing like the mass-produced boxed almond milks out there, so if that’s all you’ve tried, be open to the homemade version! It is unbelievably flavorful, creamy and actually tastes like almonds…not water! I have a recipe on my site if you’re interested.
Also, cheese. There are so many great ones on the market these days. I’m obsessed with VioLife Parmesan cheese. It grates, looks, smells and tastes JUST like parm and it’s available across the country. Black Sheep Vegan Cheeze also has a ridiculously delicious ‘vouda’ (vegan gouda) that I just can’t get enough of. If you’re in Vancouver, make a point of getting your hands on some!
Q: New veggie food trend you’re totally crushing on at the moment?
Carrot lox! I’m blown away that cooked, marinated carrots can taste so much like smoked salmon. I’ve only ever enjoyed carrot lox on toast (at Roots + Fruits and TurF here in Vancouver) and it’s served traditionally with ‘cream cheese’, capers and red onion. Roots + Fruits really nails that fishy taste by adding shredded nori. As you go to take your first bite, you get a whiff of the ocean, which really makes it feel like you’re eating salmon.
Banana Beet Nice Cream
- 5-6 ripe bananas (broken into chunks, frozen)
- 1 tbsp vanilla
- 2 tbsp plant milk
- 3-5 tbsp beet juice (or the red water from a pot of steamed beets)
- 1 small steamed beet (optional)
- Peanut butter drizzle (optional)
- Add all ingredients except the peanut butter to a food processor or high-powered blender and blend until smooth. Garnish with peanut butter if you wish. Enjoy!
Erin Ireland is a food reporter for a variety of outlets, including her site itstodiefor.ca, which serves to connect Vancouverites with the best, most ethically-produced food in the city. To Die For Fine Foods, an artisan baking company specializing in gourmet banana bread and lemon loaf, is the other half of Erin’s career that began four years ago in her home kitchen. In a past life, she lived in South Carolina and played four years of NCAA volleyball while earning a degree in broadcasting.