Adapting meals to be plant-based episode 2

Adapting meals to be plant-based episode 2

Featured Author: Alicia MacGregor

Hi everyone, my name is Alicia, and I’m excited to be here with you today to share my passion for healthy and delicious plant-based meals.

Today for the Vancouver Humane Society’s Plant University platform, we’re making a Pastel De Choclo, and it’s a traditional Chilean dish that my mom used to make when I was little and it’s very similar to a shepherd’s pie, where there’s a savoury base and instead of a mashed potato topping, it’s actually a corn meal kind of prepared topping.

Today we’re going to be using mushrooms and onions for the base. She used to actually put raisins in it, so I have eliminated the raisins all together because I don’t like them.

When I did the full switch to a plant-based diet, I really noticed a big improvement in my skin. I used to get a lot of acne, and I realized that my skin cleared up and my complexion became a lot nicer. So when you’re making a switch from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet, you’ll notice that it’s actually quite simple to simply replace the meat option for vegetables. And you simply need to choose the vegetables with complex carbs, high in protein, high in fiber. It can actually create really original flavour profiles for you that can be even better than the original recipes were.

If you’re interested in learning more after watching this video, you can find great resources on VHS’s Plant University platform and subscribe to get involved with VHS’s work to help animals, people, and the planet.

So let’s get started.

Pastel de Choclo

Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 1 acorn squash

Corn topper

  • 5 cups corn (6 corn on the cob or 1 bag frozen corn)
  • 2 tbsp cornmeal
  • 1 bunch basil (10 leaves)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1.5 tbsp coconut oil
  • crushed walnuts

Veggie Bottom

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3 small/medium onions, diced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 1 can lentils (or equivalent soaked lentils)
  • 2.5 cups mushrooms, diced small
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • black or kalamata olives, sliced
  • cayenne (optional)

Instructions
 

Acorn squash

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Slice acorn squash in half and remove the seeds and pulp from the inside.
  • Slice squash in 1/4 thick rounds.
  • Lay squash on baking sheet and baste with olive oil and cayenne pepper if using.
  • Bake until squash is soft and lightly browned.
  • Remove from oven and let cool.

Veggie Bottom

  • Heat a pan over medium heat and sauté half an onion.
  • Once onion is translucent, add the diced mushrooms, salt, pepper, and apple cider vinegar. Cook until mushrooms have reduced.
  • Once the mushrooms have reduced, add the rosemary leaves and balsamic vinegar. Cook for 4 minutes and then add the lentils (if canned rinse and drain fully) and bouillon cube dissolved in 3/4 cup water (or if using soaked/drained lentils, 1 1/4 cup water).
  • Stir in the rest of the onion, ground cumin, paprika, and additional salt and pepper to taste. Cook until lentils are fully soft and the mixture is moist.
  • Turn off heat.

Corn Topper

  • If using fresh corn, boil corn cobs until corn is al dente (not fully soft). Let the corn cool and then use a knife to slice all corn from husk.
  • In a large pot heat and cook corn until soft. Add coconut milk, basil, salt, pepper, paprika, and continue to cook, occasionally stirring for approximately 10 more minutes.
  • Blend the corn mixture with a hand mixer on pulse. Make sure to leave some chunkier parts.
  • Add cornmeal and continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes. Consistency should be firm.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning to taste. Cool and then serve. It will thicken slightly when cool.

Assembly

  • In baking dish, layer the veggie bottom as a base, filling the bottom of the dish.
  • Add a layer of acorn squash on top of the veggie mixture and olives sprinkled over the top.
  • Cover the squash layer with the corn topper.
  • Sprinkle crushed walnuts over top.
  • Bake until slightly brown.

Notes

Recipe Cost Breakdown

Ingredients
Quantity
Measure
Cost
Corn
5
Cups
3.49
Cornmeal
2
Tbsp
0.14
Basil
1
Bunch
3.29
Salt
2
Tsp
0.01
Pepper
1
Tsp
0.11
Paprika
1
Tsp
0.06
Coconut oil
1.5
Tbsp
0.69
Olive oil
2
Tsp
0.16
Onions
3
Each
3.90
Ground cumin
1
Tsp
0.18
Salt
1
Tsp
0.006
Pepper
2
Tsp
0.22
Lentils
1
Can
1.79
Mushrooms
2.5
Cups
3.49
Fresh Rosemary
1
Sprig
0.15
Apple Cider Vinegar
1
Tbsp
0.02
Balsamic Vinegar
2
Tbsp
0.30
Vegetable bouillon cube
1
Each
0.75
Paprika
1
tbsp
0.17
Total
 
 
18.93
Cost per serving
 
 
6.31
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

And there you have it. A delicious and healthy pastel de choclo. It’s filling and full of flavour and is packed with complex carbohydrates.

If this is the first time you’ve seen a plant-based recipe being made, you can check out some more options on the Vancouver Humane Society’s Plant University platform.

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Beginner’s Guide to Plant-Based Eating

Beginner’s guide to plant-based eating

Featured Author: Emma Levez Larocque, Plant-Based R.H.N

Have you been hearing about plant-based diets and wondering what all the fuss is about?  

In this video we’re going to explore the topic of plant-based eating—what does the term actually mean? Is this way of eating truly healthy and sustainable? And why are some people shifting their diets to eat more plant-based foods?  

If you decide a plant-based shift is something you’d like to try out as you watch this video, the second half of this video shares some great tips on easy ways to get started! You can also download the beginner’s guide to plant-based eating:

Download the plant-based beginner’s guide

What is plant-based?

Before we dive in, let’s define our terms. It may seem obvious, but “plant-based” refers to foods that come from plants—like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, and does not include animal-based foods like meat, dairy, and eggs. 

Popularity of plant-based

Have you noticed that there are more plant-based products at your local grocery store than there used to be? According to a 2021 report by Bloomberg Intelligence the interest in plant-based foods is increasing. Their research projects that plant-based products will make up to 7.7% of the global protein market—a value of over $162 billion—by 2030! 

Why plant-based?

What’s causing this shift? Why are plant-based foods becoming so popular? 

For the planet

Many people have started changing what they eat because they’re concerned about the environment, but does a dietary shift really make a difference? Let’s take a look at what the data says.  

Our World in Data published research about the Environmental Impacts of Food Production. They showed that one quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions result from food and agriculture, and the main contributors to food’s emissions are livestock and fisheries, crop production, land use and supply chains, in that order. 

When comparing the carbon footprint of protein-rich foods, which account for the bulk of our dietary emissions, they found that the impact of plant-based foods is significantly lower than meat and dairy, across the board. Beef, lamb, farmed shrimp and cheese were the worst offenders, while plant-based protein sources, like tofu, beans, peas and nuts, had the lowest carbon footprint. 

The researchers on this project concluded that:

“Tackling what we eat, and how we produce our food, plays a key role in tackling climate change, reducing water stress and pollution, restoring lands back to forests or grasslands, and protecting the world’s wildlife.”
Our World in Data

What do you think? Would you be willing to shift your diet if it helps keep the planet healthier? 

For our health

But there are some other things to consider. Even if it’s good for the planet, is this a healthy way for humans to eat? Sometimes it can be mind-bending trying to make sense of all the information about constantly changing food trends! 

So let’s take it back to the basics. One thing a majority of doctors and scientists agree on is that eating more veggies is a good idea. But is it safe to focus your diet around plant-based foods, or eat plant-based foods exclusively?  

A growing number of studies are showing that a well-balanced plant-based diet is not just safe but can have significant health benefits.  

According to the Physician’s Guide on Plant-Based Diets, a peer-reviewed article by Registered Dietitian Julieanna Hever, plant-based diets have been associated with lowering deaths from heart disease, supporting healthy weight management, reducing medication needs, lowering the risk for most chronic diseases and more.  

And one thing we think is interesting is that this isn’t anything new! In five areas of the world now famously known as the Blue Zones you can find the longest-lived, healthiest people in the world. National Geographic and a team of researchers studying these areas found that one of the common behaviours of people living in the Blue Zones was a focus on unprocessed plant-based foods.  

As plant-based diets become more popular and are being linked with health benefits, more research is being conducted. As a result, a growing body of evidence is connecting meat consumption with a higher risk of common chronic health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even some types of cancer.  

And Health Canada has assessed this information. The new Canada Food Guide, revised in 2019, recommends that Canadians shift to eating plant foods – including plant proteins – more often

For the animals

Another consideration as you are thinking about the pros and cons of a plant-based diet is the animals. 

According to government-recorded statistics more than 825 million animals were raised and killed for food in Canada in 2021. We know that farmed animals like pigs, cows and chickens are as intelligent and sentient as the cats and dogs we share our homes with, but our society treats them very differently. Most farmed animals are raised in factory farms in cramped, poor conditions none of us would wish on our pets – so why do we look the other way when it comes to farmed animals? 


We’d love to hear what you think about all of this. If you’re considering shifting to a plant-based diet, what is your main motivation? Or maybe you have more questions? Tell us in the comments below. 

Learn more:

For the animals

For the planet

For our health

Tips for getting started

If you’re ready to start making a plant-based shift, you might be surprised at how easy it can be to get started. 

1. Start small and stack up successes

First up, we recommend starting small and stacking up successes. 

Moving toward a plant-based diet can be easier if it’s a gradual process. For example, you could start with one plant-based meal a day – like oatmeal loaded with berries, a veggie scramble, or avocado toast for breakfast. When you have that down, add in a second meal – like a bean burrito, a veggie soup or a great big meal salad for lunch. Then go on to dinner. This approach gives you time to try out some new foods and recipes and build the habits that lead to lasting change. 

2. Take a look at what you’re eating now

Another tip as you’re getting started is to take a look at what you’re eating now. You might find that there are already plant-based foods you are enjoying. Do you like falafel and hummus? Plant-based! Chana masala? Pasta with marinara sauce? Lentil stew? All plant-based! It’s easy to find recipes and products that can help you make plant-based versions of your favourite dishes. If you sign up for Plant University’s newsletter you’ll get weekly recipe ideas automatically delivered to your inbox.  

3. Take a cooking class or program

If eating more plant-based foods is a big switch for you and your family, you might consider taking a local cooking class or an online cooking program like Rouxbe. This is a good way to sample new foods and get inspired to start making beautiful and delicious plant-based dishes. Many people are surprised to find that it’s easy to get inspired by the colours and vibrancy of fresh plant foods!   

4. Arm yourself with knowledge

Our final tip is about arming yourself with knowledge.  

As you’re transitioning, take some time to do your research and make sure you’re providing your body with the fuel it needs to take full advantage of all the benefits of a plant-based way of eating. This will ensure that you can thrive on your plant-based journey. PlantUniversity.ca is a great place to get started. The site has a great selection of resources, including recipes, videos, blog posts, a shopping and eating guide, and a 21-day challenge to help you get started in creating healthy plant-based habits.  

Are you in the process of transitioning to a plant-based diet? We’d love to hear what’s working for you! 

Subscribe to stay updated
Download the plant-based beginner’s guide

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Plant-based milks: weighing your options

Plant-based milks: weighing your options

Featured author: Emma Levez Larocque, Plant-Based RHN

Glasses and mugs of plant-based milk along with the nuts and seeds that they're made from in bowls on a white background.

The popularity of plant-based milks is on the rise. According to the Government of Canada, retail sales of milk alternative beverages were valued at US$336.9 million (approximately $450.94 million CDN) in 2020 and are forecasted to reach US$469.8 million (approximately $633.37 million CDN) in 2025. According to data from Mintel, 161 milk alternative beverages were launched in Canada between January 2018 and February 2021. That’s a lot of plant-based options to choose from!

Why choose plant-based milks?

People are choosing plant-based milks for a number of reasons. First, many varieties offer health benefits when compared to cow’s milk. Second, though there is variety in the environmental impact of plant-based milks, they are invariably more earth-friendly when compared with the massive footprint of dairy milk. And of course, since they’re produced from plants, plant-based milks eliminate the need to take food out of the mouths of babes, literally (something to ponder as Mother’s Day approaches).

A word about mothers and milk…

The dairy industry is arguably one of the cruelest forms of animal agriculture. Besides many instances of outright violence, abuse and neglect that have been documented at factory farms, the very nature of procuring milk requires that cows be kept pregnant, and that calves be taken away from their mothers soon after birth so they don’t drink the milk that is then sold to humans. Moving away from supporting an industry that necessitates the separation of mothers and babies is an act of compassion on Mother’s Day, and every day.

Which plant-based milk should you choose?

Most mainstream grocery stores carry a wide variety of plant-based milks—you may see almond, soy, oat, coconut, cashew, hemp, pea, hazelnut, rice, flax, blends, and others.

There’s an exciting world of plant-based milks to explore, but if you’re new to the concept, the options can be overwhelming. Most options are versatile and can be used as a direct swap for dairy milk in most recipes. In the end, preference largely comes down to personal taste and trying different types is the best way to figure out what you like. We’ve put together some points to consider as you’re getting started.

Let’s do a comparison:

This “at-a-glance” chart provides a comparison of five popular types of plant-based milk.

Download the comparison chart

Diving a little deeper…

Quick Tips

As you’re dipping your toes into the world of plant-based milks, we have a few tips that can help you avoid pitfalls:

1) Read your labels:
As you’re getting started, be sure to look at the label and nutrition information closely. There is plenty of variety, even among different types of milk. They may be sweetened or flavoured, fortified or contain various additives, for example. If you’re looking for a good all-purpose milk, it’s better to go with something unsweetened.  

2) Do a taste test:
Some milks have a sweet flavour even if they are unsweetened (and some versions that are labelled “original” still have sugar added). Be sure to taste any milk before adding it to a savoury dish to ensure you don’t end up with a sweeter-than-desired result.

3) Find your favourite:
If you try one type of plant-based milk and aren’t crazy about it, don’t give up! There are plenty of options to choose from and they are all subtly different—it’s just a matter of finding one that suits your tastes.

A couple of easy (and delicious!) recipes using plant-based milk to start you on your way:


With all the health, environmental and compassion-related benefits they offer, it’s clear that plant-based milks are here to stay. With so many choices in grocery stores and corner stores everywhere, it’s easier than ever to find one that suits your taste and make the switch. We’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on plant-based milks. Which ones are your favourites? How are you using plant-based milks in your life?

Don’t forget to subscribe to get free weekly plant-based recipes right in your inbox! You can unsubscribe at any time.

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The University of British Columbia: Lessons in Creating a Plant-Forward Campus

The University of British Columbia: Lessons in Creating a Plant-Forward Campus

Featured author: Emma Levez Larocque, Plant-Based RHN

Please note while reading that UBC uses the term plant-based to describe food from plants as well as vegetarian foods such as dairy and eggs. This is different from Plant University’s definition that plant-based refers to food made from plants such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, and does not include animal-based foods like meat, dairy, and eggs.

The time is right for institutions to take a culinary plunge into the plant-based world, following the lead of trailblazers like David Speight, Executive Chef and Culinary Director at the University of British Columbia.

In 2017 David and his team authored UBC’s Food Visions and Values, in which they outlined their commitment to advancing plant-based diets and reducing the amount of animal products they were offering to students in campus dining halls.

Taking the First Steps

David knew his staff needed more training when it came to plant-based cooking, so one of the first things they did was host Canada’s first ever Forward Food Conference with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This took place in 2017, and was a two-day hands-on workshop led by HSUS chefs. It included 10 UBC chefs, as well as 10 other chefs from the City of Vancouver, the City of Whistler and University of Victoria.

“For two days we cooked a whole bunch of wonderful meals with no animal proteins or dairy anywhere to be found,” David says. “It was a bit of an ‘Aha!’ moment for our chefs to understand how great plant-based food can be. There are so many products on the marketplace these days that really open up the door for more plant-based cooking. So that was the starting point.”

Setting Targets

Once the conference was over the UBC Food Services team started setting targets for plant-based offerings within the residence dining operations.

“When we started, we were around 20 percent plant-based—simply, I would say, to fulfil an obligation to cater to our vegan students,” David says. They needed to change the mindset, he explains, and the way they approached it was to make sure that they weren’t just offering substitutes for vegetarians and vegans.

“We decided we were going to make great-tasting plant-based dishes, and not just for vegans, but for everybody. So, we set a target of 40 per cent by 2019, and we achieved that.”

This year they have a new target of 60 percent plant-based offerings, including 30 percent vegan.

“We achieved that on our menu grid by making sure that each station has two different menu choices— one that contains animal proteins, and one that is vegetarian and/or vegan. In addition, one of our stations in each location is a vegetarian station, and that one has exclusively vegetarian and vegan options. This year, we’ve also looked more closely at the vegan aspect of that ratio because we were challenged last year because there weren’t enough vegan dishes included. So, this year we’ve made a commitment to having 50 per cent of that 60 per cent—in total 30 per cent of our overall offerings—to be fully vegan.”

Inspiring Plant-Based Choices

In the past year David and his team have been working with Health Canada on strategies to encourage students to make more plant-based selections. It has been a very useful process, he says.

“Some things we already knew, but some things were good learning, like highlighting the plant-based option right at the top of the menu.”

They also moved away from descriptors using the words vegan and vegetarian and now use icons instead. They did this so people who don’t identify as vegan or vegetarian don’t feel that these dishes are not for them.

“It’s just a great tasting dish and it just happens to be vegan…we stepped away from calling things, for example, Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie and we might call it Moroccan Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie instead.”

Another change they made was how they were approaching recipe development.

“When we first started, if we had Butter Chicken on the menu, our chefs would maybe do a Tofu Butter Chicken, but I tried to change that mindset. I wanted these dishes to be great dishes that stand on their own, not just alternatives to the meat-based dishes.”

The Impetus Behind the Action

“We’ve always been challenged by students,” David says. But there are two main reasons UBC Food Services started, and continue, on this plant-based journey.

“One is to satisfy the demands of people who choose a vegan diet, but mainly it’s about the planet and public health. We’ve got a really strong sustainability department at UBC, and we’ve worked closely with them on some of these targets. I firmly believe that this is the future of food, and that we have to change the way we’re eating if we want to have sustainable diets for the future.

“The other thing is that from a chef’s perspective, [it’s easier for us to] buy high quality plants and vegetables than high quality meat. Buying organic grass-fed meat products is just not going to work with our budgets, but I can afford to buy organic produce…so from that perspective, we’re actually providing a better-quality meal with our plant-based dishes.”

But What About the Protein?

All this progress doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been any pushback. But as part of UBC, they have some powerful academic backup.

“We have partnered with the School of Population and Public Health on our campus to ensure that we’re what we’re saying is vetted by the academic portion of our university,” David says. “We’ve done workshops with them, and we have two dieticians on staff for UBC Food Services who can explain the nutritional benefits. We do get a lot of student athletes who claim that they need ‘X’ amount of protein, and they worry that it’s not coming from the plant-based dishes, so our dietitians can work with them and show them how they can achieve what they’re looking for, and still reduce the amount of meat that they eat.”

For the first time this year, David says, they have had student feedback saying they need more meat on the menu.

“I take that as a compliment because we’ve heard for years that there’s not enough plant-based menu items. And we’ve never before heard a complaint from a student looking for more meat. That tells me that the shift we’re making is real. I don’t want anybody to feel like they’re not getting what they need, but I’m much happier to hear somebody looking for more meat than the consistent, ‘There’s not enough vegan dishes on our menu.’ The tide is turning a little bit.”

Words of Advice

Since they started on this path in 2017 the learning and tweaking has been constant, David says. But the sharing of lessons, recipes and strategies has been a key part of their success in moving their plant-strong focus forward.

“One of the great things about working in the university environment is the culture sharing across universities. Unlike restaurants or the private sector, we’re not competing for the same guests. We all have our own captive campuses with our own students, so there is an incredible amount of sharing.

The first piece of advice he would offer to other institutions wanting to make these types of changes would be reach out and talk to somebody who’s already doing it, he says.

“We, as UBC, offer that all the time. The way I look at it is, we’re making great change here in Vancouver, and in Kelowna as well. But wouldn’t it be great if [universities in other provinces] also did the same thing —now we’re really scaling up!

“The other thing I would say is don’t be afraid to make mistakes. We certainly did, and we’re still learning. A prime example is we opened a brand new dining hall in 2016. And we were so proud because right in the central point we had a station that we called Vegetarian Kitchen. It’s in wrought iron—it would take construction to literally change the name of that station. [It didn’t take long before] we realized that we probably should have called it something else. But we’re learning and it’s okay to make mistakes.

Vegetarian Kitchen station in UBC’s dining hall

“And finally, reach out to organizations like the Vancouver Humane Society, or get involved in something like the Forward Food Conference…That was a great opportunity for us as a starting point to educate ourselves and learn that, indeed, we can make great-tasting dishes without using animal proteins. Then set some targets. You’ve got to start somewhere so baseline where you are now and set targets for next year and the year after that. Start small and challenge yourself to continue to increase those targets.”

Need help getting started? Visit https://plantuniversity.ca/institution/institution-plant-based-pledge/.

This is the future of food, David says. He sees the desire for it among students, and anticipates that the demand for plant-based offerings is only going to continue to grow.

“We also work with UBC Sustainability and they are challenging us to be 80 per cent plant based by 2025. I think personally that that is a realistic target, and something we should strive for…but at this point that’s an ongoing conversation.”

What the Students Want

“We continue to offer more, and they continue to ask for more, so my advice to other institutions is don’t be scared to make the plunge and go for it. The demographics of students are changing, and they’re challenging us to do more and more every year. It is the direction that I think the students would love to see all Canadian university campuses go towards.”

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Top 10 Plant-Based Pantry Items

Top 10 plant-based pantry items

Featured author: Bridget Burns

Bridget Burns is a recipe and lifestyle content creator and more! Bridget shares her top 10 plant-based pantry items today. She is based in Vancouver.

Hi everyone, I am Bridget Burns, the founder of The Vegan Project. The VP began in 2009 when a few friends challenged each other to go vegan for 30 days and blog about it. From there it evolved into event hosting, catering, meal planning, and the launch of the Vancouver Vegan Festival at Creekside Park in 2019. 

When I began my vegan journey, meat and dairy substitutes were not nearly as readily available as they are today. I’ve learned so much over the past 12 years through many successes, and failures. Today, for the Vancouver Humane Society’s PlantUniversity Platform, I’m going to share my top 10 plant-based pantry staples to keep on hand to set yourself up for success. 

If you’re interested in learning more, you can also find great resources on VHS’s PlantUniversity Platform and make sure to subscribe to get involved in VHS’s work to help animals, people and the planet.

Let’s begin!

I hope you found this list helpful for your own kitchen! You can find more plant-based tips on my Instagram, Facebook and website, @TheVeganProject.

Don’t forget to subscribe to Vancouver Humane Society’s PlantUniversity Platform to stay updated on new content and to get involved in their work.

How I navigate Lunar New Year as a vegan

How I navigate Lunar New Year as a vegan

Featured author: Katie Mai

As we approach Lunar New Year, over one billion people around the world will be coming together with loved ones to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit! The festivities bring with them an array of delicious, fragrant and colourful dishes, shared and enjoyed family-style at the dinner table, and offered to our late ancestors with respect.

However, for those of us who have chosen to eat more plant-based foods or live a plant-based lifestyle, these gatherings can be a source of stress as many traditional dishes and customs revolve around the use of animal products. But fear not! It is entirely possible to fully embrace the spirit of the festival without contributing to animal suffering or environmental destruction.

Cultural Perspectives on Veganism

 “Veganism” is often criticized as being appropriative, expensive and even elitist. While veganism in the West is relatively new, there is a long history of plant-based eating in China, tracing back to 770 B.C. and even earlier in other Eastern societies. Vegan philosophy originates from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, where food is closely intertwined with spirituality, medicine, and principles of moral virtue. Abstinence from animal consumption is considered purifying to both the mind and body

Statue of the Buddha.

Growing up in the Chinese diaspora in Canada, I have come to realize that the realities of my parents’ generation and mine are vastly different. My elders and relatives, due to famine and poverty in China, often did not have enough to eat. To greet one another, we ask, “Have you eaten yet?” which has become shorthand for “How are you?” Animals were a source of compact nutrition in an environment of scarcity and only eaten on special occasions, such as on Lunar New Year.

Because of their struggle, I now have the privilege of access to a whole foods, plant-based diet that is nutritionally complete and delicious. I am grateful to have the option to make this choice, however this doesn’t come without challenges at the dinner table where my views often clash with those in my family and community.

Tips for Navigating Lunar New Year Celebrations

Emphasize textures in your cooking. It is the textures and flavours that make food taste like food. While a lot of people eat animal-based foods for their texture, we can easily replicate tenderness, crispiness, and crunchiness from plants. For example, replace meat dumpling filling with textured vegetable protein or shredded tofu and jicama, and use a flax egg (1:3 flax meal and water) to bind.

Embrace the flavour of the plant ingredient in its whole! You can use mock meats in your dishes, but can take the deliciousness to the next level using whole plant foods as well. One of my favourite dishes is “Buddha’s Delight” – a truly delightful stir fry of mushrooms, wood ears, bean curd, carrots, glass noodles, and other vegetables. The dish brings out the unique flavour of each ingredient and is not masquerading as a meat dish. For dessert, make steamed red bean glutinous rice cake, or sticky rice balls with black sesame filling.

spoon holding up a sticky rice ball with black sesame filling with a red background.

Be mindful of hidden non-vegan ingredients. Oyster sauce, fish sauce, and egg noodles are often found in traditional dishes. Check the ingredients before consuming or cooking with them.

Inviting open dialogue around a feast of traditional dishes – made vegan – is a respectful way to educate, spark conversation and understanding.

Closing thoughts

Our actions and choices have the power to either harm or heal. They impact not only our personal health, but the well-being of the planet and all its inhabitants. We can honour our cultural traditions whilst honouring our values and the rights of all beings. With the New Year comes a new opportunity to take steps towards a brighter and more compassionate future.

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First steps to tofu mastery

First steps to tofu mastery

Featured author: Emma Levez Larocque, Plant-Based RHN

Tofu was invented more than 2,000 years ago and has been eaten in many Asian cuisines for centuries! As this ingredient has become more popular around the world, chefs and cooks everywhere have been experimenting with tofu in the kitchen. We now know that tofu can be versatile—and incredibly tasty—if you just spend a little time learning how to cook it well. 

There are a few things that people who are new to using tofu should be aware of to ensure a good experience.

Keep reading to learn about the different types of tofu and tips and recipes for cooking it. For more tips check out the PlantUniversity platform and subscribe to receive free weekly recipes.

3 things to know to set yourself up for tofu success

1) There are different kinds of tofu, and the kind you use matters

2) How you prepare and cook tofu affects the texture, and good texture makes it easy to love tofu

3) Tofu doesn’t have a lot of flavour, but it will take on the flavours you add to it (which makes it the perfect “blank canvas” and adaptable to many dishes)

Let’s dig into the details.

Types of tofu

The two main types of tofu are regular and silken (Japanese-style). Both types come in soft, medium, firm and extra-firm consistencies. Part of learning to use tofu is trying different kinds to see what textures you prefer. Below is a description of the different kinds of tofu and what they are typically used for.

Adding flavour to tofu

As mentioned above, tofu doesn’t have a lot of flavour on its own. Some people love the subtle taste of plain tofu, and it works well added on its own to dishes like miso soup or a curry/chili. However, most of the time when you are using tofu as a base, or a featured part of a dish, you’ll want to flavour it with herbs, spices, aromatics, or other flavourful ingredients, and/or a delicious marinade or glaze.

Once you get comfortable with tofu and start experimenting, you’ll realize that the possibilities are endless. However, if you’re new to tofu preparation, where should you start?

These are two simple methods that are great to try out as you get started on your tofu journey:

Method 1: Frying and Glazing Tofu

3 simple steps:

  1. Prepare a simple glaze by combining 2 tbsp maple syrup and 2 tbsp tamari, and prepare 1 block of extra-firm tofu by cutting it into 1- inch cubes 
  2. Heat a no- or low-stick sauté pan over medium heat, and once hot, add a dash of olive oil. Add tofu cubes immediately, flipping and turning occasionally until the cubes are crispy on all sides. 
  3. Once the tofu cubes are nicely browned, turn the heat down to medium-low and add the simple glaze, tossing until the tofu is well covered. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn, reducing the heat if necessary. Let everything cook, stirring occasionally, until all the glaze has been absorbed and the tofu is nicely coated. Remove from heat once the tofu is looking nice and crispy.

Other flavourful glazes of equal parts liquid sweetener + liquid salt can be used with this method, and the resulting cubes are a tasty addition to salads, stir fries and grain bowls.

Watch how to fry and glaze tofu:

Method 2: Blending Tofu

Let’s make a Silky Chocolate Pudding!

This recipe is a good example of how silken tofu can be used as a base for sweet or savoury dishes since it will take on the flavours of the ingredients you add to it.

  1. Place the following ingredients in your blender: 
    • 1 container silken lite firm tofu (349 g) OR soft (dessert) regular tofu*
    • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 5-6 dates, soaked for several hours
    • 1-2 tbsp pure maple syrup, or more to taste (optional)
    • 1 tsp pure vanilla
  2. Blend until completely smooth and creamy. Place into dishes and chill to set. Serve with fresh berries or other fruit of choice. Can be used as a dip without chilling and setting.

*You can use either kind of tofu here, but the silken variety will give you an extra creamy texture.

Watch how to make a silky chocolate pudding:


Let us know how it goes

Have you tried these recipes and tips? How did it go? What’s your favourite glaze to use with tofu? Are there other ways you love to cook tofu? What dishes do you enjoy making with tofu?

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Benefits of Plant-Based Fats

Benefits of plant-based fats

Featured author: Dr. Matthew Nagra

Hi everyone, I am Dr. Matthew Nagra, a Naturopathic doctor based in Vancouver, BC. I spend my time researching and sharing the latest in evidence-based nutrition across social media platforms to help everyone better understand the ins and outs of this confusing world we call nutrition. In addition to my online work, I’m a public speaker and have worked with medical professionals to help integrate nutrition counselling into their practices.

Today, for the Vancouver Humane Society’s PlantUniversity Platform, I’m going to talk about fats, particularly which plant-based fat sources are beneficial for overall health and whether or not we should be limiting our overall consumption of added fats in the form of nuts, seeds, avocados, and oils. 

Within the plant-based nutrition community, there is a common misbelief that we should avoid all added fats, including nuts and oils, and promote a very low-fat diet for cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment, as well as other chronic diseases. In fact, I myself used to be very much in the camp that believes that all oils are detrimental to health, including olive oil! However, the best available research on the topic may suggest otherwise.

Of course, plant-based diets are consistently associated with good health outcomes, including a lower risk of heart disease, the world’s number 1 killer. In fact, the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee conducted the most comprehensive review of dietary patterns ever done, which included 153 studies and over 6.5 million participants across 28 countries, and they determined that the healthiest dietary patterns were all dominated by plants with a focus on whole foods. Click the link below to read more about this review. No doubt, there are many benefits to choosing more plant-based foods, including an increase in fibre intake, but I want to hone in on the fats in particular.

There are 4 main groups of fats that we need to discuss: trans fats, saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. 

1. Trans Fats

There is very little controversy around the detrimental impact of trans fats on our health, including increasing risk of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, Health Canada has banned the inclusion of partially hydrogenated oils, which are the primary sources of trans fats, in food products due to how dangerous they can be.

2. Saturated Fats

Saturated fat, which is predominantly found in meat, dairy, coconut oil, and palm oil, can also raise risk of cardiovascular disease if not limited in the diet. That’s because saturated fat can increase our LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, which can end up in our artery walls, lead to the development of a plaque, and can eventually cause a heart attack. In fact, as saturated fat intake is reduced, we also see a reduction in risk of heart attacks or other cardiac events. Of course, there is some nuance within this topic and differences amongst different types of saturated fats, but as a general rule, they increase risk of cardiovascular disease.

I also want to quickly mention that dietary cholesterol, which eggs contain a lot of, can also raise LDL-cholesterol levels and contribute to cardiovascular disease risk, but to a lesser degree than saturated fat.

3. Monounsaturated Fats

Next up are the unsaturated fats. There are 2 main types, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats can be found in both animal foods, such as meat and dairy, and plant foods, such as olive oil, avocados, and almonds; however, where you get your monounsaturated fats from matters. One study with over half a million participants and 16 years of follow-up found that, compared to carbohydrates, increasing animal-based monounsaturated fat intake increased risk of dying during the study period by 5%, while plant-based monounsaturated fat sources lowered risk by 2%! You can find this study in the blog post below. 

4. Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats, which includes omega-3 and omega-6 fats, are largely found in nuts, seeds, their oils, and fish, and may be the most beneficial of all the different categories of fats I’ve discussed so far. They have the most potent LDL-cholesterol lowering properties, and unsurprisingly can result in substantial reductions in cardiovascular disease risk, especially when replacing saturated fat. In fact, a 2016 study comparing different types of fats found that replacing just 5% of calories from saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats can reduce risk of total mortality by an astonishing 27%!

With that overview out of the way, it’s time to talk about the impact that higher fat plant foods can have on our health! After all, we don’t typically eat nutrients in isolation. Food is a package deal.

Avocados:

Starting with avocados, they’re rich in monounsaturated fat and have been shown to markedly improve cardiovascular risk factors. Plus, they can be a delicious source of fibre, B vitamins, and potassium. 

Nuts:

Studies comparing various food groups find that nuts may be the best overall food group for lowering LDL-cholesterol, and studies on different types of nuts have shown that almonds may be of particular benefit in this case. With nuts and seeds, you can’t really go wrong with whichever ones you choose to eat, but in addition to almonds, I would also highlight omega-3 rich nuts and seeds. The type of omega-3 fat found in plants is called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA for short, and it is recommended that adult women consume at least 1.1g per day and men consume at least 1.6g per day, which is more than covered with a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or chia seeds, or an ounce of walnuts. In fact, each gram of ALA consumed per day has been associated with a 5% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and from all causes combined. One of the most astonishing and very well conducted studies I’ve seen recently found that those consuming at least 5 servings of walnuts per week had a 14% lower risk of dying from all causes compared to those who didn’t or rarely consumed them! Since that study came out, I’ve been making an effort to eat some walnuts everyday.

Omega-3s:

Regarding omega-3s, there are other types called eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) that are predominantly found in fish, although we do convert some of the ALA from plants into those forms. Some individuals believe the conversion isn’t adequate and that non-fish eaters ought to supplement, and there is some evidence suggesting benefit in certain cases, such as during pregnancy; however, there is a lack of convincing evidence for otherwise healthy adults. Regardless, supplementing can be considered a precautionary measure, and vegan options do exist in the form of algae-based supplements, so please discuss your options and individual needs with your healthcare provider.

Oils:

Oils themselves are a hot button topic with a lot of the concerns stemming from the fact that many vegetable oils contain a fair amount of omega-6 fats. One of the beliefs is that the main omega-6 fat in plant-based oils can be converted into an inflammatory fat and wreak havoc on the body. Well, it’s a nice theory, but when we look at studies that feed omega-6-rich oils to people and measure markers of inflammation, there is no increase in inflammation. Not only are they not harmful, but their intake is associated with a lower risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer deaths.

To add to the discussion on oil, a 2021 study on different types of cooking oils, which included over half a million people found that each Tbsp of canola oil consumption was associated with a 2% lower risk of total mortality and olive oil was associated with a 3% lower risk. When replacing 1 Tbsp of butter or margarine, canola and olive oil lowered risk of total mortality by anywhere from 5 to 7%, and a similar trend was seen for deaths due to cardiovascular disease. As you may have noted, I mentioned that the study was on cooking oils, and you may have been told that cooking with oils like olive oil, which has a relatively low burning point, is not a healthy choice because cooking can produce “dangerous” compounds. Well, the research consistently shows an overall benefit, even when cooking with these oils, with the only concerns I would possibly raise being over continuously reheating the same oil at high temperatures, as is done in many fast food restaurants.

Speaking of olive oil, some of those in the plant-based community also advise against consuming it. These concerns stem primarily from 2 studies (study a, study b) that fed roughly ¼ cup of olive oil to participants and measured their artery function. In these particular studies, olive oil did lead to a temporary decrease in their arteries’ ability to dilate, but one of those very studies also suggested that certain foods like fruits, vegetables, and vinegar can mitigate the impact of the oil on our arteries, so adding olive oil to a salad would be no issue at all! Furthermore, if we review the bulk of the studies on the topic instead of just picking 1 or 2 studies, we actually see an overall beneficial effect of olive oil on artery function! Not to mention the research I discussed earlier that found that olive oil consumption is associated with a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, which is what really matters.

Since I didn’t know this when I started out on my plant-based journey, I used to avoid oils at all costs, and not only did that deprive me of a key ingredient for many great recipes, but significantly limited my options at restaurants as well. Of course, now knowing that these low saturated fat oils are associated with a lower risk of disease, there was clearly little reason to worry, and even some reason to include them. However, due to their ability to raise LDL-cholesterol, it may be best to limit high saturated fat oils like coconut and palm oil (study a, study b).

Eco-Atkins Diet:

In addition to research on individual foods, we also have data on an overall low carb, higher fat vegan diet called the Eco-Atkins diet. One randomized controlled trial found that 6 months on an Eco-Atkins diet, where the primary sources of fats were nuts, oils, and soy, resulted in lower LDL-cholesterol compared to a high carb, lower fat vegetarian diet. These findings are quite contrary to the dangerous rises in LDL-C we can see with animal-based low carb or keto-style diets. Given that information, it’s no surprise that the data we do have on various types of low carb diets suggest a higher risk of cardiovascular disease if consuming a lot of animal fats, whereas we see a lower risk with the more plant-based approach.

At the end of the day, some people may feel better on a lower fat diet, while others may prefer a higher fat diet. Both can be healthy ways to eat if you’re focusing your diet on plant-based foods, and choosing low saturated fat options. There’s no good reason to be like I once was, worried about those added fats, so I hope this has helped you understand a little more about how some high fat plant foods may actually be very beneficial.

You can check out my website, DrMatthewNagra.com, and my Instagram and Facebook pages  @dr.matthewnagra, and Twitter page @drmatthewnagra.

If you’ve found this helpful, please consider sharing it! Don’t forget to subscribe to Vancouver Humane Society’s PlantUniversity Platform to stay updated on new content and to get involved in their work.

Plant-Based Eating in the Classroom

Plant-Based Eating in the Classroom

Featured author: Emma Levez Larocque, Plant-Based RHN

It is said that we tend to be as healthy as those we spend the most time with. This is one reason why encouraging the consumption—and enjoyment—of nutritious plant-based foods in the classroom can be such a powerful influence.

As a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Community Educator I have delivered a number of plant-based workshops in schools, in partnership with teachers, and sometimes parent helpers. Though there are almost always students who vehemently declare at the beginning of the class that they “hate all vegetables,” when they are invited to help make the food, and see how tasty and vibrant it looks, they can rarely resist taking a bite. Even the most reluctant veggie eaters are often won over by simple, colourful plant-based dishes that they have had a hand in making.

Helping students make connections between what they’re eating, their own health, planetary health, and compassion for non-human animals can arm them with wisdom that will last long past their school days.

Inviting a qualified guest into the classroom is one way to bring this type of information to students. However, there are lots of ways to work plant-based learning into classroom curriculum or the school day on a regular basis too.

3 ways to bring plant-based learning into the classroom

1) Incorporate regular food preparation and cooking in the classroom

Most kids love to eat, and many love to cook or help prepare food—especially if it involves getting their hands dirty! Exposing children to healthy, tasty food can have a huge impact, particularly when it is done consistently and over time. Keeping the recipes simple and low tech makes it easy to implement these types of lessons more often. Massaged Kale Salad is a recipe that I have made with many groups of children, and they love it because they get to crush the avocado into the kale and get their (clean!) hands dirty. Because they have made the salad, they are usually eager to eat it too.


Power balls, no-bake cookies and fruit/veg “face pizzas” on pitas or tortillas are other things that don’t take a lot of equipment and are very hands-on for students. When cooking and food prep is part of your classroom routine students have opportunities to try new foods, develop and practice important life skills, and it can help encourage the regular consumption of plant-based foods.

2) Use activities that make eating plants visual and fun

An example of this is teaching kids about “eating the rainbow,” a very visual concept that often resonates with young people. Colours in foods often correspond with the nutrients they contain, and this is one reason why eating vibrant, colourful foods is so good for us! Counting the number of colourful foods they have eaten in a day can become a fun game for students.  In addition, using the rainbow framework can be helpful in discussing how colourful foods can be beneficial for different aspects of our health (e.g., orange foods are good for our eyes and help protect us from getting sick, etc). There is a free infographic download from Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine on the Nutrition Rainbow that may be helpful here.

3) Talk to students about where their food comes from

As a society we have become disconnected from our food and farms. However, that is beginning to change as mainstream society acknowledges the impacts our food choices have on planetary health and the wellbeing of non-human animals.

Eating more plant-based foods is a positive, pro-active thing we can all do to tread more lightly on the earth and understanding this can be very empowering for students. Discussion content will necessarily depend on the age of the students involved.

For younger students a great place to start may be an activity that compares various environmental impacts—like water use or pollution—of animal foods versus plant foods. This information from The Vegetarian Resource Group could help teachers interested in creating such an activity. PETA’s Share the World kit may also be helpful for elementary school teachers looking to bring education about the importance of compassion and empathy into their classroom.

Conversations with older students may be inspired and informed by documentaries like Seaspiracy, Game Changers or David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet.

As major organizations like the United Nations are recognizing the merit of a global dietary shift toward more plant-based foods, schools and universities around the country and continent are beginning to embrace their important role in educating students about the connections between food and health, environment, and compassion.


Are you a teacher, educator or parent who has helped to introduce plant-based learning into your school? How are you doing it? Let us know in the comments below. Or, if you’re interested in helping to implement more plant-based learning into your classroom/school and need support, we’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to subscribe to Vancouver Humane Society’s PlantUniversity Platform to stay updated on new free resources and tips uploaded to the site.

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Adapting meals to be plant-based

Adapting meals to be plant-based

Featured Author: Asha Wheeldon

Hi everyone, I’m Asha Wheeldon, the founder of Kula Kitchen and co-host of Chop It Up. We focus on creating plant-based food to nourish and empower our community. Many of the meals and flavours are inspired by food I grew up enjoying with my family in East Africa and Toronto. We are driven by community through collaborations with other food producers and local partners.

Today, for the Vancouver Humane Society’s PlantUniversity Platform, I’m going to share some tips on how to get creative in your own kitchen and help you adapt traditionally non-plant-based recipes to be plant-based. 

If you’re interested in learning more after watching this video, you can find great resources on VHS’s PlantUniversity Platform and subscribe to get involved in VHS’s work to help animals, people and the planet.

I remember the first couple of months during my transition to PB diet. The first dishes I was looking to recreate were some of my favourite childhood dishes that were mostly my mother’s, such as stews, sauces and baked goods. Over time I came to terms with the fact that what I create will not be the same, the texture and flavour will not be the exact copy of the “original” recipe. I found myself enjoying the process and the outcome of the dishes, I would share with my friends and family who also loved them.  

I want to share some of the things I think about and steps I take when I’m trying to adapt a recipe that is not traditionally plant-based, to be plant-based:

I think about what I want the food to taste like, the texture and flavour:

  •  Some of the more versatile alternatives are tempeh, textured vegetable protein; they come in granules, slices, curls and cubes. Coconut milk for yogurt, nutritional yeast for cheese. For the most part, you can use the same seasoning with a few adjustments. 
  • Mushrooms like oyster and king oyster mushrooms are a great alternative for  fish. 

Small adjustments go a long way:

  • One of the great eye-opening moments I had was realizing that most of the foods I loved were mostly plant-based, all I had to do was remove or replace 1-2 ingredients. For example…Sukuma wiki is sautéed collards or cabbage prepared with meat protein and enjoyed with chapati or ugali, a corn based porridge. I often add soy or mushroom to make it plant-based. It’s still one of my favourite meals.

I have my favourite ingredients available:

  • Some of them include: lentils, collards, and black eyed peas.
  • Before I learned about some of the meat alternatives like soy,  I would cook with ingredients I was familiar with and love. This made for a comfortable experience. I cook with lentils and black eyed peas often, you can find them in most grocery stores, they have lots of protein and fibre. 

Seasoning is gold; I like to keep stocked with various spices in my pantry. 

One of the most important things to me about food and recipes, are the flavours! I love foods that are rich in flavour so the first steps includes stocking up on my favourite spices and adding some new options (I may have and continue to go overboard sometimes).

I have a few suggestions that can help you with getting the perfect flavours for your dishes: 

I found that if you keep to the original seasoning which is often already plant-based, you can still maintain the original taste of the dish.

Some of my favourite spices and herbs are:

  • Cayenne, Turmeric, Berbere, cumin, curry powder, cardamom, cinnamon. 
  • A tip: I often blend the spices to create different flavours. For example, if I am preparing a rice dish, the spices would be on the lighter side and not as spicy. For stews I can go all in and sometimes add in some of the sweeter spices like cardamom. 

What’s great about blends is you can use your staples to expand your seasoning options. This also applies to marinades when incorporating spices and sauces.

I’m going to show you how to make one of my favourite and super simple spice blends:

You take 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, cumin, chili and cloves and mix. There you have it – a simple spice blend you can use on your next dish like rice pilau!

Herbs, Limes and lemon are always a good idea:

  • You can enhance nutritional impact with citrus for greens, many leafy green vegetables like collards and kale are great iron source and they activate with adding citrus.
  • I find herbs like cilantro provide that fresh and elevated flavour. Add fresh as garnish or cook with your meals like rice pilau, and stew.

I have a couple favourite dishes at Kula Kitchen. One of them is our portobello curry bowl with black eyed peas, mushrooms, collards, and carrots and served over rice pilau. This dish is warming and a perfect meal on colder days.

I also love our nourished bowl with tofu and mushroom scramble, black eyed peas, collards, and roasted sweet potatoes. This is a perfect dish for breakfast and lunch. They are available to order on our website, KulaKitchen.ca, along with our packaged plant-based meats, stews, curry, and sauces.


I would encourage anyone starting their plant-based journey to be more intentional and meet yourself where you are at, try not to be hard on yourself. Nothing is perfect, you will slip up, make mistakes, and create a completely different dish and that’s ok! What happens next is an abundance of ideas, creativity, and fun. Lots of Fun! 

For this reason, I think it’s also important that we support each other during our journey. As a vegan, if you know someone who is trying to introduce more plants in their lives, support them where they are at. Also recognize each person has different identities, stories, and viewpoints. I think it’s important that we encourage each other; let’s meet each other wherever we are and have more meaningful discussions that are free of judgement and exclusion. I have witnessed family and friends through their journey, who have shared how  they were inspired by the encouragement and judgement free discussions, the food and support. It really does take community support for better outcomes for animals, humans and the planet.

I hope this has inspired you to get cooking and to get creative in the kitchen. And remember, always be gentle on yourself and others in this plant-based journey.

To stay connected you can find us online at www.kulakitchen.caChopItUp.ca and Kula Kitchen and ChopItUpyvr on Facebook, Instagram, and Kula Foods on LinkedIn. We offer weekly delivery and pick up services that include offerings from our community. You can also find our products at our local partners spaces in BC. We love hosting events like our collective cooking classes to get folks together over food, and keep in touch to find out about events in the Vancouver Area.

If you’ve found this helpful, please consider sharing it! Don’t forget to subscribe to Vancouver Humane Society’s PlantUniversity Platform to stay updated on new content and to get involved in their work.

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