From quinoa to kale: health food turned happy food

Photo by Megan Matsuda.

For those who picture vegetarians with pale, frail bodies, picking at their beets while sadly looking over at the next person chomping on a juicy, delicious burger…those should seriously think again.

As a proclaimed lover of food myself, I have always insisted in eating everything the world has to offer, from beautifully cured meats to amazing salads. Yet after visiting Toronto’s Vegetarian Food Festival this weekend, the outlook I have on the veg lifestyle has completely changed.

The rain had just begun to stop at the Harbourfront Centre on Queens Quay West, and flocks of people surrounded the food and information booths. I was starving, so I quickly decided to try at least one thing I normally would not eat, and another that I would. I decided to go with a kale, pickled red onion, and walnut salad, an Indian snack plate, and a spirulina-coconut milk smoothie. The kale scared me a bit, but I love Indian food. Oddly enough, the salad was my absolute favourite. It was fresh, crunchy, crisp and sweet all at once. The Indian food plate was all fried, but the spices made for a dish with great taste. Lastly, I hesitated but settled on the spirulina smoothie. Spirulina, for those who don’t know, is an algae that contains tons of essential amino acids. The first sip was a little shocking, because I wasn’t used to the taste, but like the salad, each sip was addictive.

Although many people around me were vegetarians, I listened to many people exclaim that they never thought healthy food could taste so good. Many people associate healthy lifestyles with people holding their noses and gulping down glasses of green juice, but it is really much more than that.

Becoming vegetarian for health reasons is only the tip of the iceberg. In a seminar called “From Excuse-itarian to Vegan”, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau tackled the many issues surrounding vegetarianism and veganism, from “I don’t have time to chop vegetables” to “I tried, but I just craved meat.” Patrick-Goudreau explained that when we buy meat or dairy at a grocery store, or even think about the process, we tend to forget the actual circumstances these animals are in. For her, compassion for animals is at the forefront of why she decided to become vegan.

The thing that struck me the most is when Patrick-Goudreau asked the audience what we crave in our food. We crave flavour, texture, salt and sugar, but most of these things are derived from plants. The majority of seasonings and condiments come from the earth, and not from animals. Patrick-Goudreau believes that humans do not crave the flesh of animals. So, the transition between meat and vegetables is more natural than many people tend to imagine.

After the seminar and trying some samples of coconut jam and quinoa milk, I sniffed the air and smelled the mouth-watering scent of something oddly familiar, but what could it be? Was it sausages? I felt slightly disgraced, and immediately tried to find this hot dog stand that was invading this vegetarian space.

Following my nose, I came across a booth with yes, tofurkey gourmet sausages. And they really did taste like meat.

With my head full of new information, and a different perspective on vegetarianism, I walked away from the festival feeling very refreshed. After eating nothing that day except what I had at the festival, I noticed that my body did feel a lot more energized.

I may not be vegetarian now, but take a look in my fridge and you will definitely find tofurkey.