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Celebrating Women: Amy Symington

There are many reasons why people choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle — whether its for ethical reasons or to inspire a healthy lifestyle — but avoiding meat and dairy may have other perks, including preventing chronic disease. Nutritionist, vegan chef, professor, and owner of Amelia Eats, Amy Symington, focuses on teaching individuals how dietary choices can actually impact overall health and contribute to saving lives.

Symington is a multi-faceted woman actively involved in the vegan health community. She is very warm and easy to approach and is intelligent in a non-assuming way. Symington started her career as a vegan chef seven years ago and now teaches nutrition and culinary classes at George Brown College. “There is a stigma to vegan food being not flavourful,” Symington says. “The other chefs try it and they are shocked at how good it is. I like to focus on converting people to a plant-based diet through food.”

Alongside teaching, Symington runs a business called Amelia Eats that does catering, nutritional consulting, and creates recipes for various publications and businesses. She provides vegan nutrition expertise through her website and will also provide deluxe vegan catering dinners at request.

Symington’s interests go beyond simple cooking. She is researching how plant-based fare can help people who are suffering from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer. “My mom had breast cancer. During her treatment, I focused on plant-based foods and nutrition,” Symington says. “During my mother’s treatment, I found there wasn’t an option for people with cancer to be provided with a nutritionist or dietician. It was more like an assembly line with pills. There is no tender love and care in our system when it comes to cancer. There are wonderful doctors and nurses, but when to nutrition there is a gap. Processed red meats in particular, sausage, and bacon is directly linked to an increased risk of cancer and also breast cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) came out with a statement that shook people last year.”

After learning more about these risks, Symington began a vegan supper club program on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto, and provides social and emotional support to cancer survivors. The program involves preparing and cooking vegan fare for cancer patients and their families twice a week. “Gilda’s program focuses on cancer survivors. There are 50 different cancer care affiliates in North America and the vegan supper club programming is very popular,” Symington says. “People were very skeptical at first and would jokingly ask for steak instead, but they came around to the vegan meal and now they love it. It is all about winning people over with really flavourful food.” She focuses on a menu with fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. “They are most nutrient dense foods out there with high fibre, healthy fats and high antioxidants. Antioxidants fight off ‘free radicals’, osteoporosis, and diabetes and help with chronic disease prevention in general.”

Symington’s mom focused more on a vegetarian diet when she was in treatment, and her doctor became concerned if this was the best choice for her health. This later inspired Symington to start a community guide about how plant-based diets can positively influence good nutrition if you have cancer. It is proven that fruits and vegetables are filled with phytochemicals, fibre, and health promoting nutrients and tend to be healthier than meat and dairy products. As an expert nutritionist, Symington is creating a plant-based guide to cancer nutrition for people who would like to prevent cancer, those going through treatment, and those who are in recovery from treatment. Symington received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) award to create the guide and this will help fund the project. “There will be three components, including a literature review on what to consume for cancer prevention, then large quantity recipes focusing on foods mentioned, and the third part will focus on how to run your own supper club programming,” Symington says. “The students at George Brown are helping create recipes and then we test the recipe at Gilda’s on Tuesdays.”

Along with her husband, Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, the couple plan to raise their son as a vegan.  “Generally. babies are vegan. You exclusively breast feed them, which is recommended. The first things that are recommended are cereals and fruits and vegetables. From there, use calcium-fortified tofu, lentils, and whole grains to get your complete proteins,” Symington says. “As a parent, you need to be informed about specific nutrients including vitamin D, DHA, probiotics, B12, iron, and calcium.”

When Symington isn’t working, she enjoys cooking on her own time and making delicious vegan food. Her guilty pleasure sounds absolutely delicious: “My death row meal is a good burrito or taco equipped with avocado and sweet potato with tempeh, and turmeric or tempeh tacos, always with hot sauce.” When she isn’t working, She also loves running and soccer, and is currently reading “Healing with Whole Foods” by Paul Pitchford.

Symington is leading the way in disease prevention with a compassionate approach to food and health. She is inspiring and her knowledge about vegan health foods gives people vital information about living a healthier lifestyle. Check out Symington’s recipes through Amelia Eats and if you get a chance, enjoy one of her vegan meals.

How to survive Thanksgiving as a vegan

Thanksgiving is hell for vegans.

It is essentially a meat-driven holiday revolving around the ritual slaughter of turkeys — a celebration of cultural and animal domination. But, sometimes boycotting isn’t an option, especially when your family celebrates in style. Instead, why not try to subtly manipulate your family and friends into eating delicious vegan food and enjoying a turkey-free feast.

I dream of one day attending a Thanksgiving where everyone is vegan, but for most animal lovers, this is not a reality. Instead, I offer you a survivor’s guide on how to maintain (and possibly enforce) your vegan ways at Thanksgiving. First off, prepare yourself for countless jokes coming your way about your turkey-free values. People have a tendency to focus on veganism at holiday dinners for some reason. I choose to respond by cracking a meat-eating joke or ignoring it all together. Only if someone seems genuinely interested in my choice to be vegan, do I decide to talk about it.

The next step is to bring your own food with you. There is no need to sit there looking sad with an empty plate of salad come dinner time. This will also give people the opportunity to try good vegan food, proving that most vegans do eat in a godly fashion. It also allows you to enjoy your delightful meal and stick up your nose at meat eaters (one of my favourite pastimes).

However, I do not recommend making Tofurky. It is an odd moulded blend of soy protein and often doesn’t taste good. Instead, why not ditch imitation meat-filled turkey and make another meal entirely? For the last couple years, I’ve made an apple, fennel and sage lentil loaf, and it is mouth-watering. Another option is a vegan lentil shepherd’s pie, which combines your protein option with mashed potatoes. So yummy! Pair either option (or whichever protein option you opt for) with a vegan gravy to make everyone jealous.

It is very difficult to find pre-made vegan gravy in the store, which is a blessing in disguise. Store gravy is full of preservatives and fats. To make it at home, add vegetable stock with a variety of spices, olive oil, garlic and shallots, and that’s it! As for side dishes, try to coordinate with the host prior to the holiday to inquire whether they are willing to ditch butter for the mashed potatoes and instead use olive oil or coconut butter. If not, make your own and don’t let the host have any. Vegan green bean casserole is another easy side dish, with coconut milk in place of cream.

Finally, dessert! One of my favourite foods in the entire world happens to be pumpkin pie. I remember my first thanksgiving as a vegan before I figured out that I had to make my own food and I sat nearly in tears while everyone around me chomped down on their slice of pie. Thankfully, there is a vegan option you can make that is easy, healthy, and delicious. It uses pumpkin puree, coconut milk, and oats. If you want to opt out of making the crust, they have a vegan option at Whole Foods that is surprisingly affordable.

When I was younger, I dreaded holiday events. Now, I look at it as an opportunity to help other people realize that vegan food can taste delicious too. It also sparks a conversation about eating meat — a conversation people would otherwise not be having. The other day, I ended up talking with my boyfriend’s 11-year old cousin at a family event about being vegan and why. You never know the impact you could end up having, and it is important to eat with non-vegans for this very reason. Good luck, and remember you are saving a turkey’s life. That alone is enough to make me feel a little better on Thanksgiving.