A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to speak with the amazing and successful Erin Ireland.
It was a cold February morning and she gave me a shout from her home in Vancouver. It was so lovely getting to know such an inspirational human being. Erin’s positive energy is so contagious; and I advise you to give her a follow on Instagram and Twitter if you don’t already. If you have never heard of this young lady, she is a Plant Based Food and Travel Reporter. On top of that, Erin posts amazing plant based recipes. Every photo Erin posts has me drooling on my phone screen; as they’re all classified as #foodporn worthy. Erin is also an Ambassador for the brand VEGA. If you want to check out Erin’s Vancouver Dining Guide or just ‘ooo’ and ‘ahh’ at how amazing she is, you can visit her site itstodiefor.ca. All the photos in this post are taken by Erin. Our phone conversation is below:
How did you get into food reporting?
How did I get into food reporting? Well it was definitely a process. I went to school down in South Carolina on a volleyball scholarship and I took their Broadcast Journalism Program. I originally wanted to be a sports reporter—and then a sports anchor. But, I came back to Vancouver and I got an internship at CTV News and the sports anchor there asked me who was playing in the upcoming Super Bowl; and I had no idea. So I realized the sports anchor career probably wasn’t going to work out in a city like Vancouver where hockey and football are big focuses. I was more into smaller sports like basketball and volleyball. So I decided to switch my focus. I then got a great little gig hosting a small entertainment magazine called FMA (Fashion, Music and Art). It was a great kind of ‘in’ to the whole broadcast world—especially it was great getting some on camera experience. But through that show, I realized I wasn’t really into arts and music, but, I was lucky enough to interview some local celeb chef types. It was those kind of conversations that really flowed for me—the ones I really looked forward–and that I didn’t even have to prepare for because I just loved the topic so much. Its funny twitter came about… I joined twitter in about 2009… Someone called me out and said “all you ever do is tweet about food”. At first I was embarrassed. I thought I looked like a glutton: a total food obsessed person. But then I realized I need to embrace this passion and that’s when I started my website itstodiefor.ca. My first goal was to turn that into a professional venture. So I made it my goal to get some paying jobs and it just kind of went from there.
At what point did you start to take health and sustainability into consideration within your food reporting?
Yah, it was probably my moms influence. She encouraged my brother and I to watch a couple of documentaries. Way back then, she took us to see an Inconvenient Truth; and that was well before my career had begun. But that kind of planted the seed that global warming is real. Then she made us watch Forks Over Knives, which really showed me that there is science behind the fact a plant based diet is healthier for our bodies and the earth. It kind of went from there—especially when I started to notice that my colleagues and those around me were focusing on meat a lot. Some of these facts in these documentaries kind of stuck with me. I realize I was having an influence on what people were eating and where they were eating. It just didn’t really make sense to me to be promoting meat, when animal agriculture is such a major contributor to some of world’s problems. I mean at the time, I could enjoy meat, but I certainly didn’t have to put it out there and inspire others to eat it; and basically putting my stamp of approval on it. My journey started there and I kept watching the documentaries. I watched Earthlings, which was a hugely powerful documentary for me. You have probably heard of it. It’s pretty graphic. They go undercover to these farms and they capture a lot of footage that is quite impactful. My husband refused to watch it with me, so I watched it by myself on the couch and cried. It’s worth a watch though. I mean I definitely shut my eyes… But just to see what happens and how animals are used by humans for food, fashion, science and entertainment. That was definitely one of the last straws for me in supporting any kind of animal produced foods. I just didn’t really want to be apart of it. I didn’t want to support the industry in any way. So I gradually made the switch towards a plant based diet to today. I mean, I’m mainly plant based, I do applaud those restaurants that are half plants/ half meats. I think that’s better than your average restaurant that may only have a couple of options—but I am not finding it difficult. I do find that all the new restaurants especially, have more and more beautiful plant based options. I am just loving seeing that; especially in Vancouver. I think we are pretty lucky here in Vancouver in terms of vegan and vegetarian cuisine.
There can be a lot of stereotypes and mixed messages out there about veganism; mainly due to the propaganda and information in the media. What I want to know is how your experience in transitioning to a plant based diet was, even having known and consumed all that information…Were those messages easy for you overcome?
Absolutely. We’ve all grown up—or most of us have grown up—on this meat based diet. So there is a knowledge gap. You know, once that knowledge gap is closed and once you are connected to some inspiration and good recipe sources, I actually think a mainly plant based diet is easier than meat. What’s funny is that I was actually speaking with the doctor yesterday about veganism and he made the comment that it must be so hard… And I said: actually not because I don’t have to worry about Salmonella or Ecoli after cutting meat on my cutting board. I don’t have to wash my hands a million times if I’m preparing chicken stir fry or a steak dish. I really find that a plant based diet easier. But I understand it seems scary; it seems daunting; it seems hard. I grew up with parents who probably referred to a vegan diet as ‘extreme’ or ‘weird’, or ‘out there’. That is actually one of the reasons I try to avoid the term ‘vegan’; because it has those stereotypes attached to it. So I prefer the term ‘plant based’. I try to showcase rich, delectable, filling, hearty food on my social media channels. I try to prove those myths—that vegan food is valid. You know we don’t eat just lettuce and fruit. I think that people don’t quite understand for the most part that, nuts add so much creaminess to so many dishes and sauces… That you don’t need the cream, the cream cheese, and the sour cream. There are just so many great alternatives out there these days. And I don’t mean the fake meat. I’m not really into the fake meat. I mean it is a great option for some people and I am not opposed to having a fake hamburger or veggie burger every now and then. I have really not ever found myself ever craving any type of animal based product. The most common question I get is, “what food do you miss the most?”. I don’t! I mean sour cream on my baked potato, I use Tofutti. For cream in my coffee, I use a really good Juice Box or Juicery Co Almond Milk. I’m really not missing anything.
Is there someone that constantly inspires you?
Definitely not just one person. Recipe wise, I have a couple favorites that really inspire me. One of them is Minimalist Baker. Her name is Dana Shultz and she is a recipe developer based in Oregon. She is coming out with a cookbook very soon; which I am so so excited about. She is such a perfect example of a recipe developer/blogger, who creates these vegan recipes that just don’t leave you wanting anything else. They are not the leafy green salads, they are the mac and cheese, the loaded baked potato, the vegan apple crisp with the ice cream—or nice cream I should call it. So she is wonderful. Go to her Instagram page or her website and you become desperate to get into the kitchen. Before her, Oh She Glows by Angela Liddon; who is based out east in Canada. She is probably one of the first. Her recipes are extremely approachable. She is so funny if you read her blog. She is coming out with her second cookbook very soon. She is just disproving myths, left and right. She is a beautiful young woman. I don’t know if people have this stereotype of what a vegan looks like or if they are weird hippies… It just kind of proves that you can eat that way and you’re not—you know—super skinny etc. Even athletes, like Brendan Briazer, who is from North Van actually. He is the Co-Founder of Vega: which is plant based protein. He is a Ironman champion and he is the kind of guy who is working out for hours a day and swears by his vegan diet. He actually does a really good Ted Talk about it and how he came to discover that he could actually achieve better results on a plant based diet. So people like him are really inspiring to me.
How can people find on itstodiefor.ca?
I have a couple focuses on the website. I think one of the biggest focuses is my Online Dining Guide for Vancouver. I also try to create online dining guides wherever I travel to—like more major cities like New York and LA. Those lists are definitely a little more condensed. My Vancouver Online Dining Guide is basically the best of what Vancouver has to offer—of course in my opinion. I’ve got these sections organized into categories; so ‘Best Bakeries’, ‘Best Coffee’, ‘Best Pizzeria’, that sort of thing. Then it’s also organized by neighborhood. So you can be in a certain neighborhood and don’t know where to go, you can head to the site and just click that neighborhood and up will pop my favorite spots to eat. The other big section of my website would be the recipes. I mean, I do develop recipes, but I consider myself more a curator. So I like to kind of scan my favorite blogs and recipe books and kind of make the best that I am seeing. Then recommending it to my readers by telling them where to get those recipes. Then of course smaller sections include ‘Vancouver Food News’: events that are happening in the city. I also share other news like ‘Mindful Movie Nights’… I along with the Juice Truck are hosting movie nights where we show a new documentary every month that are largely focused on the benefits of plant based eating and animal agriculture—that sort of a thing. All of that news is posted to the website.
Now on your Snapchat (Erin-Ireland), I noticed that you have a little indoor garden of your own. How did you create that…? Did you build it all on your own?
Yes, except I can’t take the credit. It is so easy! The Urban Cultivator: it’s a local company—they’re based in Yaletown. You can go check them out there. It basically looks like a wine fridge. It’s like a garden in your kitchen. So you’ve got four little trays and you can plant four different kinds of seeds at a time. Like right now, I’ve got some basil going and some wheatgrass. There are about 35 different seeds you can grow. The unit is totally all automated; so climate controlled, water controlled, etc. So it is really easy. You just plant the seeds and watch it grow. It is a beautiful focal point in the kitchen, but it’s also great to just be able to snip your greens before you add them to your salad. They could not be fresher.
Just lastly, have you ever had a recipe that has gone completely wrong?
Extremely wrong? Oh my gosh, absolutely! Gosh, that is hard to think of on the spot… But all the time. It is a constant experiment. Of course, what ever I am sharing on the site is the good stuff; the stuff that has turned out properly. I mean I burn stuff all the time. Sometimes with my pots and pans, I can’t figure out how to not burn stuff. I’m trying to put more oil in. I think I heat it too much or something.