Kevin and Aurora MacLean build success around plant-based eating

If you’ve been looking at the menus at many of Charlottetown’s restaurants you’ve probably noticed more plant-based options. Last year saw the opening of PEI’s first largely-vegan restaurant, followed by the opening of PEI’s first fully vegan cafe earlier this year. The steady growth in veganism on PEI is undeniable—more people are talking about it, and in general, there is a better understanding and acceptance of the vegan lifestyle.

When Chef Sarah Forrester Wendt opened My Plum, My Duck in May 2017, it was the first predominately vegan restaurant on PEI. My Plum, My Duck is almost wholly vegan, but one of the restaurant’s dishes features a piece of fish. As of now, Forrester Wendt plans to keep the item on the menu. “It’s like the opposite of many other restaurants where they have the one vegan item to offer, and we’re offering one non-vegan item just to include more. I always identify as macrobiotic, but we are 99% vegan.”

Prior to opening My Plum, My Duck, Forrester Wendt was the only vegan caterer on PEI with her business MacroMom. She would often fill in the blanks for other chefs who would struggle when trying to create vegan dishes. “I knew it was something that Charlottetown needed; at the very least a vegetarian restaurant.” Many customers have said they’re surprised there’s so many options. “They [vegans] are not used to opening up the menu and realizing they can eat pretty much everything.” The restaurant also caters to people with common allergies, as all food is peanut free, dairy free, and there’s a section for celiacs.

Forrester Wendt recognizes health as one of the leading contributors to veganism. “A lot of people really appreciate [that] I only buy local ingredients, when possible, so there is that sustainability factor. I find it’s less on the ethical side, I do have lots of customers who do it for ethical reasons, but the majority is for health concerns and for feeling good.” Forrester Wendt thinks veganism is a commendable, healthy life choice. “You wouldn’t believe how many people tell me how good they feel after they eat a vegan meal. I think that’s the goal. A lot of people eat without acknowledging how it makes them feel.”

Sarah Forrester Wendt serves up vegan fare at My Plum, My Duck                                                                           Photo credit: Evan Ceretti

It’s undeniable that there’s a stigma associated with the word ‘vegan’, partly due to misconceptions regarding the diet and lifestyle, and also due to extremists who poorly represent the movement. Forrester Wendt said she tried to avoid labelling herself as a vegan restaurant at first. “I’m just another restaurant with lots of really delicious items on my menu. If you take the vegan part out, it’s a really great plate of food. You don’t need to label it vegan; it just so happens to be vegan.” She likes to label things as whole foods, so it may not be as daunting for newbies.

Forrester Wendt has noticed many restaurants in downtown Charlottetown are changing their menus to be inclusive of vegans. People want to know where their food is coming from, she said. “People were kept in the dark. You just saw meat in the store and you didn’t really ask where it came from or if the animal had a name.” In fact, some of the butchered animals you find on your plate at PEI restaurants did have names.

Some believe children need to be taught that food comes from animals, because it’s the next generation that’s going to change the way we see food. However, with emphasis on compassion and transparency, ethical vegans want the change to be that animals aren’t seen as food at all.

Pamela Courtenay-Hall is a professor and philosophy department chair at UPEI. “On average, somewhere between 1/4 to 1/3 of the students in my environmental philosophy classes at UPEI are vegan or vegetarian or considering making that transition. The deep consideration these students give to questions of diet and lifestyle is inspiring.” She thinks many people are motivated both by the moral arguments and health benefits made in favour of veganism. It is, however, important to examine our own motivations, if we presume to be in a position to tell others how they should live, she added.

Courtenay-Hall said, “I think it is tremendously important to teach children to be respectful and kind to animals.” However, she asked, but do respect and kindness entail vegetarian diets? “I have met many Island farmers who raise animals for meat but love their animals, even as they lead them to the truck that will carry them to the slaughterhouse.”

Aurora and Kevin MacLean opened Stir It Up on Queen Street in Charlottetown in February. “It was always the plan,” said Kevin about opening the cafe, as he talked about visiting PEI during the summers and noticing the lack of vegan food. “There was nothing that you could go and get that was solely vegan,” he said.

“We love cooking vegan. We grew up in heavy meat-eating families. So we love coming up with new ‘fake’ meats. For us, it just kind of made sense to give the city another option of a solely vegan place.” The biggest thing, said Kevin, is that they wanted the business to be a place where you could walk in as a vegan and not have to ask, ‘does this have something non-vegan in it?’

Stir It Up’s menu includes gourmet salads, daily soups, desserts, and delicious sandwiches that use a variety of meat alternatives: marinated tofu, house-made seitan, a black bean and groat bacon (fakon), textured vegetable protein, pulled jackfruit, and more.

The cafe’s options cater to many dietary restrictions and the menu is free from all animal products—meaning no meat, honey, eggs, dairy, gelatine, or anything else that comes from an animal.

Kevin considers Stir It Up’s food to be first and foremost, satisfying comfort food. “We try to make everything as healthy as it could be.” It’s safe to say that people have been more than satisfied. “It’s been unreal. From the start, we’ve had a really steady following. Almost half of our sales are returning customers. Since coming out with the Moo-less Mac burger, we’ve doubled in sales volume.”

Like Forrester Wendt, Kevin agrees that there are misconceptions when it comes to veganism. “It’s a stigma associated with blandness.” But this can easily be defeated if people try vegan food. Stir It Up’s recent burger creation, the Moo-less Mac, is far from bland. “We wanted to have an option for the ones who weren’t able to partake,”  Kevin said, of the cafe’s creation of a vegan burger to be sold during the burger month in April. It was not done in spite, but solely to cater to the vegan community on PEI, Kevin said. For every burger sold, $1 is donated to Animal Justice, a law firm leading the fight for animal protection in Canada.

Veg PEI is a non-profit organization that started two years ago. President Hilary Wood said, “Our main goal is to educate Islanders on plant-based living and help Charlottetown become more accessible when it comes to plant-based foods.” Along with education and promoting awareness of veganism, the organization hosts monthly vegan potlucks in Charlottetown.

Two years ago, Veg PEI started the vegan event Veg It Up!, where Island restaurants compete with each other by creating and offering a vegan dish that customers can vote on. The event has been a huge hit and will be two weeks long this year, from September 21st to October 4th. Restaurants that participate have seen the demand for vegan food, which brings in many new customers and is beneficial for the restaurant, said Wood. “A good restaurant caters to every kind of diet.”

Hilary Wood promotes veganism with Veg PEI                                                                                                               Photo credit: Evan Ceretti

Since Veg PEI started, Wood has seen many changes in Charlottetown, the most significant of which is that people who are vegan or vegetarian now clearly see they aren’t alone. “Just having a support system, having the potlucks, a sense of community. Veganism can be pretty isolating sometimes. I think having Veg PEI around gives people some relief on feeling like they’re going against the grain.”

“One of the biggest stigmas is that it’s not healthy-you don’t get enough protein, you don’t get enough nutrients. Those arguments are pretty played out in this day and age. It’s well-known that a vegan diet is totally healthy, and in most cases can help diseases and illnesses, keep you alive longer, and give you a lot of energy,” Wood said.

Stir It Up’s Moo-Less Mac Burger                                                                                                                                       Photo credit: Evan Ceretti

However, there’s still a stigma against being vegan, which is partly to do some vegans’ attitudes, Wood said. “People over complicate it and it’s such a simple thing. Most vegans are compassionate people; they want to cause the least amount of suffering they can.” Every lifestyle has extremists, including veganism, but those people don’t stand for the movement, she said. Another stigma is that veganism takes away from your diet, but it many cases it can add to your diet and to your well-being. It opens doors to new foods, enhances cooking skills, and teaches about nutrition, said Wood. “It has rolled into so many more things for me and has changed my life. Veganism is like a seed and people just bloom from it.”




About Evan Ceretti

Evan is a vegetarian foodie and freelancer based in Charlottetown. His two greatest loves are food and travel, which just so happen to be the perfect pairing. A graduate of Holland College’s journalism program, and of UPEI’s print journalism program, Evan enjoys writing about the local food scene as well as writing about gastronomic journeys from the other side of the world. He’s had to luxury of visiting 30 countries and traveling for more than 1,000 days. In Charlottetown, you’ll either see him riding his bicycle, eating curry, taking photos, or playing ultimate frisbee. Follow him on IG @Evanontheroad, and on Facebook at Evan on the Road.

Visit My Website
View All Posts