Ottawa’s ZenKitchen: Food for Thought

So Monday was my birthday, and while it was filled with gifts and cookie-encrusted birthday cake, the official birthday dinner was put off until Tuesday.

Art-is-In Bread with Ethiopian lentil spread

ZenKitchen is closed on Mondays, you see, and every Ottawegan (Ottawa vegan) knows that when serious celebration is in order, ZenKitchen is where you go.

Pierogies stuffed with mushrooms and house sauerkraut, with cashew sour cream, tempeh bacon, grilled onions, apple cabbage slaw
Sopé: Leavened corn tortilla, refried beans, exotic mushrooms flambeed with a chipotle-tequila sauce, house salsa, fresh guacamole, sour cream, spicy rice *Gluten free
Panko-Crusted Seitan: topped with summer pesto and served over a bed of pasta alfredo with local exotic mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and seasonal vegetables
Peanut butter and chocolate tart *Gluten-free

The meal began with Art-Is-In bread, Ethiopian-inspired lentil spread and a glass of rich Okanagan red. Next came the ‘gift from the kitchen’ : medjool dates stuffed with a savoury ‘cream cheese’.

Picking the appetizer was a no-brainer for me:  Of all the things I’ve missed most since going vegan 20 years ago, my grandma’s sauerkraut pierogies have to be number one.

Given that birthday = guiltless decadence, our main course selections were also obvious: Neil and I opted to share one order of Sopé and one of Panko-crusted Seitan.

Now, I’ve been going to ZenKitchen for a long time, and have written more than one review. But it wasn’t until last night that I could really articulate what makes this restaurant so special.

ZenKitchen is “food for thought”. On the one hand, it is food for thoughtful consumers. Owners Caroline Ishii and Dave Loan have gone to great lengths to ensure that their ingredients are ethically and transparently sourced.

On the other hand, the food itself makes you think. It is clear that each subtle nuance of flavour has been introduced very deliberately, but always with the goal of creating a coherent, pleasing dish.

One thing about Caroline Ishii’s cooking is that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. I learned quickly that everything on the plate is there for a reason. When you take a bite of Sopé, you have to top it with the mushrooms and the salsa and the guacamole and the sour cream. If there’s a lemon wedge on your plate, use it. Last night’s lemon wedge, for example, added a lovely brightness to my Alfredo sauce. I was rather proud, thinking of how a less experienced ZenKitchen-goer might have dismissed the lemon as decoration and missed out on my awesome sauce experience.

Another thing you’ll notice when you’re at ZenKitchen is that the food is all anyone is talking about. Remarks like “So what is this, thyme?” “Where’s the hotness coming from?” and “So there’s seriously no dairy in this?” are typical, as are appeals to servers to answer questions and settle disputes. When Neil and I left last night, we found a trio in the parking lot still debating the cashew cream.

Given I’ve already yammered on quite a lot, I won’t do a detailed description of each of last night’s selections. Suffice it to say that they were all lovely, all interesting, and all cooked to absolute perfection – that’s one more thing to note about ZK: whether you happen to like a specific flavour combination or not, every dish is perfectly executed. No limp veggies. No under- or overcooked pasta. Ever.

So if you haven’t tried ZenKitchen yet, go. There’s a reason they’ve risen so quickly to become an Ottawa institution and were named Ottawa’s “Top Choice” restaurant by Lonely Planet.

When you find yourself still wondering, a week later, what was the spice in that chocolate sauce, you’ll know what I mean.

Everything you need to know about Veg Fest speaker Jo-Anne McArthur

Last week, we introduced our speaker line up for Veg Fest 2012. Now, we are going to introduce this year’s personalities through a series of Q&A interviews.

The NCVA’s Dee Campbell-Giura interviews Jo-Anne McArthur, an Ottawa-born and raised photographer who will be coming to Veg Fest from Toronto. Jo-Anne was named one of CBC’s Champions of Change in 2010, among other accolades.

Read on…

Jo-Anne with a little primate.

Dee: HuffPost Women named you one of 10 Amazing Women Trying to Save the Planet. CBC named you a Champion of Change for your work on the We Animals project. Farm Sanctuary named you a Farm Animal Friend of the Year. And you’re only 35! (right?) To those who think they just don’t have it in them, what advice can you offer?

Jo-Anne: Yep, 35! 🙂  Well, about achieving some success and recognition with the We Animals project, I think I’m just uber focused on the many issues of our abuse of non-human animals. There’s a lot to do and many amazing animal organizations to work with, so, why waver? And we all need to know that every single decision we make counts. Everything we do makes a difference. Where there is compassion, there is hope! 


Dee: You photograph brutality, and document investigations, animal releases, and our relationships with animals. After seeing all that, how do maintain such positivity?

Jo-Anne: We’re living in exciting times. “Vegan” is now a word that people know and understand. Changes are happening. People are making more compassionate decisions about animals. I see a lot of positive feedback from the work I do. If my work was sitting on a hard drive and no one wanted it, I’d be depressed. However, it’s the opposite; I get requests for photos almost daily, from groups who want to use images from We Animals to help get their message out. The work I do is useful and that keeps me moving forward. I won’t deny it’s very painful to see so much horrendous and unnecessary animal abuse though; I feel pretty dark sometimes. 

Calf in Toronto.

Dee: We Animals is in its 14th year. Do you have any plans you can share with us? We promise to tweet it. We have 357 followers.

Jo-Anne: I hesitate to say it’s in its 14th year. I thought of the project in 1998 but it only started becoming what it is a few years ago (seven or eight years ago?). There are endless plans for We Animals. There’s no end to the organizations to work with, investigations to do, ideas and stories to share. Quite often I can’t share the plans until the investigation is executed but I can say that I’ll be abroad quite a bit this year, and there is also a book in the works. And, of course, filming for the documentary “The Ghosts In Our Machine“. 

Dee: You must have many memorable experiences, from ecstatic to terrifying. Tell us about a few?

Jo-Anne: Yes, there are thousands of stories. Doing an investigation in a pig factory farm and realizing on our way out that we were walking on hundreds of severed pig tails which littered the floor, probably docked that day.  Seeing one of our Sea Shepherd boats get  cut in half by a Japanese whaling ship in the Antarctic. The constant sorrow of leaving so many animals behind after shooting a story or an investigation. The joy of open rescues and sanctuary visits. Meeting playful bears and joyful chimpanzees who’ve been rescued from the cages of torture within our medical and research systems. I’ll let my photos tell those stories; they do it best! 

Sad pig.

Dee: At what age did you change your diet, and what prompted it?

Jo-Anne: I became vegetarian at about age 23 when I realized I didn’t want to eat my friends. I wish I could have gone veg sooner, but I didn’t know other vegetarians and I thought it would be really hard. I became vegan April 1st, 2003; my first day as an intern at Farm Sanctuary  🙂  Interns are required to live a vegan lifestyle while volunteering at the Sanctuary. I thought it was a bit extreme and that I would just do it for that month. What I learned was that there was immense peace that came with ending my consumption of animal products and that I would never ever go back to that lifestyle! I also learned that I don’t lack for good food, and if anything is extreme, it’s our present animal agricultural system, not veganism! 

A goat being led to slaughter.

Dee: How did change in diet + talent in photography = We Animals?

Jo-Anne: I realized that I could combine my talents and passions to help try to make the world a better place for animals. There were some key moments as well when I was in a situation where I knew I was seeing things differently than everyone else around me (we animal rights people all have that! Normal things seem crude and freaky to us, like animals used in entertainment, the meat section of the supermarket, Canada Goose jackets, etc). I realized I could document the way *I* was seeing things, and share that perspective with others.


Dee: Who or what would you like to photograph? Your photo-bucket list, if you will.

Jo-Anne: I’d just like to keep having more amazing experiences with animals and people around the globe. Actually, here’s one: I’d like to be the person to photograph the rescue of the LAST bear in a bear bile farm, ever. I’d like to document the closing of all the brutal industries we put animals through. Think I can live that long? 😉  I know that one day my photos will be considered an unfortunately large archive of what was once, and will never be again. I’d like to keep photographing history. 

Mink at a fur farm.

Dee: When you’re on the road, what are your must-have backpack foods?


– Vega!

– Vega!

– Vega!

– Vegan multivitamins

– Peanut butter

– Emergen-C

Dee: Can you tempt us with some teasers for your talk at Veg Fest?

Jo-Anne: I love sharing the photos and stories of the individual animals I’ve met along this journey with the We Animals project. It’s a way of honouring them, and of moving people deeply, getting them excited about change. It will be an honour to introduce the people at Veg Fest to the likes of Ron, a chimp who was rescued from biomedical research by Save the Chimps, and a beautiful sun bear named Arkte, who loves peanuts and being with his friends. The stories are sad but the true focus is the change and the joy, and about how we can all make such a huge difference. 


Dee: What question do you wish interviewers would ask, but rarely do?  

Jo-Anne: Some people have trouble thinking of how they too can help animals. So, a great question could be “How can we all help animals?” – a few answers here! 🙂

Veg Fest speakers promise to be awesome, once again

So every year, despite being a young, teeny tiny volunteer-run organization, the NCVA manages to line up some pretty sweet speakers for Veg Fest.

We’ve had vegan RD and multi book author Brenda Davis RD, the gregarious and informative Dr. Michael Greger, Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Baur, vegan locovore author Jae Steele, and Dr. Kerrie Saunders, to name a few.  These are some pretty big names in the vegan world.

This year is no exception.  The NCVA is pleased to introduce the speakers for Veg Fest 2012:  James McWilliams PhD, Jack Norris RD, and Jo-Anne McArthur. Read on for more info, and stay tuned for more extensive introductions as we draw closer to the big day, April 29.

James McWilliams, PhD

James E. McWilliams, PhD, the author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, is an associate professor of history at Texas State University.

In Just Food, McWilliams argues that there is one thing everyone can do to shrink the carbon footprint of their dinner: Take the meat off their plates.

He specializes in American history, and in the environmental history of the United States. He writes for the The Texas Observer and the History News Service, has a regular column in The Atlantic, and has published op-eds on food in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and USA Today.

McWilliams is a vegan.


Jack Norris, R.D.

Registered dieitician Jack Norris is the President and co-founder of Vegan Outreach, an American grassroots animal advocacy group working to promote veganism through the widespread distribution of printed informational booklets.

As of March 2010, more than 11 million hard copies of Vegan Outreach brochures had been handed out by members of Vegan Outreach around the world. Vegan Outreach’s Adopt a College program directly hands booklets to more than 500,000 students every semester.

Norris is a Registered Dietitian. Along with Ginny Messina, MS RD, he has written the upcoming book Vegan For Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet.

Norris writes a nutrition blog at He is the author of Vitamin B12: Are You Getting It? and maintains In 2005, he was elected to the Animal Rights Hall of Fame.


Jo-Anne McArthur

Jo-Anne McArthur has worked as a documentary photographer since 2000, with her love of travel, curiosity about people, animals and different cultures leading her to more than 40 countries on all seven continents.

McArthur is the force behind We Animals, an ambitious project which documents, through photography, animals in the human environment. The premise of the project is that humans are as much animal as the sentient beings we use for food, clothing, research, experimentation, work, entertainment, slavery and companionship. The goal of the project is to break down the barriers that humans have built which allow us to treat non-human animals as objects and not as sentient beings.

Since the project’s conception, stories and photographs for We Animals have been shot in more than 40 countries and the photos have contributed to dozens of worldwide campaigns to end the suffering of animals. McArthur is a vegan.

Nobody wants sewage in the river that they swim in

On occasion, the NCVA will support like-minded organizations to draw attention to an issue du jour.

So when José Dimayuga from Ecology Ottawa contacted the NCVA, looking to get a bit of exposure for an Action Alert that organization is undertaking, we thought this should be one of those times.  Raise your hand if you are in FAVOUR of dumping sewage into the Ottawa River! Didn’t think so.

If you’ve ever been disappointed by a beach closure due to E. coli, or perturbed by the wafting scent of sewage on a warm summer day while strolling along the Ottawa River, this is an Action Alert that will resonate with you. 

Read on for the latest.  The following was provided by Ecology Ottawa.



What no beach-goer wants to see.ACTION ALERT!

Every year, the City of Ottawa dumps hundreds of millions of litres of untreated sewage directly into the Ottawa River. Now you have an opportunity to help stop this travesty once and for all. The province and the City of Ottawa have developed a plan, and both both agreed to put up their fair share of the money. All we need is federal funding in the upcoming 2012 federal budget. Click here to let Ottawa area members of parliament know that you want action to clean up the river!

The city has developed the Ottawa River Action Plan to address this issue and the plan is already delivering results. In June, the city announced that recent infrastructure upgrades have cut the untreated sewage going into the river by more than half compared to measurements of four years ago. However, in 2011, the city still discharged 417-million litres of combined sewage and rainwater into the river—that is the equivalent of almost 166 Olympic-sized swimming pools full of sewage!

City council would like to move forward with the next phase of the Ottawa River Action Plan—the construction of major combined sewage overflow (CSO) storage facilities. CSO storage facilities will lower the amount of contaminants released to the Ottawa River, improving the water quality and possibly reducing the number of beach closures.

According to Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown, who has endorsed this letter-writing campaign, it is imperative that the city moves ahead with the Ottawa River Action Plan, with or without federal support. “But,” says Brown, “the Ottawa River is a key feature of the National Capital Region. The federal government should be doing everything it can to stop the dumping of untreated sewage in the river that runs through the nation’s capital.”

The province has indicated its willingness to contribute one-third of the cost, but the federal government has not yet made a similar commitment. We want to urge the federal government to commit to its third of the funding in the federal 2012 Budget. This is why we set-up an online letter writing campaign and we are asking you to go the website and write to your local Member of Parliament today:

Please send a quick letter now to all Ottawa area MPs urging them to ensure that funding for the Ottawa River Action Plan is included in the federal 2012 Budget.  The health of our rivers depends on you demanding action from our elected officials today.

For more information, contact us at:

Phone: 613-860-5353

You can view the Ottawa River Action Plan here:

A Plea to Mike Zigomanis: Please come to Ottawa’s 2012 Veg Fest!

Dear Mike:

I’ve sent you a few emails about speaking at Ottawa’s 2012 Veg Fest. And I know I promised to stop bugging you if I didn’t get a response to that last one.

And I fully intended to keep that promise. I moved on. I found other fabulous speakers. They’re in, it’s set, all promises to be awesome.

But then something happened. I don’t know if it was the Superbowl or what, but all of a sudden the vegan sports nuts started coming out of the woodwork. They heard from the friend of a sister of a guy that the NCVA (that’s us) was going to be getting a famous vegan hockey player (that’s you) to do something awesome at Veg Fest 2012. Their little faces when I said Mike Zigomanis couldn’t make it were just…well, they were a  bit scary, frankly.

So, I decided to make one last plea for you to participate.

Here’s my pitch…

If you agree to come:

1) You can do whatever you want. You can talk, you can cook, you can play hockey, you can be a guest MC, you can wear any or all of our carrot/pea/earth/cow costumes. You can even stand outside shouting obscenities at passers-by so long as you let them get their pictures taken with you.

I haven't actually asked her yet, but I know she'd do it!

2)  We will heap upon you the very best vegan food Ottawa has to offer. Curries, cutlets, cookies, brownies, burgers, cakes, pancakes, cupcakes, pot pies, doughnuts– whatever your famous vegan heart desires! Most of Ottawa’s best vegan cooks will have tables at Veg Fest and our president will personally escort you to each to ensure that you get their choicest creations.

And if you’re cleansing at the time? No problem! Just for you, Ottawa’s raw food goddess, Natasha Kyssa, will make a smoothie so densely imbued with the nutritious essence of the raw universe that you won’t have to eat again for the rest of your natural life.

3)  I will show you the secret to making awesome smoothies. I read here that you don’t think yours taste as good as the ones from the shops. But I know the secret. And it is cheap. And it is calorie free. And the shops don’t want you to know it…

No, I'm not telling the rest of you.

4)  You will be crowned Supreme Vegan Athlete of the Universe, a title previously held by such celebrities as Georges Laraque (for marching with us in the 2010 Pride Parade), Brendan Brazier (because I am addicted to Vega) and Scott Jurek (because he runs 100-mile races and is just frigging awesome!).

So that’s my pitch. Please come to Veg Fest, Mike. I can’t deny that we’ll be exploiting your fame and athletic prowess. But it’s for a good cause, and I promise it won’t hurt a bit.