Three years ago when my parents, Chris, and I came to Vancouver for the first time, I was completely in love. This city, with its beautiful harbour, lush green parks, shiny new buildings, proximity to mountains, forests, and beaches — was like an urban paradise on the North American continent to me. The diversity of the city stunned me, and the number of ethnic restaurants everywhere was literal eye candy. There was no end to the number of Asian restaurants and businesses everywhere. And you could feel it immediately when you arrived at Vancouver International Airport because all the signs were in English, French, and Chinese. People were friendly. The city seemed pretty walkable. People exercise a lot here, everywhere. The air was fresh and clean. I decided by day three there: if I could pick a Canadian city to live in, it would be Vancouver. It pretty much has everything I love about a city… with the exception that it gets cold and rains a lot. But maybe I could one day temporarily deal with it? No need to be so absolute about anything, right?
I spent the mid afternoon to evening today exploring areas that I didn’t get to see much of in-depth the last time I was here, and I found myself loving it even more. The drizzly and overcast sky cleared up to reveal the sun and a few clouds here and there this afternoon, and so I frolicked around and enjoyed walking through Yaletown, Gastown, Chinatown, and the West End. I noticed the quaint cafe and coffee culture every few blocks. I witnessed road rage to the max when I least expected it (apparently, road rage is a big thing here; who would have thought that Canadians could be mean and vicious?). I heard multiple languages being spoken that I couldn’t even recognize and name. I was overwhelmed with my lunch options, all featuring local, fresh, and sustainable ingredients, and had no idea where to start. Ooh, this is my kind of place. I just want to stay here forever.
Health and fitness are big in Vancouver, almost like the way I noticed it was a thing in Colorado when I visited, and the number of restaurants that not only accommodate vegetarianism and veganism but actually feature sections of these categories of dining is actually really astounding to me. I’ve become more open-minded to veganism over the last several years, especially when it is made with the usual omnivore in mind. I’m never going to convert, but I’m happy to eat less meat. To put this in perspective, a “recommended” serving of meat/protein in a healthy, well-balanced, nutritious diet is four ounces; that’s about the size of a deck of cards. When you actually give the average American a burger or piece of chicken that size, they scoff at it and say it’s too small. In other words, we eat far too much meat and really don’t understand portion control. We’d all be better off if we reset our expectations and stopped expecting a lot of meat all the time, if not for anything else but our health’s sake. I love all good food as long as its tasty, but don’t give me a carrot and tell me that’s my main course unless you’re going to do something absolutely surprising and crazy with it.
I decided to stop by The Juice Truck in Yaletown today for lunch after reading many rave reviews about how good their food was by vegetarians and omnivores alike. What they do not label themselves as in their name or even description is “vegan,” even though they actually are a plant-based food company with multiple locations throughout Vancouver, both truck and brick-and-mortar shops. There’s not a single animal product used in any of their dishes or smoothies. You wouldn’t know this until you read the individual descriptions of the bowls, plates, or smoothies.
I ordered their “Caesar salad,” which is a mix of romaine, kale, and radicchio served with sriracha-roasted crunchy chickpeas, smoked maple tempeh, walnut “parmesan,” chipotle coconut bacon, fresh lemon, and their house-made creamy cashew “caesar” dressing, as well as their vegan peanut butter chocolate soft serve made with house-made almond milk. Both the salad and the soft serve blew me away. I’ve made my own crunchy roasted chickpeas before, but this was an encouragement to make this again and more often. The cashew-based caesar dressing was nearly addictive with how creamy and umami it was. I finished the salad and felt really satisfied. And what truly impressed me the most was the peanut butter soft serve. I cannot imagine anyone having that who is a peanut butter fan being disappointed and missing the cow milk.
Maybe it’s true: if we stopped labeling things “vegan” or “vegetarian,” maybe people would be more open to trying these foods and embracing them. The only place I saw the word “vegan” on The Juice Truck’s menu was in regard to the soft serve options and the loaf cake slices (banana and lemon coconut, which are made by a plant-based personality who lives in Vancouver and owns ToDieFor.ca. Labeling is overrated; good food is good food. And the more creative the food, the better.