Sinjin Moser and his mother Nichole eat mac n' cheese

Beyond mac n’ cheese

Mother and son dig into a vegan lifestyle together

By Crystal Murray

Sinjin Moser makes a mean vegan mac n’ cheese. 

The 15-year-old, who attends Auburn High School in Cole Harbour, went vegan a little over three years ago when his mother Nichole decided to embrace a plant-based life style. The change in his diet sharpened both cooking skills and his awareness of the world around him. That mac n’ cheese is just the beginning.

Sinjin went cold turkey with his leap into veganism. Like his mother, compassion for animals and learning more about factory farming influenced the transition in his diet.

About the same time that his mother went plant based, Sinjin was writing a persuasive essay for a school project. The issue up for debate was animal fighting sports. Sinjin was to write the pro-side of the argument. “I was disgusted by what I learned and then I learned more about other mistreatments of animals,” he says.

The Moser family are animal lovers. They have four rescue dogs and for a while when living in Ontario, his mother Nichole was involved with sled dog rescue, learning about the inhumane treatment of animals. “One day the light bulb just went off,” says Nichole. “In our world most people think of an animal as a commodity. I empathize for all life and I decided that I was not going to participate anymore.”

Taking notice of her change in food choices and his own disdain for the unethical treatment of animals, Sinjin asked his mother if he could join her on her vegan journey. “It all happened very fast,” he recalls.

Sinjin Moser makes vegan Mac 'n cheese in his family kitchen
Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire

While veganism and vegetarianism have been on the fringe for decades, a new breed of plant-based eaters is emerging. According to research conducted by Dalhousie University in
2018, the number of vegetarians in Canada increased from 900,000 to 2.3 million over 15 years. Another 850,00 consider themselves vegan.

The increase in veganism is slower paced but it’s young people like Sinjin Moser feeding the change. One study suggests that Canadians under 35 are three times more likely than the older population to be vegan or vegetarian. Statistics like this are reflected in dietary habits, dramatically influencing the array of plant-based products available in supermarkets.

 “I feel like we ate a lot of vegan junk food at first,” says Sinjin, recalling his first days reinventing his diet. “But we learned a lot and now I think we eat very balanced.” 

Finding plant-based alternatives is becoming less of a challenge, brands like Beyond Meat and Lightlife, meat alternatives and the ever-increasing number of dairy free beverages and dessert options have also made the plant-based revolution more accepted. 

“We have two omnivores living under our roof,” says Nichole, whose husband and older son still consume animal protein in their diets. “At first we were making multiple meals to satisfy everyone but now we find that the omnivores are eating less meat and we are enjoying the meat-free meals together. There are still nights that meat is on the menu but now I find it very unappealing and even dislike the smell of meat cooking.”

There was a time when experts advised against vegetarian diets for kids who were still in their developmental stages of growth. But as the science of nutrition evolves, we now are learning that protein and other nutrients required for optimal health are available in an appropriately planned plant-based diet. Some experts and nutritional journals point to improvements in health for children eating vegan and vegetarian diets simply because this diet generally involves less processed food and more nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

“We ate a lot of vegan junk food at first. But we learned a lot and now… we eat very balanced”

—Sinjin Moser

Sinjin is confident he’s meeting his dietary requirements. His family doctor is aware he’s vegan and performs routine blood work, which has never shown nutritional deficiencies. He feels much more fit and healthy since giving up animal protein. “It’s hard to explain but I just feel lighter,” he says.

Today it’s relatively easy to derive adequate protein from a plant-based diet but people still often ask vegans and vegetarians how they get protein.

Vestano Melina, author of The New Becoming Vegetarian, says that we all need to understand that the largest mammals on the planet eat plants. 

The protein that is in animal flesh consumed by humans is made through the conversion of the plants that the animals eat. She cites that legumes are plant-based protein powerhouses and protein rich plant foods bring unique benefits not found in meat. In the Western world, few people ever suffer from protein deficiency; most people eat more protein than their bodies need. 

There are a few nutrients that vegans and vegetarians do need to remember when planning meals. B-12 deficiency is a risk for vegans, as its most common source is in animal protein. Sinjin says that he makes sure that he finds other sources. Nutritional yeast, an ingredient used by vegans to achieve cheesy, nutty flavours and fortified non-dairy beverages plus occasional supplements keep his B-12 levels adequate. 

Vegan ingredients on a countertop
Plant based and vegan ingredients are easy to source in most local grocery stores as demand for these products continue to grow. (right) Nichole and Sinjin have learned how to design a vegan meal plan that supports their health and connected to the things that are important to them. 
Photo: Bruce Murray/VisionFire

When Sinjin embarked on his vegan journey three years ago, there was an audible buzz in youth culture about the role his cohort plays in making positive impacts on the climate emergency. He finds purpose in his veganism beyond compassion for animals. Nichole is proud of his commitment. “Sinjin is sometimes challenged by it but he has stuck with it. Being vegan means that you make sacrifices that other kids don’t,” adds Nichole.

Because veganism is not just about what’s on the menu, Sinjin and Nichole have also pivoted away from products made with animal ingredients. Whenever they’re replacing items they bought before their conversion, they look for vegan-made products. It gets easier almost every day to find ethically made items. The acceptance and the knowledge that we need to do these things for the planet is showing up in the availability and demand of these new products. “The world is waking up,” says Nichole.

Sinjin tries not to preach. He says he doesn’t push his views on his friends and in return they accept his choices. He wishes that there were more vegan options in the school cafeteria. This year he doesn’t have to worry about that, but simple things like going out to grab a burger, since the advent of meat alternatives, has been life changing for a vegan teenager and while he enjoys his own cooking it means that there is more out there beyond mac and cheese.  

Read more from our Fall 2020 edition of Our Children.

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