I know that many people who go vegetarian struggle with maintaining happy relationships with their families. Some face outright resistance and anger from family members, and some just feel left out (and hungry) at family gatherings.

So I hope you’ll excuse me for bragging, but I feel like I’ve had it pretty good. When I first went vegan, I was still at a stage where my mom was preparing all of my food. She quickly picked up on Yves and Zoglos, pretty much the only two brands of faux meat products around at the time, and would send me to school with veggie salami sandwiches and sometimes make spaghetti and meatsauce using Yves ground round. Shortly after, we discovered that the Kosher Sobey’s in our neighbourhood had a freezer full of Tofutti vegan ice cream products so there was always a good supply of dessert in the house too.

Towards the end of high school I had found out about TVA and my mom joined me at my first trip to the Annual Vegetarian Food Festival. My dad got into the habit of ordering veggie burgers whenever the option was available and never made a fuss about going to vegetarian restaurants on our annual winter vacation together.

By the time I was in university, I had gained an interest in cooking my own food and began the classic vegan stereotypic behaviour of trying to impress relatives with vegan desserts at family gatherings. My extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins have been supportive as well, and have grown moreso over the years as things like vegetarianism and Meatless Mondays become more mainstream and vegan products and recipes become easier to find.

One member of the family who really went above and beyond to support my veganism is Cathy Nador. About 8 years ago, Cathy came into my life as a new companion to my grandfather. Since my grandmother passed away, he had dated a handful of women but none were quite the right match for him, or our family in general. They were all pretty soft spoken and our boistrous, loud gatherings were possibly a bit much to handle. Plus, you’ve got to be pretty fiesty and outspoken to be able to tolerate my grandfather. Older folk from Toronto may remember him, Milton Berger, as deputy mayor under Mel Lastman’s terms. He’s a pretty right-wing, conservative fellow with plenty of strong opinions that he’s not afraid to share.

From the day I met Cathy, I knew she could handle him and could see she would fit right into our family. She was loud, active and independent.

cathy food festival

Cathy and Zady enjoying their first Vegetarian Food Festival

Something I didn’t expect was how accepting and supportive she would be of my veganism. Almost immediately, Cathy’s staple dessert that she would bring to any holiday dinner or summer BBQ was her chocolate cornflakes. She would proudly declare over and over that they were vegan and that she wanted to make sure I had something to eat for dessert. She would always bring huge batches so I would have leftovers to take home for myself too.

I will always remember the time that she invited my mom and I over to her place for lunch and prepared a magnificant vegan feast. It started with an appetizer of hummus, falafels and vegetables. Then there was a lentil and barley soup, followed by some bread and Tofurky sausages she had gone out of her way to get. And then, to my amazement, it was topped off with a homemade vegan cheesecake. Like I said, I know a lot of people struggle with a lack of acceptance or maybe even simply a lack of knowledge on how to prepare vegan food from their relatives, and here was an 80 year old woman who had somehow managed to learn how to make a vegan cheesecake from scratch (and by the way,  yes,  it was all delicious!).

Her and my grandfather even made it out to the Vegetarian Food Festival a couple of times since I began working at TVA. In fact, I felt a bit giddy with love and support when I sat down to try and reflect on all the non-vegetarian family and neighbours who have come out to the Festival to show their support and see what it is all about. All of my aunts and uncles, a few cousins, and even several of my childhood neighbours have come. An aunt and uncle have come out to the Vegan Bake-Off and my mom has even taken home a ribbon!

It breaks my heart to say that Cathy is unfortunately no longer with us, and will be missed enormously. But I’m glad to know that her support lives on through the rest of my family that is still here and whose enthusiasm and interest in vegetarianism continues to grow regardless of their own dietary choices. I’m a lucky lady.

P.S Thank you Cathy.