Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 155
Cynthia Owen on making veganism mainstream, business grants, and her coaching practice
Karina Inkster: You're listening to The No-Bullsh!t Vegan Podcast, episode 155. Cynthia Owen joins me on the show to talk about making veganism more mainstream, leveraging grants to help businesses move forward with plant-based offerings, and her coaching work, including being part of a cultural global movement for women.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go-to no BS vegan fitness and nutrition coach. If you're in the Northern Hemisphere like me, you may be trying to make the most of what you have left of summer at this point. So for me, that is a ton of open water swimming, lots of visitors staying with us here in Powell River, and outdoor music festivals. My bandmates and I actually just got back from performing at a music festival on Texada Island, which is right across the way from Powell River. I'm in two bands, and this one is my friend Walter and I on accordions and our friend Terry on percussion playing tango music by Astor Piazzolla and Richard Galliano and some of my favourite music by Yann Tiersen from the Amélie film soundtrack. So this was a really cool event. It was outdoors over two days, lots of different performing acts, and I'm hoping that we can go again next year.
So as we enter these last few weeks of summer, which sounds a little crazy to say, honestly, a lot of folks are beginning to think about this back-to-school time of September, which is almost here, and it tends to be a very busy month for us in the fitness coaching department. So if you want to beat the rush, make sure you check out our coaching programs at karinainkster.com/coaching and submit an application ASAP. We offer inclusive, no-BS coaching for plant-based folks who want to get consistent with fitness and nutrition. So again, that's at karinainkster.com/coaching.
Today's guest is Cynthia Owen. Cynthia is a seasoned mentor and coach in the realm of personal growth and skill development, having supported over a hundred fempreneurs to take their businesses to the next level. With advanced degrees in science and economics, Cynthia brings more than 25 years of professional experience in market analysis, program design and delivery to the table. Cynthia is certified as a mentor, coach, and facilitator through Evolving Wisdom and has the privilege of being personally trained by Dr. Claire Zammit, the founder of Evolving Wisdom and creator of Feminine Power.
Cynthia is part of a global movement of women who are creating a new culture based on shared agreements around authenticity, sustainability, and connections. And just for a bit of fun, Cynthia is also a cold water swimmer. So whether it's navigating the icy waters of a challenging business environment or helping women business owners tap into their own deep wells of potential, she has the expertise and commitment to make it happen. Her mission, to help women entrepreneurs thrive in the world and create a new model business. As for Cynthia's favourite vegan food, she says, "I eat with the seasons. Right now, that means I'm bringing in green beans, snap peas, and berries from my garden and from farmer's markets into my meals. I always keep tasty sauces on hand to put my meals together easily." Here's our discussion.
Hey Cynthia, thank you so much for coming on the show and speaking with me today.
Cynthia Owen: I am so honoured to be here and so pleased to have a chance to really talk with you today, Karina.
Karina Inkster: Well, thanks. I'm stoked. We know each other in person. So a lot of folks who come on the show, I've never met before or I'm meeting them for the first time. So we know each other from the Powell River scene of business. So we're in Coastal Women In Business, which is a nonprofit group. And that's kind of the background, I suppose. But whenever there's someone who comes on the show who is in the vegan sphere somewhere - so as listeners know, not everyone who comes on the show is vegan or related to veganism - but when they are, I like to ask what your connection is or if there was a catalyst, what that might've been to get you interested in moving toward veganism.
Cynthia Owen: Well, thanks so much. I would have to say my main catalyst for being vegan is just how I feel. And I just know that my body feels better when I am able to follow a full-on vegan diet. I will also admit I am in transition because it just hasn't been possible to find really good quality meals available for me to be vegan. And I did grow up on a farm, Southwestern Ontario. We had in our meals, and culturally, we featured a lot of vegetables, so I was already there, but we did have beef cattle, very familiar with all the production practices and what goes on in the whole farming side of our food production system. So just personally how I feel. Then I started to watch some of those documentaries about how athletes are doing so much better when they follow vegan diets than an animal-based diet, and I'm like, "Wow, right there. That's the one that I'd say now is the time. We know so much."
I’m going to say the third thing that has really kind of pushed me over the edge as well that makes me not more vegan, but kind of sparked my energy a little bit is when I looked at a recent food guide for Canada and I saw that about 1/3 of it is imported food products, and then where your plant-based proteins, how do they feature? I'm glad that they're talking a lot more about eating a lot more grains and vegetables and beans and stuff. That's good. But come on, I actually, coming from the agricultural food world, know that we grow everything we need to be healthy vegans here. I'm not sure yet, and maybe Karina, you'll correct me on that, if there is something that we need that we don't yet source locally. Anyways, those are some of my reasons why I am vegan.
Karina Inkster: Wow, love that. Well, thanks for sharing. The food guide thing is an interesting point, and I think that could be part of the discussion as well around the local piece, which is not factored in, as you mentioned, to food guide recommendations. And yes, they did make it more plant-based, much more, actually - there's no dairy category anymore. It's now a protein category and not a meat category. There's lots of positive changes, but it's still not perfect, it needs some work, and so that's cool. And when you mentioned having meals or not having meals available, do you mean like in our area geographically?
Cynthia Owen: Yeah, what I really mean is if I am here or in Vancouver and I need to go out for dinner with friends, or this past weekend, I was with my sister and brother-in-law and we went into a local diner in Vancouver and I ordered the vegan meal and really, do it right, do it well, don't give me rice and a pepper and call it done. Put some thought and care and love into my vegan meal as much as all the others that you sell.
Karina Inkster: I see what you're saying. Right. Well, I'm pretty lucky. A lot of my friends are vegan, so we go to restaurants that are just next level, absolutely amazing for vegan food. In Powell River, sorry to say, not a lot of options. In Vancouver though, there's tons. Vancouver is amazing. I mean, all I do when I go to Vancouver is eat just amazing vegan food, but it's because I've been vegan for 20 years and I have them all on my spreadsheet of really awesome places to go, and it helps that my social circle wants the same thing, so we don't have to do that like let's go to a random diner and oh, they might have one shitty vegan option. So it's kind of a different scenario.
Cynthia Owen: Yeah. And certainly, when my vegan friends are in town, we get to explore the vegan restaurants. I totally want to applaud those who are out there in Vancouver where chefs are working up great new recipes. I just really appreciate that a lot.
Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm. Well, on this topic, you mentioned a general discussion point around making veganism more mainstream. This is something that we should be working on in various contexts and in various ways. So what does it mean to you when you say, let's make veganism more mainstream? How do we know when veganism is mainstream, first of all?
Cynthia Owen: Yeah, that's a great, great question. And I think there are a number of measures I would have for that. The first one is based on a University of Dalhousie survey. In 2020, about 10% of the population, the Canadian population, would identify as vegan or vegetarian. So we're more mainstream if we were to get that up to 25% or 50%.
Karina Inkster: Good point.
Cynthia Owen: Right? And I think if there was 50% of the population were interested in plant-based food, then the rest of the industry would fall in place. We would have every chef in town working on great meals. And so for me, that's what it is to be mainstream, is that there is a real focus in any community that you go to in this country where you can get a really great vegan meal.
Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm. I like that. And I like the data approach too, just looking at pure numbers population-wise, who considers themselves vegan or vegetarian. That makes sense.
Cynthia Owen: Yeah. Yeah, that's one way of measuring it. And the other one is you can go to any community and, like a Tim Hortons, you can find a vegan restaurant. Where are the vegan chains? Where's the white vegan spot across the country?
Karina Inkster: Yes, good point. And I think a lot of places like Vancouver for instance, is an example of a city that is very vegan friendly, but a lot of places across Canada are very much not still. So there's a lot of work that still needs to be done.
Cynthia Owen: Yeah. And I actually think that consumers are the ones who lead the change. Everybody's going to sell to whatever my tastes and preferences are, and hey, I'm always going to geek out it a little bit as an economist because that's my training, and that's what we would always say anyways. And that part of economics is that companies sell what consumers want.
Karina Inkster: Fair point. Yeah, absolutely. We've seen it already with companies that were originally in the dairy industry, for example, seeing the demand and making the switch to now producing things like almond milk or oat milk instead. So they're still producing product, it's still technically milk, but they're basing it entirely on consumer demand. And I mean, it's a business decision at that point.
Cynthia Owen: Right? So many people. There's another mainstream marker; that where dairy used to be like a place to go for protein and bones, health, and all this stuff, today, is getting more mainstream to go to oat milk and almond milk and soy milk to get the same kind of nutrition. And so where people become lactose intolerant, lactose sensitive, lactose... They themselves start to see the health problems and they are switching over. So I think there are pieces that are getting us there. I'd love to see another survey done that actually started to measure a percentage of the population now using plant-based milk products as an alternative to their dairy milk.
Karina Inkster: Yeah, that would be interesting. Or also, folks in the population who don't label themselves as vegetarian or vegan but aren’t drastically increasing their intake of animal products, because I think that's happening quite a bit.
Cynthia Owen: Yes, exactly. That's really my point.
Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm. So what are some things we can do, we as consumers, we as folks who coach? I mean, what can we do toward this goal of making veganism more mainstream?
Cynthia Owen: Well, I think as a consumer, always, always go to those restaurants that are purposely and deliberately creating great food products for vegans and just amplify them, talk about the great meal you just had. I think consumer demand, as we know, is going to make a difference. If you're already a vegan and you're an athlete, hey, talk about that journey, talk about how your performance is improving and doing great. I think that those are going to be great places to go. And then if you're already in the industry, like producing on the supply side of our food production system, there are grants out there that you can go to and you can have that will help amplify your work that you have going on.
Karina Inkster: Are grants something that you work with your clients on? Is that part of what you do? It's not all you do, obviously, but is that something that you help folks with?
Cynthia Owen: It's something that I can help business owners access. They don't specifically need my help to do it, but many people will go, "Oh, no, I'm never going after one of those government grants because, oh, it's way too competitive. I'm not going to get it. So much paperwork and it's not going to make that much difference in the end." And in part, they're true, but I also believe that if you have already in place your business planning process put in place and where you've got your vision, where you're trying to go to and you're looking at it frequently or looking at your financials frequently, if you are in a good place and you know what it is you want to bring forth, then these grants can just help you make that happen faster. So that would be one thing.
I would also say that grants and contribution agreements are sometimes complicated. If you know what their eligibility is, if you know what the priorities are and you clearly fit within that and you have a project to receive funding on, there should be no reason why you're not eligible to receive that support. You're probably going to go that direction anyway because that's your business, and if they can help you get there sooner and faster, fantastic.
Karina Inkster: So what kind of grants are these? I mean, if we're talking specifically about making veganism more mainstream as the general concept, and there are businesses who are working towards this. What are some examples or logistics around grants like these?
Cynthia Owen: Well, there's like $5 billion that is put out across the country every five years, plus or minus for the provincial governments to promote various aspects of the food industry. And the plant-based growers, there's no reason why they would not have access to them. So you want to bring in a new harvesting technology, you want to bring in a new manufacturing or food processing technology, and that's already on your game plan of what you intend to do. There will be, and there are grants that you can access to help you get there sooner. And if you're in a minority situation or even for women, there are grants where you want to step up and be in leadership. You can also get a grant to do that kind of thing. So there's just a really wide range of opportunities available.
Karina Inkster: Interesting. So this is specific to Canada, of course. Do you know offhand what it's like in the States or elsewhere when it comes to these types of grants?
Cynthia Owen: They're going to have very similar things, and in addition, there are private sources of funding that are doing similar things based on what they are looking to do. I always say, check out the websites of your industry departments and see what's up there, talk to anyone, talk to them, review the eligibility criteria, look at what their priorities are, and talk to any of the administrators and just get a sense for, "Hey, here's where I want to go. Will it fit?" Oftentimes, you'll get... Well, every time, you should get really good information back. And if you have the bandwidth to put together the project proposal and the spending plan, because you do have to be able to put together how the money is going to be spent, then you should be able to receive any kind of grants and contributions.
Karina Inkster: Interesting. So these are specific to businesses as opposed to grants for nonprofits?
Cynthia Owen: That's right. There grants for nonprofits and there are grants to support businesses. I mean, it's just another business structure.
Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm. Interesting. So have you worked with anyone who is in the vegan sphere or are there kind of businesses that you want to see in the vegan world?
Cynthia Owen: Well, yeah, sure. I'd love to see a restaurant, a really great vegan restaurant, be able to become a force across the country so that there's... The one thing about some of the chains is that you know there's a quality standard when you go to any of them across the country. I'd love to see a vegan restaurant become a national brand in that respect. So every time, whether I'm in Saskatchewan or in Nova Scotia, when I see that restaurant, I know, oh, great, I'm going to get my favourite meal there. Canadians, a lot of Canadians, still eat in restaurants or eat out a lot because we have busy lives, and it would be really great to see it happen that way too. As it becomes more mainstream, the cost of having a great vegan meal is going to go down.
Karina Inkster: Right. There's a couple in the states, something like Veggie Grill comes to mind, which is a chain which has presumably standardized quality and standardized dishes, and you know what to expect when you go in, but I can't think of an equivalent in Canada. So that's an interesting point. We have lots of chains, but none of them are vegan and some of them have pretty limited vegan options at this point.
Cynthia Owen: Yeah. So it'd be really great to see that happen as well. I'd just love for there to be a focus at the production side, on the farm production side, that is really going to look at a range of new products even to service my growing vegan industry.
Karina Inkster: Right. Well, coming from that type of a background, food production, agriculture, et cetera, what might that look like? Are we looking at more sustainable methods of growing crops? Are we looking at innovations in labs where folks are creating different types of foods? Is it kind of a combination of all these things?
Cynthia Owen: I think it's a combination of all of those things. And I'll give another example. We grew soybeans, white hilum soybeans on the farm where I grew up, and there was not a focus on that going into the local soy, tofu producing company or soy milk-producing company. It was focused on being usually exported. And I think there's the opportunity that Canadian manufacturing is missing, food production is missing by not focusing domestically on who we are and what we want to grow and how we want to feed ourselves.
Karina Inkster: That's a great point. Circling back to looking at the food guide and realizing that a lot of items are not local.
Cynthia Owen: Right? And for a big country with a small population in the North, I understand why we have these very aggressive trade policies, but we are more than mining, we are more than logging. We are more than commodity-based industries. There's a lot of intellectual capital, a lot of interesting people out here doing good things. So why aren't we focused on what we need for our own well-being?
Karina Inkster: Great point. So is there anything else in the food specifics realm, whether it comes to making veganism more mainstream or food production itself that we have missed or anything else in that area that you wanted to cover?
Cynthia Owen: Well, just mainstream. Again, I'm just thinking again, why are the institutions like a school, why is there not a healthy, great-tasting vegan meal at a school? There's just so many pieces of it.
Karina Inkster: Right, of course.
Cynthia Owen: Right? There's so many pieces that can be put together. But you've got the gist of, I guess, my views around that. Thank you.
Karina Inkster: Yes, of course. Well, you also mentioned a really interesting topic of being part of a cultural and global movement for women. So the work that you do is with female entrepreneurs. So how do you explain or how do you describe what this cultural movement is?
Cynthia Owen: Well, Karina, I'd say that a lot of it is already happening without perhaps us even being aware of it and naming it specifically. Over the last 2000 years, we've been in a highly masculine environment where you have to be logical, you have to not recognize that you have emotions and there's keep a stiff upper lip and keep going. And all of that has been good. I don't want to say there hasn't been a really good part of it, but it's like the difference between building a house and creating a home. And so this movement is really about how we as women and have been perhaps not fully expressed as women because we have been told to manage your emotions. Have you ever been told that?
Karina Inkster: Probably at some point. I can't remember any specifics, but yes. I'll say yes.
Cynthia Owen: Thank you. Or you're not somehow good enough. You need to do more. You need to be better. You need to look different. There's been a lot of cultural pressures on women to be something other than who we are. And so this global movement is part of the feminine power movement created by Dr. Claire Zammit, and it's really - we kind of as a group and as a training, we agree to these kind of new commitments and how we're going to show up in the world and how we're going to relate to each other. So instead of being in competition with each other for the trainer world, we actually see ourselves as bringing a unique gift as a trainer to our customers, and we amplify those who are doing what they do. So that's not a shared commitment, but that's just an example of how we might see the world differently.
I would say that would relate to a commitment where we are looking to celebrate more and amplify the good work and the brilliance being done by someone else and not somehow having to criticize them and tell them they're not enough. There's a way that you have a constructive conversation. It's not to say that we're not growing and evolving, but the starting point is, you're already enough. There's no one else you need to be. Starting point is that you were born with a unique genetic coding, if you like, and you're born to become this person and you're in the process of doing it. And so that's kind of one way that we are showing up.
And in terms of very often, the feminine way is to be caregivers and to nurture. We are in relationship with others, and in this work only, we kind of drop the caregiving. We're still always going to be caregivers, but we also include ourselves as needing to be care given, if you like. So we commit to being 100% responsible for ourselves, so you don't have to take care of me. I know what I need and I'm going to ask you, you trust that I will ask you for what I need, and I trust you you will ask me for what you need. And of course, in that place, nobody else gets to tell me what I need anymore, which was a way that some men have tried to be helpful, but yet they weren't really helpful. So it's a big part of a cultural movement. There's probably been 75 different countries, 100,000 women who've kind of gone through these shared commitments that I've started to talk about and are showing up in a new way like this.
Karina Inkster: Interesting. I like the concept of pushing back at this idea that we always need to be working on bettering ourselves, and there's something wrong with you and you need to fix A, B, and C. That's kind of how the whole fitness industry works, right? Oh, this is what's wrong with you, and by the way, we're selling the solution and here's how to fix yourself. So I like that this is pushing back at some of these ideas like you are 100% fine the way you are right now, and we need to accept that. And I think a lot of, I don't know if you want to call it personal development, but a lot of that realm of the world is about how we're not enough right now. And it sounds like what you're saying is you are.
Cynthia Owen: Yes, exactly. And that's a really great example, Karina, of how we're seeing the world differently.
Karina Inkster: Interesting.
Cynthia Owen: Yeah. And I would also say there's a kind of abundance like that you're not enough. There's kind of a scarcity mindset, and if you come from the place of you are already enough and you're growing and evolving and becoming even a better version of yourself, then there is a kind of inherent abundance about that and a really great kind of energy zone that you get into, if you like.
Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm. Isn't the view that we think differently, and we need resources specifically for women? Where do non-binary people fit in? I feel like it's a little gendered, for lack of a better term.
Cynthia Owen: Well, and it could be that all of us have both, and maybe you're right. There's a new evolution to expressing both sides of our personality, a linear energy, a more rounded, if you like, energy, a more in-relationship energy. And maybe we carry both of those, and maybe at one time or another in any given day, I'm expressing my masculine or my feminine energy, but I get to do both. And I wonder if that too wouldn't serve non-binary people. You don't have to call it masculine, feminine, you can just call it whatever you want, an energy state that feels right.
Karina Inkster: I like that because there are many cultures around the world that don't have this binary and that have a lot of different concepts of what gender means. Now, I'm not saying there shouldn't be resources and programs and ideals for folks who do connect as being a woman or who do identify with being female. I think we need that for sure. We've had lots of folks on the podcast talking about women in male-dominated industries and that kind of things, the resources they need, the work that's being done. But I like this idea of being open to, well, maybe it's really more about an energy and not really about a gender.
Cynthia Owen: Yeah, I appreciate that too. At the end of the day though, women carry the children. We have to nurture a child when we carry it, and I just wonder if we will ever get fully to the other side. Maybe we're always expressing a little bit more of one kind of energy than another, a nurture energy versus a builder energy.
Karina Inkster: Well, I don't carry any child. I'm child-free by choice. I do not have any of that nurture gene in me. So I see your point. I mean, there's a biology to it, but I don't identify with that myself. Just saying. Just saying.
Cynthia Owen: Yet you are a fantastic coach.
Karina Inkster: Well, thank you.
Cynthia Owen: And trainer. And I just wonder if some of that energy is what you bring to your clients. I'm very sure it is.
Karina Inkster: Perhaps. Perhaps. Yep, you could look at it that way, for sure. What are some of the things that you're working on right now? I know that you have a book club and you have a financial mastery program. Can you tell me a little bit about these things?
Cynthia Owen: Yeah, sure. So my big vision for Beyond the Story coaching is to really help women entrepreneurs step out of the very scarcity-based kind of old model of business and into this bigger abundance kind of business model. And often, what happens is we overlook certain things as women, we're really focused on the day-to-day operations. We forget to take care of our financials, we forget to take care of ourselves. So my seven-month financial mastery program for fempreneurs is really structured to help women business owners set aside a little bit of time every month where you're going to look at a specific part of your profit and loss statement and get really comfortable with how it works in your business.
We have a part of that program, of course, every month, it's a circle. It's a facilitated circle for women business owners who are highly motivated to really get their business to the next level. And in those circles, people get to bring... The women get the business owners to bring forth challenges and celebrations and things they're proud of, things they're working on. They get to have a mastermind from the others who are there. And in the bonding of a sisterhood of women building their businesses has been really a powerful thing to be part of. So that's the financial mastery for fempreneurs. I call it claim the soul of your business because it's really bringing the energy of who you are, who you're meant to be, and the gifts you have through the business that you're launching, that business that you're working through.
So that's that one. I want to start Go Beyond the Story Book Club. That'll be the first time I launch it this year, and that is going to be every month. They’ve carefully selected a set of books for those women business owners who love to read and then take away ideas and implement them in their business. So we'll have an opportunity to discuss those and how it's working. So it's really going beyond the story and building and growing and amplifying your business. There is, of course, a little surprise box attached to every month's book and that it's all part of the fun.
Karina Inkster: That's very cool.
Cynthia Owen: Yeah. And then the last thing, I offer workshops and I have a connections-based marketing pulling together all the pieces where we're actually putting together at the end of this three-hour workshop, a 13-week marketing plan, and you'll also be ready to submit a spending plan to the Canadian Digital Adaptation Program. So it kind of combined both the brilliance of a bonded group of women in a circle, up-leveling and trying out their messages on others, masterminding their implementation strategies with others. And then, oops, here I go. I can apply for a grant. And they're not large grants, but it's an easy process to get through.
Karina Inkster: Very cool.
Cynthia Owen: So those are a couple of things that I have going on right now.
Karina Inkster: Well, just a couple of the 18 different things that you do at any given time.
Cynthia Owen: Yeah, and then of course, I do have just one-on-one coaching for businesswomen in particular. They may run into a particular problem or crisis. This is what happens sometimes, and they just need some place to go that's confidential, that's safe, that somebody who knows about your industry, but not as much as you, but can help guide and hold the space for you to work through and fix your problem. So I do that kind of work as well.
Karina Inkster: Amazing. Well, as always, we are going to have show notes where our listeners can connect with you, Cynthia. And it was fantastic speaking with you. Thanks so much for coming on the show.
Cynthia Owen: Well, thank you so much, Karina, for having me. It's been a great honour to be part of your movement.
Karina Inkster: Cynthia, thank you again for our discussion. Much appreciated. Access our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/155 to connect with Cynthia. And don't forget to check out our fitness and nutrition coaching programs at karinainkster.com/coaching. Thanks so much for listening.