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NBSV 116


Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 116

Can dogs be vegan? A discussion with Laura Simonson of Virchew

Karina Inkster: You're listening to the No Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 116. Laura Simonson of Virchew, which produces plant-based meals and treats for dogs, speaks with me today about a host of different topics, including the myth that dogs are carnivores, running her company, and research that's been done on dogs eating vegan diets.

Hey there. Welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go-to, no BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. My awesome guest today is Laura Simonson, whom I met many years ago when I still lived in Vancouver - and it's about time that I had her on the show! So I'm super happy she's here. Laura knows a thing or two about feeling a tug of passion when eyeing a new venture; the relentless entrepreneur within guided Laura through decades of success in real estate, sales, marketing and management, fitness studio ownership, business development, venture capital, event production, website development and design, and communications. Over 25 years ago in Saskatchewan, Laura created, financed, and managed the first health and lifestyle studio of its kind. It was a one-stop-shop that offered life-changing programs in personal development, fitness, nutrition, and meditation. Her knack and passion for predicting trends in natural health, fitness, and plant-based diets continues with the development of Virchew.

Based in Vancouver, BC, Virchew is the first producer of 100% plant-based meals and treats for dogs, powered by trail-blazing veterinary partnerships and nutrition programs, always delivered right to your dog's door, by the way.

Laura says, ‘Virchew is not a dog food company. We create food for dogs, a subtle yet powerful distinction. We've created these foods, not only because of the exploding plant-based market, but due to the skin and digestive issues that up to 50% of dogs are experiencing due to many unhealthy animal foods that are filled with preservatives and degraded animal proteins.” After a decade of research and development, along with a team of experienced entrepreneurs, business specialists, veterinary professionals, and board-certified veterinary nutritionists, Laura began meticulously creating the formulation of Virchew. The strategy was set in place to position Virchew as a new canine nutrition and lifestyle movement. One where not only our companion dogs live and thrive on a plant-based diet, but so do those who love and care for them.

When Laura's not leading Virchew’s daily business development, she's running the ocean pathways, hiking the rainforest with her spirited border collie Siva, doing a TRX workout, or searching for her next delicious vegan food experience. Laura lives on the west coast in Vancouver, BC with her partner, Gord, and Siva, a self-proclaimed top dog at Virchew. Laura's favourite vegan meal is anything Asian, especially the satay noodles at Do Chay, which is a restaurant in Vancouver, that my friend Holly is constantly telling me about. So I am for sure gonna check that out next time I'm in the big city. Hope you enjoy my conversation with Laura.

Hey, Laura. Nice to speak with you. Thanks for coming on the show.

Laura Simonson: Thank you Karina. Looking forward to this.

Karina Inkster: This is awesome. We have connected in the past and it's been a while. So this is almost gonna be like a little mini catch-up session and just kind of see what happens. We've got a lot of bullshit busting to do. We've got a lot of catching up with what you've been up to with your business. So I think we should just jump right in. Our listeners have heard your bio. They kind of know your basic background, but what they might know is the beginnings or the background story of your business Virchew and how that started, how long it's been. So maybe we can kind of dive into that a little bit. Is that cool?

Laura Simonson: Absolutely. Yeah. Real summary of it because it's a long, long journey that started way back in 1989.

Karina Inkster: Wow.

Laura Simonson: And I'm in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which is, you know, where I grew up and was raised. And I saw a book on a shelf in a very odd store that said vegetarian cats and dogs. And I thought, did I just get, you know, time-warped to a different planet or that sort of thing? And it stuck. I was on my own journey. I was at the time, working in dietetics at a senior's home. I was a bodybuilder. I had athletics from my background and really, it just stuck. I thought, I love animals. I grew up with animals. They were big from my childhood. And I realized at that point that myself looking at vegetarian - there was no vegan word then - and I went, this is, there's time. There's something here that I need to look at in the right time.

And several years later, I'm in Calgary now I've got my own personal training studio, my own programs running, et cetera. And I decide I'm gonna create 12-week programs that were based on feeding people vegetarian food and teaching people vegetarian back then. And my dog was always at the studio and in programs. And so everybody was like, so excited about Shanty the border collie. And she was a vegetarian dog. And I had done my research. So I called a veterinarian friend in Calgary at the time. I said, what do you think of vegetarian dogs? And she said, well, I sell the food in my clinic. So yes, of course. And there were many reasons for that. And so anyways, then another nine, 10 years later I realized that there's nothing on the market.

Karina Inkster: Hmm.

Laura Simonson: And there started not only for myself and people like me that were searching for foods for their dogs that were healthier and potentially plant-based, but they were also looking in what we've done over many years, that was found out through veterinarians, that there are no solutions for food sensitivities for dogs, that come about in things like skin issues and digestive issues. So it's been a long, long journey. And then we decided to just take the leap and begin down the road of developing the first plant-based food for dogs that is supported by veterinary science. And we say science, I mean, it's not really there yet. And we can talk a bit about that as we're going forward.

Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Well, thank you for that background. So I think we need a little bit more in the background sphere as well - cuz some of our listeners, most of whom are vegan by the way, they're all in the vegan sphere somewhere, whether they're newbies or they're interested, or they're super long term pro-vegans - so I think even in the group of folks who have been vegan for a long time, there's still a lot of misunderstanding around pets and lots of different viewpoints also on even having pets in the first place. But that's a whole other discussion. So why don't we tackle the myth that dogs are carnivores because they're actually not; they're descended from animals that presumably were or are carnivores. So can you speak to that a little bit? I think that's kind of the first kind of gut reaction that a lot of people have when they hear vegetarian or vegan food for dogs. Wait! Aren't they carnivores? What’s the deal there?

Laura Simonson: It's kind of the same as when we would've said this 30 years ago about us going vegan. That sort of reaction.

Karina Inkster: Right! Absolutely.

Laura Simonson: That we need meat, you know, we all grew up on that of course, for the most part. You know, dogs are considered non-obligate carnivores. So although they are in the order Carnivora, they're not considered carnivores. And if you were to ask any veterinarian, if they've gone to school, which they have, and they're brilliant people, they are taught, you know, dogs are not obligate carnivores. They do their scavenger style, whereas cats are more carnivore. They are carnivores, a true carnivore. So with dogs, they're not considered a true carnivore. They're more omnivorous like we are and they have actually evolved. And there have been some good studies there. One good study that was showing that dogs are able to actually, you know, digest up to 98% of the carbohydrates that they consume. And so it really has been, like us and like we hear in the human literature, or the human belief versus literature, is that dogs need meat, humans need meat, need it to survive. And that's not the case. They're not true, true carnivores.

Karina Inkster: And I think a lot of people who hear the term omnivore assume that it means that an omnivore needs both plant material and animal product material when actually really doesn’t it more means that you could thrive on either or both?

Laura Simonson: Yeah, exactly. And our goal this way, really Karina was to say, can we show that plant-based food for dogs can be what would be considered as good as a meat-based diet for dogs? That was our goal. And that's what we're achieving so far. And so absolutely you're right. You know, to say that just like humans, you know, you should just eat plants, that's it, that depends on the person, obviously, in their belief system and where they're at in their journey. You know, certainly, I was on that journey for a long while. It took me a long time to convert, you know, and now that I'm completely eating plants, I realize this is crazy. What took me so long? So anyway, yeah, so it's the same as the human trajectory really, with dogs. And so dogs can absolutely thrive on plants. And then I put some information there when I'd emailed you, Karina, with regards to the one question that I ask. And so maybe once we go down this bit, I'll get into that once you talk.

Karina Inkster: Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I was just gonna say that, I feel like there are probably multiple reasons why someone as a dog guardian would be interested in having their pet on a vegetarian or a vegan diet. And so you mentioned allergies or intolerances. Kind of like skin issues or digestive issues. Are those happening often on animal products, and then one of the reasons that someone might have a vegan diet for their dog is because of sensitivities or allergies?

Laura Simonson: Absolutely. And very well known in the veterinary industry that potentially up to - it could be higher - but say like 35% of food allergies have been linked to beef, chicken, you know, dairy and that sort of thing, in dogs. And then the rest could be environmental, rest could be genetic. There's so many different things that could be going on for that dog that causes inflammation, which therefore causes the reaction to food.

Karina Inkster: Right.

Laura Simonson: But there is a very, very high possibility that if your dog is suffering from a constant skin issue, you know, ear issues, potentially even some eye issues, or a digestive issue that's mysterious, they can't figure out, they don't know why the dog's having it, when they go on plant-based foods, for some reason, they're showing it actually does stop those issues. And certainly, we're seeing that. And many vegan kibbles that I've read about over the years are causing that as well for dogs, to have their issues gone like just gone and they're thriving. That's the other part, you know, they're thriving. So, you know, you can see, there are some decent studies there that are showing for sure that dogs do have sensitivities to animal-based proteins.

Karina Inkster: Much like humans in many cases.

Laura Simonson: Absolutely.

Karina Inkster: Interesting. Well, let's go back to this question that you ask about research. So you mentioned, you know, it's a scientific approach. Clearly, there's studies involved. There's vets involved who have, you know, legitimate qualifications obviously. So what is this question that you ask when it comes to research about vegan dogs?

Laura Simonson: Yeah. Like, you know, when people ask us, where's the research? And it’s what it’s like with human nutrition, where's the research? And I know you've written books, you know, on this about where's the research? And I realize now, once I discovered when I started to go down the road for vegan research, vegan dog research, it's limited.

Karina Inkster: Of course.

Laura Simonson: And part of it is, well, there's gonna be the obvious: it's new, right? It's relatively new where it would be going to more of the masses if you will. And so the research is just really limited. So as I'm going through this, it's just a constant people asking, you gotta prove it. You gotta prove that. And I'm going well, I do, and we do want to as a business here. Part of our business and the science and social aspect of this, our goal is to create the nutrition programs which are actually feeding trials, which creates data that these dogs are thriving on, right? So they do the blood tests, they do the urine analysis and we can show that they're thriving on food.

That's not there yet. It's done behind the doors in some of the corporations that the larger Corp that are testing it for hypo-allergenic would be the term of course in the veterinary industry. And they only need to test a certain amount of dogs, and if those dogs are okay on it, do okay on it, then they can put that out as a product. And that's just on they go. And as you can probably imagine within the dog food research and production, there's not very many high standards. And I don't mean this to one company or any one thing, but the standards are low, to say the least.

So what we're suggesting is let's take that out of behind the doors, which could be beagles that are in cages and things like that. Let's put it to you and I have got our beautiful dogs, we take them to the veterinarian. We go through a 12-week program. We follow the 12-week programs, maybe a year, two years. And you can do blood work, your analysis, and body composition, and just follow them. We can then show that there's research and it's being done because you and I, we're partaking in that. We're not just saying somebody else is gonna do it for us. So there's a really wonderful opportunity there for all of us, whether the veterinary industry, or people like us that want to show that this does exist, but that's lacking yet.

So that's what we're laying the groundwork for. Setting up protocols. We're actually in the process of setting up an actual study where we want to work with a veterinary nutritionist who, they're board-certified, that we would actually do a study. So that's forthcoming. So the question that I always come back with, and this is the same thing with the human question, well, where do you get your protein and all those typical things that we get. And how do you know that this is good? Or can you prove it? And I always come back with, is there one study that shows that we can't thrive on vegan food? Is there one study that shows that dogs cannot thrive on vegan foods? So these are the questions. And there isn't one.

Karina Inkster: Hmm.

Laura Simonson: There are no studies. So I go back with that. And certainly, if there was enough resistance out there, you'd think somebody at some university or some dog company who would be pro-animal based, or maybe now what's coming is insect-based, that they would want to show that it doesn't work, you see? But they don’t. Why? Their business model's working and they're fine. And they're all doing their work. So nobody's done that. So there isn't one though that shows that it isn’t. Even anecdotally, there isn't anything on mass by any means, stretch of the imagination that shows that dogs can't thrive on plant-based foods.

Karina Inkster: Well, that's very interesting! You know, I think just to kinda poke this idea with a needle a little bit, I think after a certain point when there is a large body of research, which obviously doesn't exist yet, but it will eventually - we're getting to that point in veganism. I don't think it's quite there yet, but, you know, for humans I mean, veganism and yep, long-term studies and stuff. I feel like at some point there will be a study that does not support all the other research out there. And that could be for many reasons. That could be because it was funded by the dairy farmers of Canada or who knows what it could be - faulty statistics. It could be the way that they designed their study. Maybe it wasn't experimental. So I think at this point, it totally makes sense because the research is so new, every single study that comes out is gonna have some major clout here, but I feel like a certain point, you know, it's kind of like getting one, one-star review out of 600 five star reviews, right?

Laura Simonson: I hear you. And that's the part where you know, partly it would be kind of good cause some things even bad maybe - not bad, but the opposite opinion of what many would want to see comes out - it actually makes us find better science.

Karina Inkster: Yeah, of course. That's part of the process.

Laura Simonson: It makes us go down the route of doing other things.

Karina Inkster: Absolutely. It makes you question also the studies that have shown what we're all on board with already. How were they done? What are the methods? What kind of statistics did they use? Who were the subjects? How long did it last? Like all of these kinds of really important questions.

Laura Simonson: For sure. For sure Karina. So, no, it’s true. And it could very welcome about, and again, I really do welcome any research because let's just go for it. Then we can go, what parameters did they use? And what did they - there is an issue already within you know, having to do with pea protein and dogs. If you were to check out anything with USDA, or the FDA rather, they opened up a study a couple of years ago saying maybe that there was pea protein being linked to maybe a small, tiny amount of dogs that have something called DCM - dilated cardiomyopathy. And it's just like, almost would be impossible that it would be pea protein. Like, it's just a crazy thought that it would be pea protein, but somehow it's like the soy you know, the whole, the pseudoscience thing that came about that has ruined the reputation of soy for a couple of decades.

Karina Inkster: Right.

Laura Simonson: You know, this brought up a lot of big questions and even some veterinarians that where their clinics are owned by not them anymore, but they're owned by either a public or a private corporation, that they are being told that they can't recommend pea protein products to dogs.

Karina Inkster: Hmm.

Laura Simonson: And so of course we right away just, whoa, this is crazy. You know, who would've thought, right, that we'd have some sort of investigation into pea protein. Basically the FDA, it was just stuck for a long time. And all the veterinary nutritionists are not even divided. There's more on the side of saying, this is crazy. That's not what's showing in the literature. They don't know. Anyways, but we felt this is good. At least it brings up things that we can start to look at and we can start to learn from.

So for me, it might look like you know, oh, that's tough. That's hard. You guys have pea protein in your product. Yeah, we do. But the odds are, it's like talking about would soy actually cause a thyroid issue in somebody. We don't know. It's very, very rare, very odd if it did, but they would know if they can’t have it. They have goiter problems, they have all those things, right? Then they'd have to deal with that at a different level. But it's not everybody. It's like saying celiac means everybody should be eating gluten-free. Well, that's not the case. So we just see it as an opportunity. We see it as let's bring some better science here. Let's start to do some studies ourselves because there weren't any vegetarian foods linked to this.

Karina Inkster: Of course. Yep. That makes sense. So is there a parallel here when we're feeding our dogs vegan diets to when humans make the transition to veganism? Like, you know, we always tell our clients just cuz your vegan doesn't mean you're improving your health and you know, some people go vegan for zero health reasons, which is perfectly legitimate. When I went vegan, health was not on the radar. It was a hundred percent ethics.

Laura Simonson: Okay. Yeah.

Karina Inkster: But you know, in the scheme of things, nowadays especially when people are going plant-based or more plant-based for environmental reasons, also for health reasons, possibly also athletic performance reasons now, you know just cuz you're vegan, doesn't automatically mean you're getting all of the micronutrients you need. I mean, you could sit around and eat french fries and Oreos all day and there's nothing inherently wrong with those. But if you're eating those a hundred percent of the time, that's probably not totally in line with your health goals, right? So it does take some level of effort. Is it similar when we feed our dogs a vegan diet? Like, do we really need to be on it? Do we need to have like vet support? What’s the deal?

Laura Simonson: It's a whole different game than humans, right? So the good news is, and I consistently say this with dogs that were in our feeding trials and that will be in our nutrition programs, is dogs can't cheat.

Karina Inkster: Ha! Right!

Laura Simonson: So they can't go to the fridge and pick up the ice cream. Nora's my favourite - strawberry, what can I say? I just, lose it on a lot of that. But the dog can't go in and cheat. Most of the time the foods that are developed have been developed to, you know, high-quality veterinary nutrition standards. And that would mean their standards. It doesn't necessarily mean that they've been manufactured that way, but they need to be balanced on paper, right? Then you take it further into there's AFCO. AFCO has to do with the feeding control and basically, they still control kind you know, what levels of nutrition they, the dogs and the cats, require and certainly other animals that are agricultural animals.

With pet food, it's really important to have a complete and balanced diet. It really is. It is for us, for sure, right? So if you're talking about eating a diet that you'd be recommending with those really important supplements that we need, versus like you said, having French fries and Oreos, it's the same thing as a dog. So if we do try to feed them at home and not balance it with a supplement, you could be setting your dog up for nutrition deficiency of some sort, because it is important. To balance it just with food is very difficult.

Karina Inkster: Well it’s the same for humans, especially for vegans.

Laura Simonson: Exactly. We need iodine. We need the vitamin D, we need, you know, the things like that are that are a little bit tougher. Anybody needs it, right?

Karina Inkster: Yeah. that’s true.

Laura Simonson: That's not just for plant-based. So those are the things that are good about a vegan diet for dogs is that the kibbles are definitely, you know, the ones that I've seen, say V Dog, and they’re, you know, certainly ones in North America, there's another one called Wild Earth, they're doing the right things. They're creating some good food and they're complete and balanced. And so this is good. And certainly, that's our thing. We are working with veterinary nutritionists. We are going to ensure that the supplement is vegan, it's custom-made for us. We, you know, all of our foods are all dehydrated and fresh, dried kinds of ingredients. And we mix it with that supplement and we have a complete and balanced diet. So it's easier to do that for your dog than it is for yourself, really, I would say, So yeah, that would be, I'm not sure that answered the question, but I think was that along the lines?

Karina Inkster: Yeah. Just, just kind of like, you know, there might be a couple of extra things to consider perhaps, but are people generally feeding their dog - I mean, I'm not a dog person. I'm not averse to dogs. I just don't have a dog, so I have no experience at all.

Laura Simonson: Right, right.

Karina Inkster: So, I mean, do folks usually have like a main type of food that they feed their dog, like kibble, for example, which could be from your brand, and then there's kind of like other extras that come into the picture and those could easily be all plant-based?

Laura Simonson: Oh yeah. So I think your question, you mean like, so the kibble is most common.

Karina Inkster: Yeah.

Laura Simonson: The other thing of course that's been happening for the last few years is raw diet.

Karina Inkster: Right.

Laura Simonson: And for the most part, veterinarians are just not in on that one. It's a really tough one obviously. And, you know, certainly having raw meats and things like that around in your kitchen, like there's a lot of things there can be issues with regards to safety and things like that. But the main ones are definitely kibble, a high-quality kibble. Like people think I got a high-quality kibble and we really don't know what that means anymore. I mean, you'd have to have it tested to know what that means, to be high quality. They might say they use high-quality ingredients, but I don't know, we don't know.

So kibble and raw are more or less the ones that most people do, but the reasons why people are switching: number one usually has to do they're coming to us with regards to they're not vegan and that they are people that just have a dog that has issues because chances are that dog's got terrible skin issues or terrible digestion.

Karina Inkster: Mm. Interesting.

Laura Simonson: And those are the two main reasons that people certainly are coming. And we're seeing some really good turnaround things happening. The other is vegan, is it? Yes, mostly it is. I just can't do it. I can't be my dog that, but I really love sharing a life with my dog. And so for them, they just really don't want to feed even the kibble because they know that still, that kibble still is using animal products. It still is part of the problem. It's a big part of the problem. The pet industry is a huge part of the emissions, 70 million tons of it per year. So if we really look at how much that is, it's a lot. So people don't want to.

So those would be the two things that we're seeing the most. And then there's a third one, which I was really surprised by: people that aren't vegan, but they want a healthier option for their dogs. So what's occurring, I believe, is that we're seeing so much good marketing with regards to vegan plant-based being healthy that I think it's starting to make us think, well, if it is healthy, it could be good for my dog. So there's a new category that I didn't know would be there. I'm glad to see it. That group that is coming in just saying, I want my dog to be on the healthiest food. And we go, well, we believe this is really healthy. We’re not gonna say it's the healthiest, cuz we've got to do our own testing. We're not ever gonna - there's no spinning. I'm not capable of that. And we're not here to do that. We're here to say, we're gonna do our best to bring you the most pure, healthy food that we can put together for your dog, complete and balanced, and then we're gonna test it to make sure.

Karina Inkster: I love that. Yep. Yep. Yep. That's really great. That there is, I mean, obviously there's a journey here to where the business is coming from and where it's going. And the fact that it includes built-in research and trials is super important. I think that’s major.

Laura Simonson: And no one's doing it besides the ones that have to do it behind the scenes. And you know, that's important to have at least some research and they're doing some work with universities, which is great. The part is let's go plants! Let’s go plant-based! And because it's well, like everything, it's sustainable. It causes more life. More plants breathe more life. Like if we do all that, if we make these changes for animals, we can make a huge difference.

Karina Inkster: Well, one of the points that you had on our kind of, you know, a roster of ideas was the impact that eating vegan, either just your dog or along with your dog, can cause. So, I mean, are these kinds of environmental and emissions issues? I'm sure there's more in this category as well.

Laura Simonson: Good question. And you know, it's interesting cause that's what we're setting up for next year is what is our message? Because it's so important. There's a lot of noise out there, obviously. How do we get through our message? And for me, I've always felt so happy when I'm doing it with my dog. And I know that as I hear other stories of people that are, you know, customers and are sharing how good it feels for them.

So there’s a few things. So what we're looking at in Veganuary is having like those impact stories: me and my dog. Here's the impact that we can have if we eat less meat. Here's the impact if we eat no meat. And you know, those sort of stories so we can show, based on what we do see as studies so far, is to take as much of that information and say, well, here's what it could be. There's a difference you could be making for the climate. Here's the difference obviously you could be making because less animals are being killed.

And then the other is what you just said. There's something really deep. It's a lot deeper than just what we see, which is health. You know, it's excellent, wonderful, cuz we are getting healthier. There's nothing better than that. If your children are healthier because of eating great plant-based foods and then if your dogs are healthy, you don't have the vets, the fear, all of those things, cause the dogs can't tell you what's wrong. That's even tougher. And so those are really important and valid. But we always tend to look on the outside of things. But what about those inside things? And those inside things are the power of not having anything on your plate or in your dog's bowl that has contributed to violence or anger or death in any way.

There's something very powerful, and it's up to every person individually will have their own, maybe spiritual feeling about that, maybe their own emotional wellness about that. But it certainly has made a difference in my life. Because if that's not in my home or it's not in the dog's bowl, it feels so, it's aligned with my values and my soul and my heart. And that to me, we underestimate. I believe that's what keeps our world in its foundation that it is; that we aren't going crazy over what's occurring or that it's not worse than it is. I think that there's a human force and there's a bond that we share with nature and with animals that keep this power of love and kindness and respect and compassion. That's what fuels our world every day.

It's not the news. It's not CNN. It's not Fox news. It's not CBC. It's us. It's our lives. And we forget how deep and important it is. It's powerful, but we don't know how to talk about it cuz it's intangible almost, right? And so to me, that's where the depth of what we're doing comes from. What I've been doing my entire life is working towards that, finding that alignment in everything that I do, everything that I say. So it's so important for me. I asked the question, our mission and our vision of the statement would be: what’s the right thing to do? And I think that if we all ask ourselves that question, there's no question that the answer I think would be, well, we shouldn't kill. Well, we shouldn’t. No. I think that would be an automatic answer. What's the right thing to do, right? So it's just having that as a barometer if you will. I use that all the time. What's the right thing to do in this situation? And always, we would know, or we would change I think. We would change a lot if we just sat and asked ourselves those questions more often.

Karina Inkster: That is pretty powerful. I think a lot of people inherently know what is the right option, what is in line with their values, but then they have barriers to those things. And one of which might be well, dogs are carnivores, which we know is a myth. But do you kind of find that? That there are folks out there who they know deep down this is what they wanna do, whether it's vegan food for their dog, whether it's making the transition to veganism themselves, but then there's all these external, not really barriers, but concepts or myths that are keeping them from doing it?

Laura Simonson: The belief systems are exactly the same trajectory as a human. You know, as in, when we go, oh, well we should eat meat, we shouldn't eat meat, culturally it's tradition, we have to have turkey. All of those things that we're dealing with this time of year are one of the tougher ones for us, as vegetarians, vegans to watch. And to see that, you know, these belief systems, which obviously become myths, right? I love the song superstition because to me, it’s superstition and because it's not true fact. It's superstition and beliefs that do stop us from making these choices. It used to be when I first started this Karina, it would've been a while ago when I would've seen you here more often in the Vancouver vegan culture, there'd be a lot of pushback. Oh, dogs, you know, that's just crazy. Not now. It's less. It's significant.

Karina Inkster: Wow. That's even in just a couple of years. I mean, haven't been away from Vancouver that long - three years, maybe. So even that has made a difference, hey?

Laura Simonson: Big difference. And I think COVID was a big one. I think we stopped and thought more. I think we are. And I think sometimes that's the tougher part about what we just were sharing earlier, is that when we stop to think, sometimes it's kind of scary.

Karina Inkster: Yeah.

Laura Simonson: Oh my God. I would have to make a change. Oh my God, that means I gonna have a different friend. My friendship will have to change. My work relationships might have to change. There's so many things that happen when we start to break down those myths and those belief systems that we've been taught, right? And that's a tough gig. That's not easy and we have to do it slow sometimes. And I have, you know, in the concept that I think there's so many things that are beautiful to talk about in the vegan world, and so potent and profound right now.

And I think one of the toughest ones is when we do something overnight, when we do a vegan switch overnight, it's hard. I think that's where a lot of emotional unwellness can happen. A lot of anger, a lot of fear. So I get why some people do wanna take it slower and do wanna work on those beliefs for a while, whether or not it's about their dog being carnivore or themselves being a carnivore; it takes some time for us to work through that. And I think it's really important for us as leaders in the vegan community to be really, really compassionate that we went through the same thing.

Karina Inkster: Right.

Laura Simonson: That is so, so important for us, that anger can't work.

Karina Inkster: Well and it's really in the interest of making a long-term change, right? So hey, for the two percent of folks, it might work for cold turkey, go nuts. But for most folks, in the interest of making these changes for the rest of your life, some level of, you know, thinking about it, some level of slower adoption perhaps of habits, is actually are gonna lead to a better result than just immediately doing a 180 and just changing overnight.

Laura Simonson: I think so. I think so. I think emotionally and certainly well, and I think there are many things you know, friendship-wise or relationship-wise, it can be really hard on that, right?

Karina Inkster: Absolutely.

Laura Simonson: And then certainly physical even. You know, doing it slower, our bodies can adjust, but it does take some time. With the dogs it takes time to transition them. You know, in some cases it takes a little bit longer and then, all of a sudden they're, oh, I'm better. I'm good. You know, and it's just like us.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. That makes sense. So where's your business at, at this point? Like, are you still, I feel like I should know this, but are you still developing, or is the product ready to go?

Laura Simonson: Oh, no. We've been selling for a year. Yeah. This is Virchew. So we're in Virchew HQ, which is in Kitsilano.

Karina Inkster: Awesome.

Laura Simonson: On west fourth, and we are producing. We have our own blending. We basically blend the dry blend. And then we deliver from here. So we've been working now for a year with we did a special customer club offer, which was really a market test to really understand not only what was happening for the dogs but what was happening for the humans. And so that's gone extremely well. And now we've been opening it up. We were just in the big Planted Expo here in Vancouver. And that was a really, really great event for us and has brought about dozens of new customers. So we're really happy with that. And so yeah, things are going really well. We have a goal to do extremely well here in Vancouver and will be offering shipping across Canada here in the next while. And then from there, we intend to be the same model down the left west coast of North America.

Karina Inkster: That's amazing. Well, Laura, congrats, seriously, on your business and success so far. It's just like, I know that there's a need out there. You've tapped into it. You're doing all the right things with background research and market research, looking at the dogs themselves and their humans. I mean, it's pretty amazing. So kudos to you and thank you so much for coming on the show. It was fantastic speaking with you.

Laura Simonson: Thanks for asking me, really. Thank you very much, Karina, and wonderful holiday.

Karina Inkster: Thank you. You as well!

Laura, thank you again for speaking with me. I'm super happy that I could finally have you on the show. Head to our show notes at to connect with Laura and check out Virchew. And if you're a new listener or you just haven't gotten to it yet, please leave a star rating and a quick review on Apple Podcasts or whatever podcast platform you use, as that is the best and most effective way of supporting this show. Thank you so much for tuning in.

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