Beyond Fashion x Hot For Food: Veganism, Blogging and the Love of Food with Lauren Toyota

Photo by Vanessa Heins

Vegan culture has taken the western world by storm in recent years. From the shift in food culture to a spike in high fashion vegan couture. People are beginning to understand the value veganism brings to society and how it can create positive change for the future to come. Beyond Fashion Magazine sat down with Lauren Toyota, the face of the widely successful vegan blog Hot For Food.

Lauren and I couldn’t decide on what to get so we just ordered a bunch of things off the menu. Dishes included Cauliflower tots, eggplant lasagna, Thai noodle salad, truffle fries and a couple cocktails. Definitely 10/10

(Marcus): In your words, how would you describe Veganism?  

(Lauren): Well, it’s just living a life that is cruelty free. But I don’t like to define it so much – I think that there is a journey involved in veganism. I don’t think you can say “I’m 100% vegan” in all ways right at this second and have that not change. Not the most concise description, but I definitely don’t like to put a lot of definition around it – so basically living as cruelty free as you can right now.

When you say live more cruelty free, does that relate to all aspects of life – so not just food, but also clothing etc.?

Definitely, I think the big picture veganism surely includes everything. But I’d like to get rid of that idea of “perfection’ or “rules” because its unachievable to say you’re going to be 100% vegan in all aspects of your life tomorrow. I certainly didn’t start that way. I started with food, and worked my way into other things like makeup and clothing – and I’m still not 100%. I know I do the best that I can, and most aspects of my life fall under the spectrum of veganism but there are things that slip through the cracks. But I do things like not purchasing honey, wool, new leather – I’m very careful with my purchasing habits. Again, I want to dismantle this idea of perfection, because it really isn’t helping the cause at all.

Lauren Toyota

Have you always been vegan?

No, but I did set a date as to when I’d start – January 1st 2010. At that point, I transitioned and starting eliminating things out of my diet. Before that though, I was vegetarian from about age 12. I never felt good about eating meat or dairy, but it did take me a long time to eliminate dairy. But in general eating meat just felt weird and I couldn’t bring myself to keep doing it.

What are the challenges you’ve faced with this lifestyle change, or from what you’ve seen other people face?

I think my biggest challenge at the beginning was asking myself “am I doing enough?”. I was eating vegan okay fine, but what else could I do. From that question though I almost told myself to stay where I was because doing anything more would be too difficult. So, for about a year I kept the fact that I was vegan private because I didn’t want people judging me on everything that I was doing – because that’s what happened to me, and to a lot of people I know. But because I worked for television, I took the opportunity and my platform to do a segment for MTV Canada on the subject. I think it’s really important that with Hot For Food I show people it’s okay not to be perfect, and you won’t be judged – but to be a part of an open space that is relaxed and welcoming.

Lauren Toyota

Do you think the idea of plant-based products being a substitute for meat creates barriers between vegans and non-vegans?

People have the skepticism that being vegan means you’re just eating salad, or bland rice, or quinoa (people are really scared of this one for some reason – I think it’s the name). There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to turn people onto food. Good food is good food no matter what it’s made of. But you can go a level deeper and say, “sure that steak tastes good but does it make me feel good in every aspect?” – and maybe you do, to each their own but I know a lot of people that don’t.

And really, the meat only tastes good because it’s seasoned with plants…

Exactly, I’m just trying to educate people that plants are not boring, and that there is so much variety in the plant world versus the meat world. Of course, it’s difficult to get the same “mouth-feel” like a steak, but with tofu – everyday I’m learning new techniques that will eventually lead me to that result. But see the movement to dismantle the stereotype is happening. You see restaurants like Planta and probably most people in here aren’t even vegan – curiosity definitely plays a big factor, but when people try it, they love it. So, the movement is happening, it’s just taking some time to really takeoff.

Photo by Vanessa Heins

While in my own transitioning process, I’ve seen a lot of arguments around veganism as being a healthy lifestyle, but I heard less about the ethics behind the practice. Why do you think that is, or isn’t based on your own experiences?

I think it goes back to the question “what are people going to be more receptive to?”. We all are trying to better ourselves first before bettering the world around us. I think there’s a domino effect regardless, but people aren’t necessarily going to respond to deforestation, water toxicity – we all know there are environmental problems but sometimes it seems bigger than us. One of the most important things you can do however is eat more plant-based. In some ways ethics does become a secondary message since people resonate with personal health a lot more than an animal dying of starvation or sickness in a barn somewhere in the Midwest. But once you’re into veganism the domino effect becomes more apparent, and you take on a greater consciousness of your role in the cause as a whole.

In terms of ethics, do you think films like Okja are good in respect to addressing issues of animal cruelty?

I was so moved by Okja, and I really do think that type of format is the best way to capture people. Whether or not the writers first mission was to change the world and get people to understand that animals are being treated badly – that movie entertained you. Despite the message, you really connected with the characters in the film – it humanized the animals in a way that was very touching.

Speaking of the factory farm industry, flip the script – in a lot of ways veganism has sort of become an industry of itself. Do you have any feedback to how corporate vegan culture is run?

This is really interesting and something we’re faced with because in order to do what I do I made the decision to partner with brands. I think ultimately, it’s good to have plant based products, be commercialized and be mainstream. The vegan police are out there though – they put a damper on anything progressive or corporate *laughs*. I will say this though, and a lot of my colleagues agree is that you have to pick your battles and you can’t win every fight – as much as you would like to. But ultimately, it’s good if people in rural places have access to vegan products because things like that insight change on a broader scale.

(we had to take a moment here to enjoy our food)

 This is so good. See there’s something about hot food that just fills my soul. I’ll be honest it’s really hard for me to get behind raw food restaurants. I’m not hating on it or anything but I think it’s less appealing for a wider audience, plus! Just because your vegan doesn’t mean you have to eat raw. Like right now, I’m enjoy an amazing hot meal…completely vegan, and it tastes great.

Is there anyone in the media you see as a champion in veganism?

Nobody in particular I’d say. People who do what I do have and always will inspire me to do more – and the network around this particular group is so supportive of the cause and of each other which is amazing. If anything, I’d love for Ellen DeGeneres to use her power of influence to get people to take vegan practices. She’s hard-core though, and not too many people know that! She won’t even have sugar. I personally can’t do that. They call it the “white death” – I just accept the fact that I’ll die early with sugar in my veins *laughs*

Speaking of the media, you have a lot of experience in that sector, from working here in Toronto to your time in Vancouver. How and when did you decide to make the shift from the industry to what you’re doing now?  

Well after leaving my job in Vancouver I had some time away from television where I had the opportunity to do so from freelancing. I started the Hot For Food blog soon after but then was hired at MUCH MUSIC in Toronto, so I kind of put the blog on the backburner for a while. When I left my job again I was so excited to start putting my all into the blog by making new recipes and take a ton of photos.

Lauren Toyota

And so, how do you feel about all the success you’ve had up until now?

 It’s definitely taken me by surprise. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be on YouTube. I always thought of that space as something where kids in their room would make videos – I was a TV host *laughs* the idea just seemed strange to me. But I had so much time on my hands since leaving MUCH MUSIC that I just started experimenting and making videos. Now, I had pretty good connections with a couple individuals at CORUS Entertainment. One of them hooked me up with Kin Community – it’s basically a multi-channel network. Rick Matthews from Kin Community gave me the rundown and showed me how to grow my channel and connect with influencers. Then from that we started getting more and more momentum as time went on. I’m even coming out with a cookbook very soon!

You must be so excited about that.

Totally, I’m nervous but excited. The best part is that I know it’s mine and its well represented with every recipe. It fully embodies the person I am through veganism and the Hot For Food brand.

What can we expect from the cookbook?

 It will be mostly new recipes, all gourmet vegan comfort food – basically a wish list of things I’ve never made before!

Last question, then we’ll finish the rest of the food. Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start a food blog or get into blogging in general?  

That’s a funny question because only until recent did I actually figure out “how to blog”. So only by doing, you will start to improve over time. When I first started I used to take pictures on my iPhone! But once you get a DSLR, it changes everything. I will give one tip – for food specifically, mix up your content with an overhead view and diners view – people love these perspectives. Tripods are also really handy when you intend on taking photos with you in them. The thing you can’t get too caught up in, is the initial quality. Yes, definitely have some sort of theme established etc. but don’t think that having a DSLR right off the bat with set you apart. You can do just as good of a job with a smaller device like the iPhone then work your way up to a professional camera when you get the hang of things – you can update your photos later on. If you want to be a vegan blogger – take that extra step to educate yourself on the lifestyle, and definitely don’t strive for complete perfection. Love yourself, have compassion, and stay diligent and your impact will make all the difference.

What are your thoughts on veganism? Let us know on Instagram or Facebook!

Follow @hotforfood on Instagram

Pre-order Lauren’s cookbook here:

Special thanks to Planta restaurant (1221 Bay St. Toronto, ON) for providing the space and cooking up some real good vegan food.