How members of one family have sustained their diets for 20 years

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It feels lately as though everyone has a special dietary restriction – everything from intolerances to gluten and lactose to raw food or locally-grown and organic food. How does someone eat and still enjoy food?

Well, members of one Calgary family – who have adopted a vegan lifestyle – say the greatest difficulty so far has been finding a good alternative for marshmallows.

“They’re okay, but I think I’d prefer them roasted,” says Gareth Kawchuk, 7.

Earlier that day, the family found a vegan alternative for the traditional marshmallow – typically made of gelatin, which is made from the collagen of animals.

Older brother Daegan Kovacs, 9, says, “They are excellent in hot chocolate.”

Mother Risa Kawchuk, had difficulties explaining marshmallows to her sons.

“It’s kind of smooth, but rubbery and chewy. It’s a marshmallow. If you’ve never had anything remotely like it, then I don’t know how to describe it – just got to try it,” she says.

Vegan Fam

Shitake mushroom soup, vegan mushroom sushi rolls and hot chocolate with the marshmallows were on the family’s menu for lunch.The family sits down to an Indian-inspired dinner. 9-year-old Daegan (left) and his father Jim Kovacks always keep a supply of hot sauce close at hand. While Gareth,7, and his mother Risa Kawchuk (right) prefer their curries mild.
Photos taken by: Jessica Clark and Corrine Sato

Becoming vegan

Kawchuk and her husband, James Kovacs, became vegan about 20 years ago.

“I worked to become a vegetarian.” Kawchuk says. “When I was ten, I was in a McDonald’s realizing I was eating a cow.” The event stayed with her, but she continued the same diet as her family.

“I grew up on a traditionally North American diet. Lunch time was Chef Boyardee and Alphagetti or Campbell’s tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich – and that’s just very processed.”

As an adult, Kawchuk made the decision to change her diet and become a vegan.

Kovacs also became a vegan when he was an adult.

“It came about in stages,” he says.

“During my undergrad, I lived with two vegan roommates. I only had a cube fridge and couldn’t afford the cost of meat.”

When he tried meat again over the summer, he found that he didn’t like the taste anymore. But he didn’t jump into a vegan diet right away.

Kovacs says he was “vegetarian for two years before going strictly vegan.”

However, he says he is not an “anal-retentive” vegan. 

“If there is an egg in a cake when I’m out, I don’t worry about it. But I don’t buy eggs or cheese myself.”

When the couple decided to have children, it was a “no-brainer” to continue their vegan lifestyle, Kawchuk says. However, she understands that both her boys will ultimately make the decision as to whether they will continue with their lifestyle.

“They are their own people. They’re going to do that they want to do,” she says.

In order for their sons to make good decisions, Kawchuk and Kovacs teach the boys about a healthy diet and lifestyle.

“We’ve talked about nutrition and the need to have protein sources and calcium sources,” Kawchuk says.

Gareth and Daegan also learn from their parents about the vitamins they can get from animal and plant-based food. Kawchuk says she makes sure that everyone in the family takes multi-vitamins, and other essential vitamins including B12 and vitamin D.

Although the boys eat healthy, they also act like other children and can be picky about their food.

“We discuss leafy greens, which – surprise, surprise – my kids are not fond of. But they come up with their own solutions,” Kawchuk says.

Since the boys help cook meals, they have a say in where they can hide their vegetables, she says. This could include hiding spinach in tomato sauce or blending romaine lettuce in the smoothies.


One of the challenges the family faces is going out for dinner to restaurants or other people’s houses.

Kawchuk says that maintaining a vegan diet can be difficult in Calgary. “We’re vegan at home,” Kawchuk says. “But I’ll go vegetarian when we go out.”

However, Kovacs and the boys try to maintain their vegan diets as much as they can when they go out for dinner.

“For special events – Thanksgiving, Christmas – where meals centre around something like a turkey, it’s a bit more difficult,” Kawchuk adds. “We don’t get invited out to those kinds of special meals.”

Although restaurant food may be challenging, this family has found shopping to be much easier. Due to more and more people having dietary restrictions, people can find vegan-friendly products – even marshmallows, Kawchuk says.

Despite having an alternative diet, Kawchuk says her family is not deprived from food, and can convert almost any recipe to become vegan for the family – including Daegan’s favourite dessert: “Chocolate coconut pie.” and 

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