The Healthy (Conscious) Interview: Shira McDermott
I am so excited to share this month’s interview with you! I finally met Shira this year, after being a longtime fan of GRAIN, an incredible company that Shira co-founded.
Shira McDermott is the creator of In Pursuit Of More, a vegetarian food blog, and the winner of Taste Canada’s Gold Award for Best Food Blog in 2016. Shira also co-owns GRAIN with her business partner Janna Bishop, an award winning, premium dry goods company. Shira lives in Vancouver, BC with her husband and two daughters.
Your IG feed is a constant source of inspiration…even more so, that your food is really do-able. When did you start getting really serious about food?
Well, first of all, thanks for that! I’ve honestly been obsessed with healthy eating for as long as I can remember. My parents were pretty hard-core West Coast hippies in the 70’s, and raised 4 kids on an artist and tree-planters budget on Gabriola Island (my folks still live there in our childhood home). It’s funny to look back at it now, since I remember so acutely being embarrassed by my humble ‘granola’ lunches as a kid … there were no wagon wheels, oreos, or even fruit roll-ups for us, instead we ate leftover handmade chapatti with real butter and my mom’s homemade blackberry jam. Dinners were exactly as I eat now: whole grains, tons of lentils and chickpeas and tofu, home grown vegetables when they were in season, and alfalfa sprouts and parsley in the off season.
Amazing salad dressings and sauces were always on the table, and still are to this day when we go and visit. So, I’d say eating pretty well is in my blood — and while my siblings might have gone off and got excited when junk food (and meat!) was available once we got a bit older, I became even more disciplined with my eating habits as a teenager. I was definitely the weirdo eating a whole red pepper or cucumber as my after school snack once I got old enough to realize that junk food was just no bueno. At around 15 I became obsessed with cooking everything I could from the Moosewood Cookbook, and I’ve never stopped being pretty health food-centric since. I get cross-eyed if I read recipes that are too long, so I really appreciate simplicity when it comes to all kinds of food prep, and I find it really helps shine a light on quality ingredients. My philosophy is that the best food is simple food, made with thoughtful ingredients. I definitely have my folks to thank for their example, as they were huge influences at a time when healthy food was anything but in vogue.
How does being a vegetarian factor into your chosen work; is it a conscious platform thing or just part of who you are?
I love this question! I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life — I wish I could say I chose the lifestyle for any variety of important reasons, but the truth is my folks raised us vegetarian and I just have never strayed. They did it partially for ethics, but I’d say they mostly did it for the economics of it. They just could in no way afford to have animal proteins as a regular part of our diets, and they were savvy and knowledgable enough about well-rounded vegetarian eating that all four of us kids grew up healthy and strong. Growing up on the island it was hard to get in to see the one doctor who practiced there, and thankfully we didn’t need to see him — it’s actually crazy to look back and recall that we were all so free of health issues.
Until I got old enough to understand the positive impacts vegetarianism has on our bodies and on the environment, I always felt like the odd kid out, and would from time to time try to eat meat just to fit in (ask me about the time I lied about my ‘missed order’ on hot dog day in grade 3 … seriously!). But, I just can’t eat meat, never have been able to. It’s just never been food to me and never will be. As a young adult, I got very serious about veganism and raw food for quite a few years, and that was a useful time of learning for me — trying my hand at vegan activism and adopting what I see now as a rather naive and narrow view of the world around me. Now I am pretty content to help folks in whatever way they can to incorporate better eating habits into their lives, and to offer something of value. My hope is to show how simple it actually is to reap the benefits once you decide to move in that direction.
We first connected over the amazing work that you do with GRAIN; what does being a locally sourced, transparent-supply chain company mean to you and what do you wish people knew about the journey that food takes from farm to plate?
With so much focus these days on eating better, I really believe the next step in the human journey is to reject commodified goods in as many forms as possible — be it clothing, homewares, kids toys, personal care products, and most importantly — food — since this is the fuel that we nourish our entire existence with. Our food just should not be treated like a commodity, period.
We started GRAIN to shift the conversation in food — away from just focusing on our produce, meat, dairy, and other foods that are now commonly found with traceability to the source. Grains and beans and flour products form the back bone of the human diet, yet we have never had any visibility into where these foods come from, how old they are, who grew them etc. Most folks have never had the opportunity to know their chickpea farmer, or to try a lentil that doesn’t dissolve (and give you terrible gas!) when you cook them. It’s crazy to think that most flour products sit in warehouses sometimes for years before reaching the grocery store shelves, and all must be treated with chemicals and stripped of their nutrition entirely in order to be shelf stable. It’s no wonder we can’t digest them! I could go on, but I’m just excited to be a part of the shift towards sanity as people return to embracing whole grains and whole grain flours. As consumers, we really do deserve transparency into everything we put into our bodies.
Being a part of this movement is something so near and dear to my heart, that I just can’t wait to see where we are in 10 years.
As an entrepreneur, woman in food and a mother, what are some of your strategies for managing it all? Is self-care a reality for you…or more of a goal at this point?
I feel pretty lucky to have older kids who definitely require less of my energy at this stage of life. I am also well supported by my husband — who has really stepped the support up a whole lot ‘extra’ since I started the business with my partner Janna. As someone who has been there with younger kids, I am very thankful that I was a younger mom, as I had heaps of energy in my twenties and even when they were both young I always worked full time and managed to have time for the things I loved that weren’t for anyone but me.
I’ve always considered my personal health and fitness to be a pretty big priority, and I think that’s a huge part of how I’ve managed — and accepting the trade-offs that come with trying to manage multiple channels of life fulfillment. For instance, when the kids were young, they each had only one sport they really loved vs. two or three. That left some time for me to have to myself, and the same for my husband. But it also meant I had to choose one or two things I really loved — which for me has always been running and gardening. Parents, especially moms who carry so much of the emotional labour in households, can be really accomplished martyrs — and while sacrifice is the name of the game, I think kids benefit enormously from parents asserting and maintaining their own personal boundaries. I know for me, I am a much happier person when I’m taking proper care of myself — which makes me a way better person to be around and an all around better human.
I’d say I do pretty well at self care, though I don’t get nearly as many walks in nature or quiet moments as I’d like. But I sure appreciate them when I get them!
Just for fun, what’s your go-to when your really don’t feel like cooking much and just want something comforting and delicious?
Pizza delivery and a bottle of red wine, full stop. That’s the easiest question ever!