Our Herstory: The Birth of Virchew
Updated: Oct 4
Inspired by Shanti - the Border Collie companion behind it all.
In the late 1980s, I experienced a pivotal moment that revolutionized my life. I was living in my hometown of Saskatoon, Sask., and happened upon a unique store that offered a highly unusual combination of books and natural health supplements. On a lower shelf, almost out of view, was a book that called to me. I was drawn to bend down and pick it up. It was called, Cats & Dogs Go Vegetarian. How incredible and strange at the same time. Remember, this was the 1980s, and the topic was rarely seen, if at all - especially without Google!
At that time in my life, I was working in a senior housing community in the dietetic department and becoming fully aware of the impact of diet on our health and aging. I was an athlete and bodybuilder pursuing a transition to a healthier vegetarian diet (vegan was not a word used back then), and I was an avid dog and animal lover. I felt it was synchronicity in action. I recall asking myself, "What was a book by this title doing in a small Canadian prairie city indoctrinated with a typical 'meat and potato' culture?" By all rational standards, this store shouldn't have been there! (In fact, it closed soon after.) As I look back now, I realize how much that day foreshadowed my future and the birth of Virchew. Thank you, thank you to trail-blazing pioneers, James and Barbara Peden, who wrote the first booklet (released in 1995 as a book called, Vegetarian Cats and Dogs) and to the owners of the unique, forward-thinking store in Saskatoon, Sask!
Soon after, another book, Diet for New America by John Robbins, tugged at my soul. Imagine the courage it took for John Robbins to walk away from a Baskin Robbins ice cream empire and inheritance to embrace, live and teach a plant-based lifestyle. His courage and book were instrumental in my becoming a vegetarian and establishing a successful lifestyle coaching, vegetarian nutrition and fitness business that thrived for many years. During that time, I had the honor to assist hundreds of people individually and spoke to thousands of people at dozens of events.
Pivotal Life Moments
Now, take yourself back to the events of 9/11. Do you remember where you were on that tragic historic day? I do. I was standing in front of an entire room of students starting my next 12-Week Lifestyle and Fitness Program. I was about to teach them about caring for their bodies, weight management and living their dreams. Instead, I was the one who received a lesson that day. While reflecting on how many lives were just cut short by that day’s tragedy, I realized I wasn’t fully living my dreams. Something was missing, and it was furry.
The next day, I found my perfect companion (which is a magical story in itself), a Border Collie puppy whose sparkling little eyes melted my heart. I called her Shanti, a Sanskrit word for inner ‘peace'. I had already chosen her name seven years before, knowing someday I would find her. My thoughts went back to that book about vegetarian dogs in that Prairie bookstore, and I was confident that, like me, Shanti could be a vegetarian dog. I took the same courageous action as the author of that book and John Robbins and other pioneers of the plant-based movement. After seeking some advice from a veterinarian friend, Shanti became a plant-powered dog. From that day forward, our extraordinary life together is where the story of Virchew began.
Pioneering a Movement
During my life with Shanti, I passionately researched both human and canine vegetarian diets. While awareness of a plant-based diet was on the rise, it was considered a fringe lifestyle.
Today, indisputable evidence of the massive benefits of plant-based diets has appeared in highly regarded research publications such as The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Experts in the field, such as Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a highly-respected surgeon turned plant-based advocate, are reaching more people than ever through documentaries such as Forks Over Knives and many more. Dr. Neal Barnard and his Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) are at the forefront of plant-based science, medicine and animal rights and Brenda Davis, renowned, grassroots, vegan Registered Dietician, keynote speaker and best-selling author many times over.
However, it's Dr. Michael Gregor MD who is my daily source of plant-based nutrition research that can, in many cases, assist us at Virchew to foresee breakthroughs in foods for canine nutrition and optimum health. He has dedicated his life to bringing an unsurpassed, extraordinary databank of research to the world. He donates proceeds of his books and DVDs to NutritionFacts.org, the first science-based, non-commercial website to provide free daily videos and articles on the latest discoveries in nutrition.
These are a mere handful of medical experts who substantiate the health benefits of a plant-based diet through solid research, thereby expanding our human awareness to a level of 'no return.'
The World Has Awakened
Synchronistic conversations are occurring now around the world. One of those conversations that are changing the way we look at eating animals is by Melanie Joy, Ph.D., Ed.M., author of the book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows. Her brilliant research is displayed in a profound TEDx Talk called, “Beyond Carnism". She brings into our awareness compelling reasons to move away from animals as food and move toward plants.
In light of all this new research and paradigm shifts to how we view eating animals, it seemed perfectly natural to ask me these crucial questions:
“What if this type of lifestyle could go beyond my commitment to Shanti, my family and me?”
“If this lifestyle has been proven to be highly beneficial to human health and disease prevention, could it do the same for a dog’s health and well-being?
“What if we could provide equivalent evidence that dogs thrive on a plant-based diet in the same way as humans?”
For decades, the authoritative voices of veterinary associations have well documented that dogs are classified as non-obligate carnivores.
Through science-based research and feeding trials, we have set out to prove the benefits of a plant-based diet for the health and longevity of our dogs. Worldwide research validating the health benefits of whole, plant-based foods for people and our planet’s environment is indisputable. It is time to provide the same solid research showing that dogs also thrive on a plant-based diet.
Peace, love, dogs!
Laura Simonson, Founder of Virchew
(Below: Today, Virchew's daily inspiration is Seva, a plant-powered Border Collie with enough stamina and energy to rule for hours at dog park chases and ball fetching!)