For one who never expected to become a vegan, and who didn’t want to become one when she first felt the inclination, Sam Turnbull has executed a magnificent transformation into a leader and innovator in the vegan movement.
It started on an early December evening, “not feeling terrific”, and a decision to watch the documentary Vegucated, about three meat-eating New Yorkers’ discovery of the benefits of veganism and the uncomfortable truths of animal husbandry. “I thought it was going to be about vegetables,” Sam says, but the next morning she cleaned her fridge and cupboards of all animal products.
This was a significant decision for a woman raised on a tree farm in Sunderland, ON., on the brink of cottage country in a family of hunters, butchers and chefs with chickens in the yard and animal heads on the walls. Besides dogs, cats, gerbils and turtles, she had a rabbit named Gravy.
But from that day in 2012, Sam began feeling a lot better, every day, discovering “what it feels like to feel great.” She has not only remained vegan, but she’s also changed what it means to be one. No, that’s not a cheat. With two cookbooks, a world-renowned blog, virtual cooking classes, subscription meal plans and a sideline as a social media influencer, Sam has made veganism as easy, fun and affordable as being an omnivore. She’s not only made veganism her career, she’s made it mainstream.
“My biggest obstacle was that I didn’t really want to be vegan,” Sam says. “But it was better for my health, the environment and, of course, the animals.”
She did a lot of reading early on about veganism’s contribution to better health and the environmental and ethical concerns around raising animals for meat. Yet those early days were a familiar experience to anyone who has tried traditional veganism: odd-sounding, expensive and hard-to-find ingredients, complicated recipes that take forever to prepare, and earnest results that leave you craving old comforts.
“I liked the kale and quinoa, the sprouts and avocados, but it was a bit boring,” Sam says. “I still wanted pancakes and pasta.” Always one who loved to cook, she began experimenting. “With limitation came inspiration,” she says, and it soon became her mission that any meal could be made vegan. She succeeded. Her repertoire sounds like any roadside diner’s menu, from pasta, burgers, tacos, seafood and breakfast sandwiches to cookies and cupcakes. “My goal was to make every meal hearty, full of flavour and just as easy to make as any other meal.”
That’s when she began her blog, “It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken,” posting free recipes online each week. “I didn’t promote it,” she says. “It was just consistent quality content. Before long, I was getting questions and comments from all over the world.” Today, itdoesnttastelikechicken.com gets between one and two million visitors a month, attracting advertising that’s now Sam’s main source of revenue.
In turn, her obvious engagement with the online world of vegans attracted one of the foremost cookbook publishers, the Appetite imprint of Penguin Random House. First came Fuss Free Vegan: 101 Everyday Comfort Food Favourites, Veganized in 2017, then Fast Easy Cheap Vegan, recipes you can make in 30 minutes or less for $10 or less, in 2021. Both are bestsellers, and a third cookbook is on the way next year.
Meanwhile, she’s seized every opportunity to offer what vegans need. For those wanting a daily program, there’s a printable weekly subscription plan for three meals a day from easyveganmealplan.com. For those needing a how-to, there are online live cooking classes from the Ultimate Vegan Kitchen at theultimatevegankitchen.com. A recent Masterclass showed how to make five days of breakfasts, lunches and dinners for two in 90 minutes, done in real-time. The next will demo a complete vegan Thanksgiving dinner.
Having credibility with a broad audience, Sam’s also in demand for sponsored gigs as an online influencer, but she vets these requests carefully. “I’m very picky about the brands I work with, so I only do sponsored stuff occasionally.”
Such a range of activity takes a commensurate range of talents—and also help. She credits her start at Lakefield with encouraging her creative streak. “Everyone cherished being smart at Lakefield, and of course I’ve always been an environmentalist at heart, and the school emphasized that, too.” From Lakefield, she went on to a fine arts degree at Concordia University and later a Masters in Fine Art at the California Institute of the Arts. Her refined eye for design is evident on her elegant but simple and inviting website.
“The design of the website is mine, along with all of the photography and even the font I use on the pictures is a font I made from my own handwriting,” says Sam. “But I also work with a team of people including my husband Adam to manage everything, and Adam helped me diversify and build new income streams. That way I’m able to mainly focus on the creative, which is what I’m most passionate about. That’s one of the beautiful things about building your own business—you can do whatever you want!”
Sam can tell a story, she has on-screen presence, she’s creative—and she’s using all these talents in a fistful of ways to build a unique food business brand that’s at once relatable, friendly and expert. All while helping others to reap the advantages of being vegan that she herself has achieved.
Written by: John Southerst