Twelve-year-old health advocate and speaker Daniel Bissonnette talks plant-based diets

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      Having been raised as a vegan since day one, Daniel Bissonnette realized early on in life that he wasn’t like all the other kids. Or perhaps more accurately, all the other kids perceived and portrayed him as an oddball, routinely teasing him about what was in his lunch bag.

      Just 12 years old, the Anmore resident has gone on to become a vegan activist and healthy-eating superhero—but he still remembers how unpleasant it felt to be the odd man out back in Grade 3.

      “I was always called the weird kid ’cause I ate different food,” Bissonnette says in a phone interview with the Straight, with his mom by his side. “I didn’t eat the foods that other kids thought no one could live without, like candy, you know, pizza… All the foods that other kids craved, I lived without. So I was kinda like an alien to them. They didn’t know who I was… So I was called the weird kid. I didn’t like it.”

      Then a teacher asked if he would do a class presentation on his diet, because classmates were as curious as they were cruel. Sharing information about the plant-based foods he grew up with and still enjoys became a passion project for Bissonnette, one that he has taken far beyond the classroom.

      When he was nine, he was invited to speak at the 2014 global March Against Monsanto in Vancouver. The video of his talk went viral.

      “I realized I was on my mission,” the Grade 6 student says. “I kept going and started speaking at health shows....I keep doing this because I want to spread the message.…There are so many kids who don’t want to switch to healthy eating, mainly because their friends might call them the weird kid.

      “They’re afraid their friends will bully them or turn against them,” he says. “Well, your body is your temple. You have to feed it the best food you can.”

      Bissonnette has become a sought-after public speaker, touring regularly across the country. He’ll be speaking at the fourth annual Veg Expo in Vancouver (which takes place on May 28) and at the Vancouver Health Show in November.

      As a digital native, he posts new content on various social-media platforms regularly, including weekly videos on his YouTube channel, and has made a three-part video series on how to meditate available for free on his website.

      Daniel Bissonnette, only nine years old at the time, gives a speech at the 2014 global March Against Monsanto in Vancouver.

      He says that although his parents started him out on a vegan diet, they gave him choice about what foods he would consume, letting him try various animal foods. He prefers plant-based dishes and doesn’t care to get into the well-established ethical and environmental reasons behind veganism. “I did some research and found some crazy stuff—like, I don’t really want to talk about it,” he says. “It’s disturbing.”

      And while he himself is vegan, he’s not militant in his views.

      “If you want to enjoy meats or whatever, you’ve got to make sure it’s clean and organic,” he says. “Ideally, get it from a farmer who you trust and where you see animals happy. It’s all about sustainability.

      “There isn’t one perfect diet for everyone. Everyone has their own perfect diet, so find what that is,” he adds. “You eat something, and if the next day you feel good, you know that food works for you. Eat it again. If the next day you don’t feel good.…that’s a food that doesn’t work for you.”

      A cornerstone of healthy eating is having breakfast, says Bissonnette, who’s also the author of a published cookbook called Daniel’s Breakfast Burst. He doesn’t have a “favourite” food but rather believes that variety is the spice of life; he suggests having blueberries with breakfast one day, blackberries the next, and raspberries the day after that.

      And by no means is a vegan diet bereft of treats. In his book, Bissonnette shares a recipe for chocolate, noting on the phone that cacao is a superfood that will boost brain power and “give you a cognitive punch”. Diet’s effect on brain health is a topic of great interest for the tween, who discusses nutrition using terms such as flavonoids and neuroplasticity.

      “I’m determined to help more people,” he says. “I really want to help kids eat healthier but I also want to help people increase their brain power.”

      For anyone wanting to shift toward a healthy diet but who’s finding it challenging, Bissonnette offers the analogy of a Ferrari.

      “If you want the peak performance, you need the right fuel,” he says. “People who buy expensive cars, they know this. They don’t put cheap fuel in the car; it will damage the car in the long run. They put in premium-quality fuel. That premium-quality fuel is good foods.”