Canada is going meat free. Well, not completely, but according to a study at Dalhousie University, an estimated 10.2 million Canadian (27 per cent) self-identify as eating a meat-restricted diet.
At the centre of this shift are Canada’s urban centres. In Toronto and Vancouver, the culture has evolved past its early challenges, allowing for a wealth of meatless options that make the diet more accessible. In the midst of concerns over climate impact and animal cruelty, people are switching to meatless diets at unprecedented rates.
“The main thing is resources,” says Genadi Freedman, a Toronto resident who works for a food chain that specializes in vegan products. “Especially in the big cores of cities, like Toronto or Vancouver, the demand is super high.”
Freedman has been vegan for two years and is part of a growing number of young Canadians switching to a meat restricted diet.
According to the report by Dalhousie, Canadians under 35 are three times as likely to switch to meat-restricted diet.
“I think that with the internet, younger generations are able to see stuff that the [meat] industry was able to hide previously,” Freedman says. “Before, you never knew what was happening at a farm unless you actually went to the farm.”
Additionally, many young people are becoming increasingly concerned with their environmental impact, and see meat alternatives as the best way to reduce their environmental footprint.
“Young people are very aware of the environment and of animal cruelty,” says Elizabeth Abbott, a writer and activist who ran for the Animal Rights Party at the city ward level in last year’s federal election. “They get the message that how they eat can contribute to something worse than fossil fuel.
“They’re much less committed to maintaining traditional ways of doing things which they see and understand to be very very wrong.”
The release from Dalhousie also outlined the difference between young and old, with only one in three individuals following a meat-restricted diet being over the age of 49.
“The generations who are adopting vegetarian diets much more slowly are the same ones who brought us all the destructive things we know are damaging our environment, so why would they stop now?” Abbott says.
The number of people eating meat-restricted diets in Canada has almost doubled in the past two years. In 2018, Dalhousie’s initial findings saw 6.4 million Canadians following a meat-restricted diet. Early this year, the University has revised its report adding nearly 4 million, bringing the number up to 10.2 million.
“I think people are just kind of looking for an outlet to help the conditions around them, such as the climate, and help out in that way — out of kind of a moral sense,” says Ray Robb, a 26-year-old Toronto resident who switched to veganism four years ago after five years of vegetarianism.
Robb agrees that living in Toronto helps with sustaining a meat-restricted diet.
“You just get the choice, there’s a lot of grocery stores and restaurants with meatless options,” Robb says. “Even when people first make the switch, if they don’t know what to cook, they can go to a vegan restaurant. You find a lot of people who are like-minded who are vegan, who are vegetarian, and it really meshes with the community you’re around.”
While Robb understands the advantage living in a large metropolitan area brings, he thinks vegan and vegetarian diets are more accessible than ever, regardless of location.
“It definitely would be a challenge if it’s something that you’re just getting into, but if you really want to, no matter where you are, you can do it.”