Saving the environment, one meal at a time

Toronto restaurants are joining the vegan revolution to please diners and help save the Earth

Toronto's Il Fornello restaurants are offering a vegan menu alongside their popular dishes. Courtesy Erica Glover

As concerns about global warming and greenhouse gases mount, many restaurants are trying to make a difference before it’s too late — and a vegan diet is at the heart of their efforts.

Environmental concerns are prompting many people to cut down on the amount of meat they eat or adopt a 100 per cent plant-based diet.

And as more and more people embrace veganism, restaurants are discovering offering plant-based dishes makes good business sense.

Il Fornello, a chain of Italian restaurants in the Greater Toronto Area, introduced a plant-based menu alongside its regular dishes two years ago. It’s been a hit, said Stacey Patterson, who owns several locations.

“Our sales increased exponentially,” she said. “It made us relevant again. People started to go to dine in at Il Fornello again.”

A 2018 report produced by researchers at Dalhousie University found more and more Canadians are choosing to go meatless, and that more than six million Canadians already restrict their intake. More than 60 per cent of the vegans in Canada are younger than 38 years old, according to the report, which was based on an online survey. It cited environmental concerns as one reason for the shift.

Learn more about Il Fornello’s vegan menu:

“People don’t want to be told what to eat, they’re far more open to being shown what to eat,” said Margie Cook, a registered holistic nutritionist, a certified vegan lifestyle coach, educator, and the vegan chef at Il Fornello.

Cook started her career at Il Fornello when Patterson decided to take a new approach and become more inclusive by offering a vegan menu alongside the restaurants’ meat and vegetarian options.

Cook created the dishes, designed the menu and sourced the ingredients. She gave up meat more than 20 years ago.

Chef Margie Cook prepares vegan dishes for Il Fornello’s plant-based menus. She gave up meat more than 20 years ago and says she often feels like an ‘alien’ when she visits restaurants. COURTESY ERICA GLOVER

“I call it equal opportunity dining, when you can go to a restaurant with a group of friends and every single person at the table is treated exactly the same,” Cook said. “In other words, I’ve spent my entire life literally, even as a chef feeling like an alien every time I landed a table at a restaurant.”

Il Fornello has served meat for more than 30 years. Patterson dreams of going 100 per cent vegan in her restaurants, but isn’t sure that day will ever come.

“I personally would love to phase meat out of my menu, that would be a long-term goal,” she said. “But I have a clientele base that I’ve had for 25 years and I can’t exclude them.”

According to PETA, producing enough meat for human consumption has taken a negative toll on the land, food, water, and energy, in part through the destruction of rainforests to make way for farmland.

The animal rights organization’s research suggests each person who goes vegan saves about about 83,000 litres of water per year.

Watch what PETA says is the environmental effect of meat production:

Many organizations within Canada work tirelessly to spread the message and educate people on the benefits of adopting a vegan lifestyle. One of them is the non-profit Vegan Society of Canada.

Sebastien Martel, its executive director, says people will finally take the matter seriously once there is permanent damage and evidence the world is coming to an end.

He raised concerns about how little is being said about the issue.

“What we eat is one of the easiest things that we can change,” he said. “There’s no technological barrier, there’s no innovation, there’s no regulation or anything. It’s just that choice that we have to make.”

The global meat production overview over the last 50 years, ranging from 1961 – 2018. Photo provided by Source: UN Food and Agricultural Organization.

According to Our World in Data, a site developed by researchers at Oxford University, the global production of meat has quadrupled in the last 50 years.

There’s still a long way to go to adopt a healthier lifestyle to save the planet. However, many individuals, restaurants, and organizations are taking matters into their own hands in the hopes of changing the course of a pending worldwide crisis.

“You know when your glasses are dirty and you clean them, it’s kind of like that,” Cook said. “The more you know, you can’t un-know it. And eventually, it just stops making any sense to consume any kind of animal product.”

About this article

Posted: Apr 10 2020 5:13 pm
Filed under: Community Food News