Catering for the vegetarian revolution

October 17 2018

Canada may be a country where a big juicy steak or a fresh seafood dish will always be popular, but restaurants are increasingly being faced with new forms of diversity in consumer taste. 

While some of that diversity has had ethno-geographic causes as immigrant populations have introduced new cuisines from around the world, other social and ethical trends are playing a role too. 

A good example of this is veganism and vegetarianism. While many will dismiss those who keep meat and dairy out of their diet as placard-wielding fringe activists - and it is true that some are indeed very active in promoting lifestyles that abstain from animal products ranging from foods to clothing - the reality is that this is now a significant section of society. There is, therefore, a growing market that restaurants need to be aware of.  

Evidence of this is not hard to find. A study by Dalhousie University recently found that the number of people in Canada who would identify as vegetarians has risen from 900,000 15 years ago to 2.3 million now. Add 850,000 more who would say they are vegans, and this means 9.4 per cent of Canadians will never enter a cafe or restaurant looking for something meat-based to eat. 

Commenting on this trend, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie Sylvain Charlebois told CTV the number is likely to rise further, as most of those who opt for a plant-based diet are aged under 35.

He explained: "Likely they’ll be raising children the way that they’re eating themselves."

The man known as 'The Food Professor' added that a range of factors have driven the rise in vegetarianism. These include animal welfare and environmental concerns, as well as health issues. He noted: "I can’t remember the last time I read a study suggesting that we should eat more meat. The scientific evidence seems to be pretty strong encouraging people to eat more vegetable proteins."

As a result, professor Charlebois said, the meat industry is kidding itself if it believes the surge in vegetarianism is just a fad. The food sector as whole, he explained, needs to adjust to a new reality. 

Restaurants can do this in one of two ways. Some might simply add a wider array of vegetarian and vegan options to menus. Alternatively, a more radical move might be to open niche establishments that cater specifically to vegetarians and vegans. This would appeal to those who might prefer not to sit next to someone who is eating meat.
There is certainly room for innovation. VegNews recently reported how Ontario-based vegan fast food chain Globally Local has launched its own 'bleeding burger', which contains dehydrated beet extract that turns to juice when it is cooked, helping to mimic the moistness of a real meat burger. Chief executive of the firm James McInness told the news outlet: "We wanted to create something that has the same look, feel, and sizzle of meat, without any compromise in flavor."

Making vegetarian dishes that look and taste a bit like meat is a major feature of the growth of vegetarianism, as it helps recent converts feel like they are not missing out on familiar dishes. With vegetarianism and veganism set to be a growth market, chefs across the nation should take note and plan ahead.