Beyond The Stats: vegetarianism

Ninety-three percent (93%) of Canadians ate meat in the past week, according to a recent survey done in January in collaboration with Huffington Post Québec.

At first glance, one could believe that regardless of their age and where they live, Canadians are not in the process of adopting a meatless diet. Indeed, more than 9 Canadians out of 10, from coast to coast, ate meat this past week!

But what happens when we go beyond statistics?

From the outset, we must acknowledge that the very Canadian habit of placing meat at the heart of one’s diet is a deeply rooted custom. In contrast, certain indicators suggest that vegetarianism is starting to emerge from the sidelines to become a fundamental trend.

First, it must be said that a census of people who are vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian had not really been done before the 2000s. Since it was difficult to define the concept and it was still a marginal movement, few researchers investigated these diets.  Moreover, Statistics Canada, despite a wealth of statistics, did not count the proportion of vegetarians in its various studies.

The first study of its kind was done at the beginning of the 2000s and showed that there are about 900,000 Canadian vegetarians, which corresponds to approximately 3% of the Canadian population. More recent research, conducted by Sylvain Charlebois from Dalhousie University in 2018, concluded that there are now more than 3 million vegetarians and vegans in the country, for a proportion that reaches slightly more than 9%. A considerable increase that has occurred in the space of just a few years!

One of the explanations for this new phenomenon is first and foremost generational. Although the proportion of millennials who define themselves as “vegetarian” is not significantly lower than other generational groups, 13% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 admit they haven’t eaten meat in the past week. Logically, this proportion is essentially the same for the student population.

Professor Charlebois, in his above-mentioned research, basically came to the same conclusion. “Végé est à la mode (vegetarianism is the latest craze),” he wrote last year in La Presse +, estimating that half of vegetarians and vegans were under the age of 35!

This finding ‒ confirmed from one survey to the next ‒ is an absolute disaster for meat producers and many restaurants, mainly fast-food restaurants, which for years have always placed meat at the centre of their menu.

In this regard, transformations are already underway: fast-food restaurants now offer vegan options, for example, Beyond Meat at A&W or the option of a Big Mac without meat at McDonald’s. Substitutes are also increasingly accessible at the grocery store and as of now, neighbourhoods that are exclusively vegan are being built, notably Vegandale in Toronto.

This fad is not likely to be a passing trend. The economic weight of young Canadians will only increase in the coming years, influencing the country’s next consumer trends.

In addition, there is a time in dietary trends, as seen in the banking, beer and auto sectors, when habits become so entrenched in people’s lives that the chances they will change their ways are practically non-existent. In other words, there is every likelihood that a young 25-year-old adult who adopts a vegetarian diet will remain vegetarian throughout his or her lifetime! We could even surmise that these future vegan or vegetarian parents are more likely to pass on their dietary habits to their children.

In short, the results of Leger’s survey show that most Canadians are still keen on their serving of meat. But for how long? We are seeing a clear underlying trend towards a meat-free diet, gathering force beyond just the statistics!