In the 76 years since English animal-rights advocate Donald Watson coined the term “vegan,” the food offerings available to those who adhere to the philosophy have expanded considerably. The diversity of options range from nutritious fruits, vegetables, soy, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, to plant-based versions of juicy burgers, gooey cheeses and even bacon as they enjoy dishes from a range of cuisines.
In Canada, perhaps nowhere is this abundance more clear than in British Columbia, where interest in plant-based eating is especially high.
“B.C.’s population represents maybe less than 10 per cent of the Canadian population but almost a fifth of vegans have B.C. as their home,” says Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and senior director of its Agri-Food Analytics Lab. “You can see that the vegan rating in B.C. is much, much higher than anywhere else in Canada.”
According to research by the lab, which polls Canadians quarterly on a number of issues, the highest increase of vegans in 2019 was in B.C., with 1.4 per cent of British Columbians adopting the practice. As of October, 2.7 per cent of the province’s population identified as vegan.
The terms plant-based and vegan are often used interchangeably, but the former specifically refers to a person’s diet, while the latter refers to a lifestyle choice. Being vegan extends to using no animal byproducts in any aspect, instead opting for things such as cruelty-free skincare products and clothing made from synthetic materials as opposed to leather and fur.
To mark the 26th World Vegan Day on Nov 1., The Globe and Mail spent breakfast, lunch and dinner with three Vancouver vegans to discuss their experience being plant-based, explore the diversity of food options available in the city and see what’s on their plate.
Bridget Burns, breakfast at Kind Cafe
Community event organizer Bridget Burns, founder of the Vegan Project, and co-founder of the Vegan Night Market and the Vancouver Vegan Festival, embraced the lifestyle 11 years ago. Back then, “there were a few vegan spots in the city, and a few specialty items found in the stores," she says. "… Now the selection is so abundant.” Her favourite plant-based – and zero-waste – breakfast spot is Kind Cafe, where she orders the black sesame latte and a “Carrot Lox” bagel that features what the menu calls “kind’a cream cheez.” The “cheez” is made primarily with organic tofu and coconut milk and, like everything else in the meal, it’s made in house.
Matthew Nagra, lunch at MeeT in Yaletown
Matthew Nagra, a naturopathic doctor, has been vegan for almost a decade, originally making the switch for health reasons, “I had asthma, allergies and was overweight as a child. Upon changing my lifestyle, my asthma and allergies greatly improved and the weight melted off,” Dr. Nagra says. Since then, he’s maintained the diet for the animals and environment. Of the abundance of vegan restaurants to choose from in Vancouver, MeeT has remained a favourite because Dr. Nagra feels comfortable bringing anyone to it: “I know they’ll love it regardless of their dietary pattern.” His go-to meal is the “lovely bowl” with quinoa, marinated tofu and steamed veggies, topped with toasted coconut “bacon” and almond satay sauce. What makes this his top pick? “[It’s] relatively healthy and very flavourful. I love the sauce.”
Asha Wheeldon, dinner at Kula Kitchen
Chef and entrepreneur Asha Wheeldon went vegan 3½ years ago. But despite Vancouver’s many plant-based options, she found herself craving Afrocentric flavours of her two former homes: Kenya and Toronto. So in 2018, she opened Kula Kitchen, with a menu built around East African cuisine. Ms. Wheeldon says she’s noticed more diverse food trends in Vancouver these past few years, adding that “it’s good to see more producers sharing their ancestral plant based creations.” Typically, Ms. Wheeldon finds herself sneaking in time to eat between preparing packaged and takeout foods. Today her favourite meal is on offer: the “BBQ soul bowl,” which contains baked macaroni made with in-house “cheesy” sauce, soy “ribs,” collard greens and potato salad.
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