In a 2015 poll commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society, nearly 12 million Canadians are vegetarian or are eating less meat. Cutting out meat has apparently become easier than ever, with the influx of vegetarian substitutes and restaurants.
Maria Pelliccia, a professor in Hospitality, Recreation, and Tourism at Humber College,
teaches nutrition, eating behaviour, and the prevention of chronic diseases. She notes that in a culinary class, Humber students are challenged to take a recipe and replace the meat with vegan products to totally “veganize” a traditional meal.
While veganism excluded eggs and dairy as well as meat, fowl and fish, Pelliccia personally follows a pescatarian diet, meaning she eats fish and other animal products like cheese and milk. She gave up other animal proteins simply because the texture and taste didn’t appeal to her.
But Pelliccia allows that if people can strike a balance between animal-based and vegetarian eating, that is enough to make a difference both environmentally and personally.
“You can be a really unhealthy vegetarian and you can also be a really healthy meat eater, if you look at the literature,” she said. “Most people that are not eating meat are generally also eating less saturated fat and less trans fat. The main sources of saturated fat are animal products.”
Even just incorporating a meatless day one day a week is enough to make an impact, Pelliccia said.
“A quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and livestock and the majority of that is from beef,” she said. “Even just incorporating meatless one day a week, on a Monday, would put a good dent in greenhouse gas emissions.”
For Julia Marcuzzi, a Toronto-based holistic nutritionist, the environmental effects played a part of the role in her eventual transition to a vegan lifestyle.
When Marcuzzi was living in Sydney, Australia, the idea of studying nutrition came to her. After beginning her nutrition journey down under, she moved back to Toronto and began studying at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.
“I became vegetarian for the health benefits. I had learned that removing meat from your diet is linked with a reduction in just about every chronic disease,” she said. “It’s a strange and wonderful thing when you remove animal flesh from your system… I saw them as living beings for the first time.”
The shift to a fully vegan approach (without dairy or eggs, as well as no meat or fish) wasn’t easy for her, however, and she acknowledges that the transition can take longer for some. When she worked at a bar in Sydney, late night cheese pizza happened more often than not.
“I didn’t become the perfect vegan overnight… The important thing was, I was conscious of my food decisions for the first time in my life,” she said. “I never forced a food item, like cheese, out of my diet. I tried my best to be gentle and kind with myself through the process.”
Marcuzzi said she encourages anyone with a curiosity to try eating plant-based.
“We are so much more than the foods we eat. We are complex and wonderful beings,” she said. “With that said, I believe people care deeply about our planet. We care about one another, and we care about the sweet animals who live on this earth us.”
Dan Hooley, a University of Toronto PhD student of philosophy, with a focus on ethics and political philosophy. His dissertation explores the political status of animals, and their place in legal and political institutions.
“For the most part, when we think about political and our legal and political institutions, we don’t think of this as a landscape that includes other animals,” he said.
The assumption is that Canada, as a state, only has human members. Hooley believes it is morally unjustifiable that non-human animals that live in our state aren’t considered members of our society and our political communities.
“One of the things that has struck me is the way many humans have come to view companion animals as members of their family, despite holding very different views for other animals,” he said.