Hey vegans, time to grow up

The Vegan Education Group is running a
billboard campaign in Atlantic Canada claiming "dairy is scary." One ad shows a young calf and copy that reads: "Dairy took my mom, my milk, then my life." All this is to encourage people to switch to a plant-based diet. These billboards have attracted attention, and according to reports, will rollout nationally. It’s hard to imagine the campaign won’t fuel the divide between anti-meat advocates and barbecue enthusiasts, especially at this time of year.

Canada’s is home to approximately 460,000 vegans, according to the latest estimates by Dalhousie University. In addition, there are nearly 2.7 million vegetarians in Canada. That number is increasing, and it’s estimated that the number of Canadians going meatless or eating less meat could exceed 10 million by 2025. The rise of plant-based diets has allowed vegans--and others who follow meatless diets--to come out of hiding. Most consumers adhering to a strict meatless diet have had to make most of their meals at home. In recent years, with the help of Beyond Meat and other players, plant-based diets are now more socially normalized. It’s trendy, it’s hip, and it’s threatening the country's meat industry.

Beef producers in Quebec are challenging the nomenclature of the plant-based category, saying the Beyond Meat name is unlawful. It will be interesting to see how the Canadian Food Inspection Agency deals with this complaint. Given Beyond Meat is in fact a brand and will be out of the agency’s scope of action, the Beyond Meat name will likely remain.

Vegans, who are known to live strict, mission-led lifestyles, have been less vocal the past few years. In the past, vegans and vegetarians have marched on the “meat is murder.” But, even if meat remains a moral issue for vegans, some research warns direct and intense moral appeals can work on some people, but backfire with others. And at this juncture, guilt and morality may backfire. Studies have shown brain scans of vegans and omnivores differ from one another when the test subject is exposed to images of animal violence or suffering. We are all different, and we look at the ethical and moral issues around eating meat in different ways.

Meat producers such as Maple Leaf, Cargill and Tyson are venturing into meat alternatives and trying to figure out what the future protein market might look like. Plant-based diets are slowly going mainstream, and the entire food supply chain, from farm to fork, are adapting to a consumer looking for alternative sources of protein.

But Vegan Education Group ads are destroying what the food industry is trying to accomplish, which is offering a more diverse, democratic, supply of proteins to a highly-fragmented marketplace. It is uncalled for when vegan activists wilfully interfere with the livelihoods of farmers and invade the social interactions of consumers celebrating food, whatever food they choose. Things have changed. When consumers are disrespected for their food choices, it’s a setback. When farmers are not appreciated for the work they do and publicly shamed, everyone loses in the end.

If this group chooses to campaign, so be it. But if it’s done poorly and in bad taste, veganism has a lot to lose, as we all do. Times have changed, and so should vegans’ style of advocating. The market needs vegans who are rational, and who present their ideas thoughtfully, with the intent to educate, so that we can learn from each other.


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