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Being Vegan and the Vegan Movement in Canada

Updated: Jun 7

Inspired by 在加拿大食素容易嗎? on 不吃動物的人 Friend of Animal, written by a fellow Hong Konger, I thought I would share my thoughts on veganism and animal advocacy in Canada too. With this piece, I hope to provide another perspective for the reader. Rather than focusing on the ease of eating vegan in Canada, I want to also discuss my experience with vegan/animal advocacy here. Of course, what I write here only represents my experience as a student at a public university in Prince George, British Columbia, a city with a population of less than 80,000.


My article is divided into several sections:

  1. Being Vegan

  2. Vegan/Animal Advocacy Space

  3. Challenges to Vegan/Animal Advocacy


 

1. Being Vegan


...in School

The dining hall at my school has a corner dedicated to vegan food. People have different opinions about how the food tastes, but having the options alone was enough to make me happy.


This is what my typical meal at the dining hall looks like. I’d have some carbohydrates, protein, and salad.

That said, other establishments on campus offer very limited vegan options, such as juices 😟


The school’s catering takes care of events like departmental seminars and public lectures. If pizzas are served at such events, you’ll likely find vegetarian and even gluten-free options, but not vegan ones, sadly. I can expect tortilla chips and fruits for finger foods. I think there can be more awareness about veganism in general because I’ve experienced some confusion. For example, I once asked two dining hall staff members whether a cake was vegan. They kept telling me it’s gluten-free and I had to explain how that’s different from being vegan. I’d also seen paneer (a kind of dairy cheese) served at the vegan counter. I’ve tried reflecting my needs to catering. I suppose it takes time for things to improve.


Doing Groceries in the City

In supermarkets, you get a good selection of vegan products, from vegan milk and dairy products, to meat alternatives (such as tofu and tempeh, although they are usually much more expensive here than in Asia) and frozen meals.



2. Vegan/Animal Advocacy Space


Activism in the City

As far as I’m aware, in terms of community building there is only one Facebook group for those who are plant-based here. I don’t see any overt forms of advocacy such as street outreach, protests, or leafleting. There are vegan options in some restaurants and cafes though.


The Movement in My University

There are student societies centered around sustainable living and environmentalism. However they seem to prioritize environmental issues such as energy use, waste production, and composting. Animal agriculture doesn’t seem to be part of the conversation at all, unfortunately. As far as I know, there has also been very little to no discussion on campus around animal ethics or factory farming. Fortunately, the school’s Sustainability Manager is very supportive of the plant-based lifestyle and helped me with organizing a movie screening and a climate cook-in for a month-long sustainability initiative in March 2024. During both of these events, I sensed from the participants some interest in the vegan lifestyle, which was motivating.


In March, I organized a movie screening of Eating Our Way to Extinction, and a climate cook-in where my presentation on the environmental impacts of animal farming was followed by a vegan cooking session at the dining hall.

Because of the lack of community for vegan/plant-based folks, I decided to create one.

I joined the Plant Futures Initiative to start a chapter on my campus. I suspect some students are at least sympathetic to the cause, who are maybe reducetarians and don’t identify with the vegan/vegetarian labels yet, or are vegan/vegetarian but aren’t persuaded to expand their activism beyond individual diet change.



3. Challenges to Vegan/Animal Advocacy


...in My University

A severe lack of an animal angle: as alluded to above, animal farming is the elephant in the room when it comes to climate talks. (I briefly wrote about this in a previous blog post.)


Gathering interest in veganism and animal protection has not been easy. The turnout to the events I helped organize was not exactly spectacular. There is little awareness on campus around animal issues. For example, I personally still get questions like “What about protein?”, “What about plants?”, “What about hunting?”, “What about humane meat?”, and “What about backyard eggs?”. Also, as mentioned above, I think most people still view veganism as just a personal lifestyle choice rather than a social movement.


...in British Columbia and Canada


Animal Agriculture

Canada’s animal production generated $7.2 billion to the country’s GDP in 2023. According to Animal Justice, four Canadian provinces currently have ag-gag laws in place. These are laws lobbied by the animal agriculture industry to silence whistleblowers and stop them from exposing animal abuse in factory farms and slaughterhouses.


Anglers and Hunters

Fishing, hunting, and trapping animals are legal in every Canadian province and territory, both recreationally and commercially. Each province and territory has its own regulations for such activities. These activities are a significant part of the national economy. In 2018, the economic footprint of fishing, hunting, trapping, and sport shooting was $13.2 billion, a substantial 0.6% of the country’s GDP. In British Columbia, there are around 300,000 license holders of tidal recreational fishing in 2023, and 107,000 licensed hunters in 2020. Hunting is perceived as a family-oriented activity for “a variety of legitimate cultural and subsistence purposes” according to B.C. Wildlife Federation. (Don’t be misled by the name of the group. It’s made up of 100 “fish and game protective associations” and rod and gun clubs.)


From anecdotal and personal observations, my impression is that fishing and hunting are still important activities in people’s lives here. My university has a wildlife society that co-hosts fishing tournaments with a hunters and anglers club. I also hear about hunting rights in classrooms and the justifications for hunting.


Legal Space

I don’t have a ton of knowledge in this space yet, but apparently close to 200 out of 282 (70%) Members of Parliament (MPs) in Canada voted against C-246, an animal protection bill that (according to the MP who introduced it) wouldn’t even have any effect on hunting, fishing, or farming practices. Only 3 MPs voted against National Seal Products Day, a day dedicated to recognizing the importance of the seal hunt for Canada.


Reasons for Hope


Despite these challenges, I try to stay hopeful and revel in the small joys:


  • When I cold emailed lecturers asking if I could promote Plant Futures at the end of their class, the majority said yes; some even voiced their support for my initiative in front of the class.

  • I’ve met good allies (people who might not be vegan but support the movement), for example friends who organized a party and told me which pizza was vegan, and those who helped spread the word about the vegan events/initiatives I started.

  • There are amazing Canadian animal organizations, such as We Animals Media (a favorite of mine) and Animal Justice, and chapters of international organizations such as the Animal Save Movement.


Concluding Thoughts


  • It might be easy to practice a vegan diet in Canada, especially in bigger cities, but advocacy can still be difficult.

  • Although most people would probably say they’re against animal cruelty and love animals (even hunters might say they want to and are helping with conservation), I think the society at large is still very speciesist and does not take into consideration the interests and welfare of individual sentient animals.

  • Individual diet change is necessary and good, but we need to do a lot more than that to transform societies.

  • If you’d like some inspiration, I made this video about ways to support the animal movement, on top of individual diet change.


This is just a quick overview and reflection on the animal movement from what I’ve observed in Prince George, British Columbia in a few months. I know there is a lot more that I haven’t touched on, but I hope this has been interesting and that you’ve learned something new. If you have other opinions or insights, please share them in a comment below!


Angel Lau

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