How Canada's trend of eating less meat plays out in restaurants

Canadians are eating less meat, new studies show, and the dietary trend is playing out in restaurants according to food columnist Andrew Coppolino.
(Credit: Lisa Dawn Bolton)

There's a new reason to ask, "where's the beef?"

The results of a recent study undertaken by the University of Guelph and Dalhousie University show that Canadians are reducing the meat in their diet—and restaurants are responding.  

The online survey conducted September, 2018, examined Canadian attitudes toward meat and plant-based protein alternatives. 

Dalhousie University Faculty of Management professor Sylvain Charlebois was the study's primary investigator, and he and his colleagues, Simon Somogyi of the University of Guelph and Janet Music of Dalhousie, found that people restrict meat in their diet because of concerns for health, animal welfare and the environment. 

The numbers are revealing. While 82 per cent of Canadians said they eat meat, the study also showed that 6.4 million of us have reduced or eliminated meat consumption.  

  • Women are more likely than men to limit or eliminate their meat intake and more likely to replace it with other proteins. 
  • Ontarians are most likely to already be eating less meat, according to the survey. Atlantic Canada less likely.  
  • Age plays a role: 63 percent of respondents describing themselves as vegans were under age 38.

Restaurants, both national chains and independents, have certainly noticed their customers' interest in eating more plant-based food and less meat. The success of A&W's "Beyond Meat" plant-based "hamburger" meant that it sold out quickly, and this past summer, Beyond Meat was in fact outselling its popular Teenburger.  

Torsh Kebab is the main dish served at Pars Grill in Vaughan, Ont.

Meat on the menu

Whether quick-service or upscale casual, restaurant menus have traditionally been heavily weighted in favour of carnivore eating; however, more restaurants now offer more vegetarian and vegan dishes.

If they don't, the kitchen can usually adapt the existing dishes quite easily. A restaurant's decision to offer more plant-based dishes has been supported by increasing beef prices over the past few years. 

As an example, Fat Sparrow restaurateur Nick Benninger offers a three-course vegan prix-fixe menu on Tuesdays at Marbles in Waterloo. He says it's one of the restaurant's busiest nights. 
"We have been making a real effort to be more plant-based, and many restaurants are trying to be a bit more mindful of trends, the environmental impact and food costs. Even in our diets at home, we've found ourselves putting more veggies at the centre of the plate," said Benninger. 

A seitan roast is one plant-based alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. (Danielle Gauthier/Facebook)


While vegetarians don't eat meat, vegans abstain from eating or using all animal products including milk, cheese and other dairy items, as well as eggs, honey, wool, silk and leather. It's a lifestyle decision based on health, ethics and environmental factors. 

Plant-based vegans try to eat mostly whole and unprocessed foods such as fruit, vegetables, beans and legumes, but there are varieties of vegan: raw vegans, paleo-vegans and gluten-free vegans. There is even a vegan "junk food" subculture who eat mostly processed foods such as pizza, mac-and-cheese and brownies that have been "veganized." 

Regardless of whether it is a restaurant, a grocery store or a food manufacturer, the interest in a plant-based diet is a growing one among Canadians and the food and beverage sector is responding.

"No matter where you are or who you are, you have to eat and we are seeing more and more changes in the way people eat in Canada," said Somogyi. 

"By 2050, there will be more than 10 billion people on the planet, and while people will still be eating animal protein, plant-based proteins that are more sustainably produced are a creditable alternative."

While the following list is not exhaustive, here is a selection of restaurants in the area that offer vegetarian and vegan options: 

  • My-Thai: does serve meat but also several vegetarian and vegan options 
  • EVO Kitchen: vegetarian and vegan options 
  • Grain of Salt: does serve meat but several vegetarian and vegan options 


  • Cornerstone: long-standing veg and vegan café  
  • Boon Burger:"burgers" but Peace-za with "cheeze" and "bacun" 
  • Cadence: vegan and vegetarian with a gluten-free broccoli mac-and-cheese 
  • Crafty Ramen: vegan ramen 


  • Café Pyrus: vegetarian and vegan; try the Big Bang vegan fried "chicken burger" 
  • Queen Street Commons: people love the vegan brownie  
  • Fresh Ground: try the vegan galette with sour dough, olives, figs, onions 
  • The Guanaquita: tripe, yes, but about 20 vegan options 
  • Pure Juice Bar: vegetarian and vegan food and beverage 
  • Pho Tran:  vegetarian broth for pho is not easy to track down 
  • Farm Boy: nine hot bar items, including pasta, curries, rice pudding  
  • Rawlicious: Belmont Village for raw and vegan 
  • Yeti Café: veggie options and a vegan BLT with coconut "bacon" 
  • Panago Pizza: includes meat-free pepperoni and daiya "cheeze"     
  • Fork and Cork: vegan options       


  • Planet Diner: "where herbivores can bring their carnivores" 
  • The Pulp Fresh Bar: all-vegetarian with vegan options 
  • Grounded Vegan Café: "For yourself. For the earth. For the animals." 


  • White Rabbit: Vegan menu includes a hoisin-marinated fried tofu banh mi   
  • Jane Bond: popular vegetarian restaurant with live music and tofu bacon 
  • Marbles: Tuesday special is a three-course plant-based prix-fixe menu  
  • CE Food Experience: vegan baking, including breads and ice creams 
  • Copperbranch: calls itself vegan fast food
  • Freshii: vegetarian and vegan options but does serve meat 
  • Chopped Leaf: vegetarian and vegan options but does serve meat 
  • Famoso: substitute vegan daiya "cheeze" at no charge 
  • Meltwich: seven-item vegan menu 
  • Pizza Pizza: dairy-free "cheeze"