Ottawa

Vegan cafe defies CFIA order to stop using words burger, cheese

A vegan restaurant owner in Kanata is defying a Canadian Food Inspection Agency order to stop using "cheese" and "burger" to describe items on her menu — a risk she said she's willing to take.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency gave owner 2 weeks to cease and desist

A vegan burger with cheddar cheese made from nuts made by Grow Your Roots Cafe. Owner Melanie Boudens has chosen to keep labels like cheddar cheese on her menu. (Supplied by Melanie Boudens )

A vegan restaurant owner in Kanata is defying a Canadian Food Inspection Agency order to stop using "cheese" and "burger" to describe items on her menu — a risk she said she's willing to take.

"I'd like to see where it goes in the future, working with some animal justice lawyers," said Melanie Boudens, owner of Grow Your Roots Cafe, on CBC Radio's All In A Day.

Staff from the CFIA visited her business two weeks ago to tell her she had two weeks to drop those references from her menu.

The visit was prompted by a customer complaint that the "cheddar cheese" she ate was not made from dairy, despite the menu being labelled "100% vegan." Boudens said the customer felt the word cheese was misleading.

Call it 'cheese alternative'

Boudens said she makes vegan cheese by fermenting almond or cashew milk and thickening it. Other nut cheeses on the menu are labelled "cashew mozzarella," "cashew parmesan" and "almond feta."

The CFIA suggested she change them to "mozarella style" or "cheese alternative."

"I immediately said no to that mainly because I don't like the word alternative. I think it makes the items sound less appetizing than what they really are," she said.

"I would hate to turn someone away just because of what we called it."

'Not the only ones'

Boudens said there are many vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the city that use similar labels, and that some have faced criticism and others have not. 

And big food chains offering vegan options also call their plant-based items "burgers" and "sausages."  

"We're not the only ones dealing with it, but I am just the lucky one who got caught with it," she said.

Brian Naud, a spokesperson for the CFIA, wrote in an emailed statement that they can't comment on specific cases.

But in general, he wrote, the CFIA takes into account the overall impression food labels create for customers.

"Foods sold in Canada must have a common name, and all labelling must be truthful and not misleading," the statement reads.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.