Day 6

So long, Veganuary: How meat-loving Quebec ran out of tofu

Quebec's tofu producers say they can't keep up with demand. Food journalist Allison Van Rassel explains why a province better-known for its tourtière and poutine has eaten all the tofu.

The tradition of going meatless for January is gaining steam, says Allison Van Rassel

A customer eats a piece of fried stinky tofu at the Jiaziyuan Restaurant in New Taipei city July 25, 2013. (Pichi Chuang/Reuters)

There's a tofu shortage in Quebec and Veganuary might be to blame.

The annual tradition of going meatless for the first month of the year is gaining steam, and with Canada's Food Guide now recommending plant-based proteins like tofu, it may have gotten a boost.

But that trend is proving tough for Quebec's local tofu producers who can't keep up with demand.

"You have to understand that there are some locavore enthusiasts who like to go the local way of shopping for food," said food writer and CBC/Radio-Canada broadcaster Allison Van Rassel.

Allison Van Rassel is a Quebec-based food journalist (Submitted by Allison Van Rassel)

Unisoya is Quebec's largest tofu producer. The company told La Presse this week that it's overwhelmed by a 20 per cent rise in tofu demand.

Sales of the product have jumped from $22 million in 2013 to $38 million in 2017.

"This is a worldwide trend," Van Rassel said. "Consumers are trying to replace meat with vegetable alternatives. What's the easiest and most accessible food out there? Well, it's tofu."

But why so much love for the sponge-like cube in a province that loves its meat?

Meaty history

While Van Rassel doesn't how much of the increased demand will stick, she acknowledges that consumers are conscious of what they consume.

But Quebec's history is in agriculture, she says, thinking back to her grandmother who fed les bûcherons (lumberjacks) when they came home after their workdays in the woods.

"She cooked for the men who went out in the wild and worked day-in, day-out, and needed to have these very hearty meals," she said.

Those meals were high in fibre and meat, she says.

What's cool about people who are used to cooking vegan meals or vegetarian meals is that they know that there are different options- Allison Van Rassel

In Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, "that is where the first settlers ... started working the land and beef was part of it," Van Rassel said.

"We brought in the cows — into la Nouvelle France — [the] 1608 cow. It's now a heritage. Yes, it is an intrinsic part of our DNA."

Despite the love for a cow herd that goes back 400 years and produces great cheese, Van Rassel says that meat is probably no longer the best source of protein.

Adding foods like tofu is healthier — and better for the environment.

Soyarie, another tofu producer in Gatineau, Que., makes burgers and nuggets along with its blocks of tofu. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Production boosted

There is good news for tofu lovers in Quebec.

Veganuary has come to an end and Unisoya plans to double production by the end of the year.

For many who found the grocery store shelves for their favourite tofu empty, though, Van Rassel says most will know about alternatives like lentils.

"What's cool about people who are used to cooking vegan meals or vegetarian meals is that they know that there are different options," she said.

To hear the full interview with Allison Van Rassel, download our podcast or click 'listen' at the top of this page.


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