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Dalhousie University group wants plant-based meals prioritized on campus

Default Dal wants to see plant-based food as the default option, meaning diners would need to opt-in to eat meat and dairy
Dalhousie University

A group at Dalhousie University wants to prioritize plant-based meals at the school.

Faculty of Agriculture member Kathleen Kevany leads an initiative called Default Dal, which seeks to make plant-based food the default option for catering on the Halifax and Truro campuses, meaning diners would need to opt-in to eat meat and dairy.

"I brought the idea to a number of colleagues at Dal to see if we are interested in activating something together that looks like we have a commitment to dietary patterns, or at least food offerings that are more environmentally and animal friendly," Kevany said.

"Universities have a key role to play, and other universities have been working on defaulting to more plant options on their menus," she added, citing Oxford and Cambridge as examples.

Kevany said motivations for a switch are both environmental as well as ethical and all it takes is one successful attempt at activism to inspire others to follow suit.

"We are able to learn from other examples like Cambridge, where students organize a vote to remove beef from the menu," Kevany said.

The Default Dal initiative is barely a year old and it is already starting a dialogue.

"There have been communications back and forth with the president's office. We hope to have a meeting scheduled in the months ahead," Kevany said.

The Director of Dal's Agri-food Analytics Lab, Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, says the success of plant-based options ultimately depends on how they taste to consumers.

"The problem is that for a very long time, we saw new products coming into the market that weren't very good, so people just walked away and went back to what they know - beef, pork and chicken," he explained.

Charlebois has spent time in the cattle farming regions of Canada and believes Kevany might have a tough battle ahead.

"People hate A&W in rural Canada because of what they did with the beyond burger," Charlebois said.

"She's in trouble trying to have that conversation in Truro, because in Truro, plant-based is a menace. It's a threat," he added.

But Charlebois believes the most significant divide on the issue is not urban/rural, it's age.

"Whether it's the earth or animal welfare, those are things that are really important to a growing number of people, especially the younger generations," he said.

"When you talk to boomers, they don't see the point, and boomers are leading the ag sector," Charlebois said.

The price of meats such as beef have risen by 27 per cent in Nova Scotia since 2017. According to Statistics Canada, the cost of preserved fruits and vegetables have only gone up by 11 per cent.

"What we're noticing in the last four or five years is that price and affordability at the meat counter is becoming a much more important issue for consumers," Charlebois stated. "It is getting a lot of people to consider other options, including plant-based."

He believes more people would consider plant-based alternatives if they witnessed the every day operations of animal agriculture, including dairy.

"They take away calves as soon as it's born, away from the mother. A lot of things are happening in farming right now that would be absolutely disturbing for a lot of people," Charlebois said.


Ryan Bellefontaine

About the Author: Ryan Bellefontaine

Aspiring data journalist, economic analyst and political commentator.
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