An exploding trend in “going vegan” is starting to gain attention locally, and as more documentaries and social media influencers highlight gruesome details of animal cruelty and slaughter, their audiences become quickly swayed.
But how does this issue, in a province built by farmers, ranchers and the Calgary Stampede, impact a city affectionately known as “Cowtown”?
Although there is plenty of information available about nutrition, the growing trend among young Canadians aged 18 to 24 calls to question whether or not meat is really so bad.
According to dietitian Grace Wong, food just isn’t that simple.
“I think what happens sometimes when information is presented in black and white, in absolute terms, then people get emotional and they debate about it, but often it isn’t," says Wong.
For vegans like Crystal Brown and Joel Gwillim however, it is an absolute black and white decision.
“Well, basically it comes down to this – there is no right way to kill someone who doesn’t want to die,” says Brown, who became vegan after learning about the treatment of animals in the agricultural industry, eventually leading her to open Calgary’s first and only vegan boutique, The Grinning Goat.
Brown says the journey was difficult at first with a limited amount of information available.
Joel Gwillim, a real estate agent in Calgary, didn’t feel the switch was difficult after having been vegetarian for some time. He’s now gaining online attention for his strong beliefs, becoming an influential voice through his Instagram account, which brings awareness to the issue.
He says he’s just doing his best to help others understand their decisions to participate in the animal product industry.
“You may not have known – but this had to die so you could wear it,” Gwillim says.
“Well, basically, it comes down to this – there is no right way to kill someone who doesn’t want to die.” – Crystal Brown
Alberta cattle rancher Tim Hoven disagrees with claims that animal farmers are cruel. Being in the farming community, Hoven says any of the producers he’s met love their animals, including factory farmers.
Although he disagrees with industrial farming, he says “to brand everyone – that all these meat producers are horrible, evil, cruel human beings – it’s propaganda. It just isn’t true.”
Hoven Farms, which began in 1910, prides itself on being an organic, regenerative operation, being chemical-free for the last 30 years after Hoven and his wife learned about the dangers of chemical farming.
His cattle roam freely on the family’s farm in an effort to mimic the natural movement of animals in the wild.
“What we try to do is give the animals the best life possible,” Hoven explains.
Gwillim says he doesn’t doubt animals at these family-run operations are treated much better than those at a factory farm. He understands the history and even the cultural value of farming, as he, too, grew up on a farm. But to him, those aren’t valid enough reasons to continue the tradition.
“It’s still something that’s making people sick,” Gwillim says.
A healthy diet
His concern for the treatment of animals was a result of Gwillim’s switch to a vegan lifestyle after realizing the health benefits. He says after the switch, he felt leaner and had more energy.
“You almost get addicted to it because your body feels so much better,” says Gwillim.
“You need to know like where your food comes from, what the environmental costs are, what your costs are [and] why you’re paying so little for food, which is kind of scary, right?” – Joel Gwillim
Brown agrees, saying the health benefits of being vegan is a perk. She quotes the World Health Organization’s 2015 release linking cancer to red meats and processed meats, and adds a benefit for herself was the fact that cholesterol is only found in animal-based products.
But Hoven believes there are benefits to including meat in your diet.
He and his wife began deeply investigating human health and nutrition 15 years ago, and realized they needed to take their chemical-free farming approach one step further. Instead of focusing on sustainability, they began creating healthier soils through a regenerative process.
“We’ve made this farm an extension of our beliefs, trying to grow healthy food for us and our family, and for other people as well,” he says.
Because of the farm’s focus, Hoven believes people who are looking to eat better will eventually turn to farmers like him instead of buying cheap meat from places that may not treat their animals well.
Although the exclusion of meat may seem to lead to a lack of nutritious value to Hoven, dietitian Grace Wong says any diet can have deficiencies.
She says deficiencies in a vegan diet can include iron, zinc, B12 and protein, but that doesn’t mean vegans are doomed.
“I think there is a way to have a balanced diet and not end up having deficiencies, either eating a diet with meats, or, a vegan diet” says Wong.
“These people want to make good choices about ethical sources of meat, so they look to farmers like me. I see veganism to being one step away from being a customer – one step from being a very good customer.” – Tim Hoven
When considering a diet change, Wong suggests people first determine their motivation. Instead of forcing an entirely new diet, she says to begin experimenting in small portions to see how your body responds.
She also says getting enough nutrition is why so many people turn to dietitians.
“They don’t know what to eat because often people are thinking about what not to eat – what to cut out – but they’re not looking at what they can eat.,” says Wong.
“We do know that lots of people eat vegan and vegetarian diets for very good reasons, and very personal reasons, but we know that sometimes an overly restrictive diet isn’t helpful either.”
To learn more, watch the feature with Joel, Crystal, Tim and Grace below.
- By Deanna Tucker and Peter Brand