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Gail Hammond and Ryan McKee hope the city keeps a close eye on processed foods and farmers’ livelihoods as it investigates a shift away from animal products.

Vancouver’s plant-based push should be low on processed food and farmer-friendly, say experts

The city recently passed a motion directing staff to look at ways to achieve a 20-per-cent reduction in its animal-based food offerings

By Curtis Seufert , in City Food , on November 27, 2021

Food experts hope that the City of Vancouver will keep processed plant-based foods to a minimum as it investigates how to replace 20 per cent of its animal-based food products in its events, facilities, and programs.

One expert thinks the city should especially keep an eye on its choice of burger replacement, since plant-based patties can often be heavily processed and more expensive than regular beef patties.

“You can put any list of ingredients together and all be plant-based, but it’s still going to be a highly processed product,” says Gail Hammond, assistant professor at UBC’s Land and Food Systems school.

Despite the rise of brands like Beyond Meat, Hammond hopes the city’s plant-based shift doesn’t rely too much on the more popular but processed food options.

“I’m not saying don’t do it, because there’s value in trying things,” says Hammond. “[But] when I see something like this … how are you going to make sure you’re getting all the adequate nutrients you need with that kind of approach?”

Someone who is currently running a plant-based food program in a school agrees with Hammond. Ryan McKee rarely uses processed foods in the school lunch program he runs through his business, elemeno.

He encourages the city to follow suit with their shift to plant-based food purchases, which could include low-income school food programs, city-catered events, park board concession, civic theatres and more.

City-managed civic theatres like the Orpheum, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and Vancouver Playhouse could see menu changes as part of the plant-based policy.

“A burger makes a tonne of sense if it’s at a concession stand. But in other instances like day-to-day food, people don’t necessarily want to eat processed food all the time,” says McKee.

For McKee, introducing people to plant-based versions of their favourite meals is possible without processed foods.

“Introduce a couple new things, and stick with things they love. And then tweak the ingredients to be more plant-based.”

Farming concerns

Hammond is also concerned with how Vancouver’s potential shift to more plant-based foods could affect the livelihoods of B.C.’s meat and dairy farmers.

“I do agree with reducing carbon emissions. But I also want it to be counterbalanced with farmers’ livelihood,” says Hammond. “It’s kind of a blind action to take. I just find [20 per cent] a very blunt blow to all the stakeholders involved.”

But someone who advocated for the change sees the move as a reasonable place to start. Emily Pickett, who led the Vancouver Humane Society’s push for the recent council motion directing staff to investigate the shift, says a 20 per cent increase is a “minimum benchmark” for a change like this.

“It would demonstrate the impact of the policy while remaining attainable in the short term,” says Pickett. “There’s still a lot of room to have other products on menus.”

Vancouver Councillor Pete Fry, who put forth the council motion, agrees. He thinks the goal is “modest,” and hopes that city staff will investigate a greater reduction in years to come.

“I would hope that our staff will start to take that initiative. And I do actually believe that the market is going to start shifting that way.”