Nelson Oser-Small, 17, and Mia Kelly, 17, eat tofu scramble they made for breakfast at the Kelly family home in Gatineau, Que., on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Kelly decided to become vegetarian after marching in last fall’s climate strike in Ottawa. “After that, climate change was really on my mind a lot,” she said. “And then I realized that switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet was the biggest thing I could do as an individual.” Her friend Nelson Oser-Small, 17, has also adopted vegetarianism. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Climate change concerns prompt more youths to go vegetarian or vegan

Younger people are three times more likely to consider themselves vegetarian or vegan than those 49 or older

Mia Kelly, 17, decided to become vegetarian after marching in last fall’s climate strike in Ottawa.

“After that, climate change was really on my mind a lot,” she said. “And then I realized that switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet was the biggest thing I could do as an individual.”

Her friend Nelson Oser-Small, 17, has also adopted vegetarianism.

“Honestly it’s like a trend now to become vegan or vegetarian,” he said. “A lot of my friends are taking a bigger interest in climate change and they know that eating less meat will help.”

Both teens say being vegetarian has been easy so far.

“I don’t really miss meat all that much. But the other day was the Super Bowl and I really missed having chicken wings to watch the game. I guess I also missed the turkey and stuffing at Christmas dinner,” Kelly said. “It’s more like tradition, than the actual meat itself.”

According to a 2018 Dalhousie University study, people under the age of 35 are three times more likely to consider themselves vegetarian or vegan than people 49 or older. This translates to almost two out of every three vegans in Canada being millennials or from Generation Z. Similar results are found in other studies conducted in Canada and the United States.

“In 2018 we estimated that 6.4 million Canadians already follow a diet that restricts meat partially or completely,” notes the principal investigator of the study Sylvain Charlebois from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab. “But now we’ve already revised this number to 10.2 million. Things are changing really fast, faster than ever really.”

READ MORE: Is vegan food a human right? Ontario firefighter battling B.C. blaze argues it is

And Charlebois says these numbers could continue to grow as young people end up passing their diets down to their own kids. He explains that this would then change expectations for greenhouse gas emissions, health indicators such as heart disease, as well as the food industry itself.

Teen idols, including climate activist Greta Thunberg and singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, have taken to social media to encourage kids to go vegan.

Eilish recently asked her millions of Instagram followers to take responsibility for climate change, including by giving up meat, dairy, and plastic.

Thunberg says her key efforts to combat climate change include a vegan diet, not flying, and no longer buying unnecessary new things.

“In the last few years there’s been a dramatic increase in the kids who go vegan, with climate change rapidly gaining speed as the reason they give,” says Susan Hargreaves, 60, the Toronto native who runs Animal Hero Kids, a Florida animal rights organization.

“Kids are now way more aware of the link between the climate crisis and animal farming.”

“It’s not only for the animals but for our health and for climate change,” said 15-year-old vegan Kingston Walters, one of the Animal Hero Kids from Vancouver. “Being vegan is the best way to save our planet. It’s not going to be here anymore if we all just stand back and watch.”

About 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are related to livestock, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. And last year’s special report on climate change and land by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cited reduced meat consumption and shifts to plant-based diets as opportunities for mitigating climate change.

The Canadian red meat industry was worth $21.1 billion in 2018. But Canadians have decreased their beef and pork consumption over the last two decades, looking to other protein sources including chickpeas and other legumes, algae, or fungal protein to mimic meat and poultry products.

“Buying food is like voting,” said Charlebois. “You’re basically telling the food industry that this is what matters to me … with health and environment as two of the top concerns.”

Companies such as Maple Leaf and Cargill are embracing meatless alternatives, with more vegan protein options available in grocery stores.

“The important thing is to make sure kids get the nutrients and energy they need for growth and development,” said Brooke Bulloch, a spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada.

“Of course, mom and dad are saying ‘oh my gosh, how do we meet their protein needs?’” Bulloch said, noting that she has seen more families and youth looking for advice about plant-based diets over the last year.

“But the evidence really points to protein not at all being an issue with well-planned plant-based diets.”

The Canadian Paediatric Society says a well-balanced vegetarian diet can provide for the needs of children and adolescents. But it cautions that strict vegan diets may need vitamin and mineral supplements, such as calcium fortified food.

“I think a lot of children and families are just sort of removing things out of their diet, but often not thinking about what should be added back in to prevent micronutrient deficiency,” said Nita Sharda a Winnipeg dietitian, who points to the importance of proper planning.

But Nelson Oser-Small’s mother, Michelle Oser, is not worried about her son’s vegetarian conversion.

“I’ve done my research,” she said. “As we all know, you get protein and iron from lot of places … and if you’re really worried there’s always iron and vitamin supplements.”

“He’s doing it for good reasons, and so hopefully he can stick to it.”

Katherine Monahan , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Vegan and Vegetarian

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Revelstoke pays $6.89 million in wages in 2019

27 employees were paid more than $75,000 last year

Roots and Blues online festival live tonight on Black Press Media

Tune in to Black Press Media to watch the festival live Aug. 14, 15 and 16

Okanagan Correctional Centre outbreak due to training session: Interior Health

Interior Health said in a statement the staff members were at an off-site training session

Invasive mussel monitoring stations detect 10 boats

Boats were headed to Okanagan and Thompson regions

City of Revelstoke adding new full-time social development position

The current coordinator is a part-time contractor

‘Don’t kill my mom’: Ryan Reynolds calls on young British Columbians to be COVID-smart

‘Deadpool’ celebrity responds to premier’s call for social influence support

Protesters showcase massive old yellow cedar as Port Renfrew area forest blockade continues

9.5-foot-wide yellow cedar measured by Ancient Forest Alliance campaigners in Fairy Creek watershed

Taking dog feces and a jackhammer to neighbourhood dispute costs B.C. man $16,000

‘Pellegrin’s actions were motivated by malice …a vindictive, pointless, dangerous and unlawful act’

Two people dead after Highway 1 collision west of Kamloops

Two-vehicle accident closed Trans-Canada Highway for more than five hours

Racist stickers at Keremeos pub leaves group uneasy and angry

The ‘OK’ hand gesture is a known hate-symbol

VIDEO: World responds to B.C. girl after pandemic cancels birthday party

Dozens of cards and numerous packages were delivered to six-year-old Charlie Manning

Kelowna animal rights activist speaks out amid charges in 2019 Abbotsford hog-farm protest

Amy Soranno, along with three other activists, will appear in court on Sept. 3

Shuswap dragon boaters honour teammate’s cancer-fighting accomplishments

Friends Abreast team provides special recognition outside Salmon Arm hospital

UPDATE: Lake Country man reunited with missing parrot

The Senegal parrot escaped from her cage Wednesday evening and was found Friday afternoon

Most Read