Pro­tein wars are here as di­ets are chang­ing

Simcoe Reformer - - OPINION - Syl­vain charlebois Syl­vain Charlebois is pro­fes­sor in food dis­tri­bu­tion and pol­icy at Dal­housie Univer­sity.

ap­par­ently, canada is go­ing meat­less, un­less you are a white, older male, that is.

That may be a slight ex­ag­ger­a­tion, as many cana­di­ans still need a reg­u­lar meat fix. many see meat con­sump­tion as one of the plea­sures in life, as well as a nec­es­sary part of a bal­anced diet. some even be­lieve meat con­sump­tion to be a fun­da­men­tal right. ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study from dal­housie univer­sity, more than 82 per cent of cana­di­ans re­main com­mit­ted to meat con­sump­tion.

but for the meat in­dus­try, and es­pe­cially beef pro­duc­ers, the study also gives us some trou­bling news for the fu­ture.

The study in­di­cates that 6.4 mil­lion cana­di­ans have ei­ther adopted a meat­less diet or are lim­it­ing the amount of meat they eat ev­ery week.

While a to­tal of 63 per cent of ve­gans are younger than 38, which in­cludes both Gen­er­a­tion y and mil­len­ni­als, the older crowd are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the meat­less trend as well. more than 42 per cent of flex­i­tar­i­ans are baby boomers.

The plant-based nar­ra­tive clearly has made a dent in the av­er­age con­sumer’s per­cep­tion of a health­ful diet. most cana­di­ans have al­ready thought about re­duc­ing their meat con­sump­tion, and 32.2 per cent of re­spon­dents in­tend to do so within the next six months.

as the beef in­dus­try tries to find ways to demon­strate sus­tain­abil­ity, con­sumers ap­pear to have moved on.

con­cern for the en­vi­ron­ment and an­i­mal wel­fare are some of the fac­tors that are push­ing con­sumers away from cer­tain meat prod­ucts. but health con­cerns seem to be the big­gest mo­ti­va­tor.

although highly crit­i­cized at the time, a re­port re­leased by the World Health or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2015 — which con­demned pro­cessed meat con­sump­tion — has af­fected how meat in gen­eral is per­ceived around the world, in­clud­ing here in canada. The re­port claims con­sumers who ate the most pro­cessed meats — such as hot dogs, ba­con, deli meats or ham — had an in­creased risk of can­cer com­pared to those who ate such foods in­fre­quently.

Three years later, sev­eral coun­tries have al­tered their food guide to en­cour­age con­sumers to look for veg­etable pro­teins or even fish. canada will soon join this group with its new food guide.

some con­sumers are re­sist­ing the no­tion of plant-based di­ets as a vi­able al­ter­na­tive or a means to a healthy life­style. in­deed, con­ver­sa­tions on pro­teins these days are di­vi­sive and ut­terly po­lar­ized.

When look­ing at dal­housie’s re­port, the block­ade ef­fect seems to be linked to mas­culin­ity, tra­di­tion­al­ism, and hi­er­ar­chies, all of which re­sem­ble and main­tain the con­ven­tional struc­tures of power in the western world. meat is of­ten in­her­ently linked to man­hood. There’s no other way to put it. such in­flu­ences also re­sem­ble the sym­bolic and so­cial his­tory of meat con­sump­tion.

con­versely, ur­ban­iza­tion, the col­lec­tive will to live in a more di­verse so­ci­ety, in­creased ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion for all, and a ris­ing fe­male voice are dis­tinc­tive prod­ucts of mod­ern so­ci­ety and thus rep­re­sent a push for culi­nary changes, af­fect­ing what we put on our plates.

Pro­teins are be­com­ing more plu­ral­ist. for the beef in­dus­try, the jour­ney has not been easy. com­pared to 2010, cana­di­ans are eat­ing 16 per cent less beef an­nu­ally.

one les­son that can be learned, how­ever, is that com­mod­ity groups should not look at their prod­uct in iso­la­tion. beef, as an ex­am­ple, needs to co-ex­ist with lentils, fish, or other, more af­ford­able sources of pro­teins.

To be­friend other com­mod­ity groups would be a novel ap­proach, but it would also be a re­fresh­ing change. it would be an ef­fec­tive way to fight the pro­tein wars.

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