Canadians eating less meat for health, and for the planet: survey

Little by little, Canadians are shifting their attitudes on meat consumption, according to the preliminary findings of a study out of Dalhousie University.

It found more than 6.4 million Canadians are now either cutting back on meat, or eliminating it entirely. Sylvain Charlebois, a food policy expert at Dalhousie who co-authored the study, says the primary reason many Canadians make the switch is for their own health.

"We actually looked at five factors: the environment and climate change, animal welfare, health, price and taste," Charlebois tols CJAD 800's Andrew Carter. "Health affects everyone: women, men, high-income earners, low-income earners, highly educated..."

Just under half of those surveyed (48.5 per cent) said they eat meat daily, while an additional 40 per cent say they eat meat once or twice a week. Moreover, more than half of those polled say they're willing to reduce their meat consumption, and a third are willing to do that in the next six months. However, 53.9 per cent say eating meat is one of their greatest pleasures in life, and 60 per cent say eating meat is a fundamental right.

The survey shows just 17 per cent of Canadians consider themselves vegetarian; among them, just over 10 per cent are considered "flexitarians" — vegetarians who occasionally eat meat or fish.

"These are part-timers — part-time vegetarians, or vegans, and almost half of flexitarians are boomers," Charlebois said.

Vegans, those who consume no animal products at all, number around 2.7 per cent — and nearly two-thirds of them are under the age of 38.

Generally speaking, women tend to be more aware of meat alternatives than men are.

"Men tend to not to know about alternatives compared to women," Charlebois said. "Alternatives are pretty simple: vegetable proteins like lentils, chick peas, tofu...a lot of people are buying hummus these days. There's lots of substitutes and people are becoming more aware of them."

A total of 1,027 Canadians responded to the online survey.