Review of Purpose
When I visited Vancouver for the first time in 2017, I was intrigued by the quantity of plant-based restaurants within the city – particularly in its neighbourhoods of Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant. From what I observed even then, the philosophy of veganism seemed to be very important to the entrepreneurs and the patrons of these businesses. This observation was based on the questions they asked and how inclined they were to be featured for travel guides that would later be posted to It’s Bree and Ben. When I returned to Vancouver in late 2020, I found that the number of fully vegan businesses, or VBs, in these neighbourhoods had grown, and now there are approximate 40 that either are based or have a presence there (Happy Cow, 2022). Such measurable growth in only three years made me wonder just what those vegan entrepreneurs, or VEs, had experienced in the time that had passed, and how the vegan community may have changed. What factors led to such a rapid increase of VBs in this area? What benefits or hardships came with being a VB in these neighbourhoods, and what major socio-economic issues or themes were they encountering? Moreover, what lessons could be learned from those experiences so as to share them with policy-makers, chambers of commerce, and other institutions and entrepreneurs so as to learn what may help VBs succeed in Vancouver and in other cities?
Whatever the answers to those questions may be, I wanted them to be as accessible to both the VEs and the general public as possible so that they could benefit from the information those answers provided. The decision was then made to design the deliverable in the form of an academic blog series that would be told as my auto-biographical narrative. This also provides the benefit of making this project low-risk for the VEs with whom I visited, for an auto-biography would not necessitate semi-structured interviews. My field work then involved the following steps:
- Researching VBs in both neighbourhoods,
- Contact them via email or direct messages through their social media to inquire of their interest and availability for my visit and conversation,
- If they consented in their message, I would either send them a consent form (if it was a remote call over Zoom) or on the date of my visit,
- During my visit, I sampled their products – e.g., ordering lunch or drinks – while I conversed with the VEs in a casual manner. I used a paper notepad to record any themes or issues.
I visited 12 VBs in September 2022, and while the majority were in food services, three were in other industries, which included pet food, skin care/beauty, and education.
Insights from my Visits
- The pursuit of good health is the most common reason why VEs engage with veganism and introduce it into their business philosophy.
- Aside from health, veganism is adopted as a business philosophy to pursue inclusivity in business spaces and in the products and services that they provide.
- Vegaphobia and discrimination (which could be described as stigma) towards vegans and veganism is experienced in Vancouver.
- The ever-rising cost of living is a threat to the existence of VBs, any potential new ones, and all SMEs. Many of the VEs with whom I visited cited high costs of goods and living as being barriers to feeling financially secure.
- Because of such high costs, VBs and non-VBs alike are looking to bring their products and services online. Those who do so continue to operate in these neighbourhoods, albeit through remote mechanisms, such as delivery services and online marketplaces.
- There is a common perception and policy towards commerce and costs of living and business operations are not helping vegan and non-vegan SMEs form and flourish.
- During the lockdowns of Covid-19, financial aid and stimuli were offered to SMEs like the ones that I visited. While these may have sustained such businesses during the lockdowns, they were insufficient to cover the rising costs of living and supplies of today.
- Policy-makers and other institutions that set pricing standards on real estate and rent need to be aware that rising costs will eventually compel these VBs and other SMEs to vacate these neighbourhoods, which would be a detriment to local entrepreneurship. The only companies that could afford to occupy those spaces would then be large corporations, and their presence could force the price of rent to increase further until most residents are forced out.
- Therefore, revisions to the laws rent prices in the city of Vancouver to allow for more manageable prices would be beneficial to keeping VBs in these neighbourhoods and attracting new ones.
One of the limitations of this project was that the VBs I visited were in an urban, upper-middle-class area. This makes it difficult to know if the insights gained from this project could be applied to non-affluent, non-rural areas as well. Therefore, it is suggested that further research would be most useful if it were to explore how VBs in less-affluent areas operationalize and experience the vegan philosophy. This may include, yet may not be limited to, rural and inter-rural areas. At the time of this writing, I speculate that VBs in those areas may perceive veganism as an option for consumers and not as a philosophy.
As previously mentioned, the reported discrimination against vegans and veganism may be perceived and described as stigma. This is a complicated and problematic term, and while it may be argued that it accurately describes the phenomenon that was reported, it is acknowledged that some may disagree with good reason. That said, further research that explores how stigma may be experienced in vegan communities is warranted.
I am incredibly grateful to the following people for their guidance throughout this project:
- Dr. Mark Groulx, for being compassionate and understanding as he showed me empathy for my difficulties while providing me with a safe, inspiring space to explore. I’m also grateful to his showing me how to create an effective schedule.
- Dr. Zoë A. Meletis, for keeping confidence in me when I didn’t keep it for myself. Her encouragement revealed paths and abilities that I never knew I had.
- My counselor and learning strategist, who are anonymous, yet they provided me with the tools necessary to find confidence and introduce me to new paradigms of thought that have, in many ways, saved and enhanced my quality of life.
- My father, Mark Hagerty, for his unwavering, encouraging pride in my abilities and his patience with me as he helped and taught me about document editing and formatting – not to mention lending an ear whenever I needed to rehearse for a presentation.
- To the Real Estate Foundation of BC, for their generous partial funding of this project.
- To all twelve VEs who participated in this project for sharing their stories and insights with me. I hold the utmost esteem and admiration for them, and they have taught me that addressing any issue begins with empathy and compassion.
- My wife and research assistant, Brianne Nemiroff, who I can’t thank enough for her keen eye and acumen for photography and imagery. I am also deeply grateful for her guidance in prioritization. Most of all, I thank her for making life a beautiful adventure.