Farmr quinoa and kale salad beside the hay roasted chicken

Can Vegetarians and Meat Eaters Get Along?

Hi, my name is Greg and I’m one of the owners of Farm’r. It might be odd to write a post about vegans and vegetarians given we are a meat serving restaurant, but hear me out.

Yes, I’ve Been Vegetarian

I love non-meat eaters. I’m not following now, but have been a vegetarian in the past for over a year, and during 4 months of that time tried my hardest to be vegan. In the past my wife has gone vegetarian for long bouts. We cook with mostly vegetables at home.

I want more of the world to eat more vegetables. I buy into the philosophies, the lifestyle and all the benefits of going vegetarian. So now you’re probably asking, why then didn’t I invest in a vegetarian restaurant?

Our chef and owner Kyle thinks similarly. I watch him prepare meals for himself that are vegan all the time. There’s meat around, but he often prefers not to eat it. It can be hard as a chef, meat has lots of flavour and people demand it in their food. Much of our culture is tied to meat and if you want to make it as a chef having a diverse palette and ability to cook all foods serves you best.

What’s great about Toronto are the wealth of vegetarian restaurants. In the city Fresh is a leader in my opinion, but Kupfert & Kim does a great job and I’ve had some super tasty meals at Hogtown Vegan, Veghed and that killer salad at Hibiscus.

But no, we didn’t directly join that vegetarian community.

Why Our Culture Thinks Vegetables Suck

If you eat at the big restaurant chains, they destroy the concept of vegetables. Here are two points about why and how those establishments work:

  1. People demand meat. Our food is built around “I’ll get the chicken” or “I’ll get the beef”. The meat is the focal point, so restaurants have to serve and display it proud.
  2. Carbs are Cheaper. Meat is expensive and people are price sensitive. Vegetables can be expensive too. A meal of meat and cheap carbs (something with flour, potatoes, rice) fills you up and is affordable.

The result: we think vegetables suck. You’ve seen the vegetables at the large sandwich chains or the tomato brought to you by the burger chains. Vegetables can taste amazing, but many don’t. There are lots of commodity vegetables out there that taste like the life has been sucked out of them. Most restaurants aren’t trying to support vegetables. Vegetables are an afterthought, thrown in for balance.

Meat is branded. There are usually 3 or 4 brands of chicken at every store, and even the same brand might have different types of the same cut (for example, conventional, antibiotic free and organic chicken breast). Vegetables, are glazed over. There are different types of tomatoes, but no brands or different types.

The bottom line, as our food industry has evolved it has favoured meat with carbs. Our entire food culture has followed.

The Vegetarian Community

Meanwhile, the vegetarian world has created its niche. Nearly every menu at every restaurant has a suitable vegetarian item. It’s hard to say the same thing about vegan, but more and more restaurants are accommodating.

Its been great to see the vegetarian focused restaurant groups taking off. The demand is there and more and more people are becoming comfortable skipping meat.There’s also a big push to create meat-like substitutes. Toss tempeh in your stir fry, get the Impossible Burger that “bleeds” red or try the chicken-less chicken fingers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we believe there’s a place for old-fashioned vegetables too.

To us, we are joining the push to encourage Toronto to eat more vegetables. It isn’t in the form of being exclusively vegetarian, it’s by serving delicious vegetables.

Spaghetti with tempeh

The Farm’r Vegetarian Strategy

Leading back to our restaurant, we want the meat eaters and the non-meat eaters to feel comfortable eating together. We want to welcome and satisfy everyone, that’s what being part of the hospitality industry is all about.

No, we didn’t create a restaurant exclusively for vegetarians or vegans. We serve meat. Clearly we aren’t up to the task of going full vegetarian.

However, what we aspire to do is shift the conversation. Vegetables can be good. Instead of looking at vegetables as filler or a pure commodity, we want to celebrate them. We want meat eaters and vegetarians to get along.

Most of what we do is tied to celebrating product from the farm. The thing about vegetables: they are not created equal. Here are some examples:

  • We have a carrot special on right now supplied by a cool farm called Hillside Gardens in Bradford. These aren’t your average carrots.
  • In the summer we began sourcing produce directly from JBR Farms in Holland Marsh. They have some incredible vegetables.
  • We buy the majority of our vegetables from a company called 100km Foods. As hard as that is in the winter, they’re all about local.
  • We’ve started to source our salad greens from a shipping container at the Evergreen Brickworks called Ripple Farms.

All these vegetable initiatives are incredibly exciting and we aspire to do more and more.

Our plates are designed to have three separate components (a main and 2 sides). Though our mains include 4 meats and only 1 vegetarian main, all of our sides are vegetarian.

Today, that is how we are trying to influence the community. More and more vegetables. We want to change your perception of how they can taste. We all get forced to eat depressing vegetables too often.

Some lettuce growing at Ripple Farms

A Message to Meat Eaters

Meat can be great, and it fits somewhere into the diet of most Toronto eaters.

If you are a meat eater and worried about protein, worry not, our fritters do have protein. No, they don’t have as much as chicken, but so what? What are you afraid of is going to happen if you don’t have meat for one meal?

I agree, meat tastes good. Our argument is that vegetables can taste good too, so don’t pass on them every time.

Don’t’ take any of this as a jab to convert you to vegetarian, it’s just a suggestion. Give it a try. A lot of people will argue the health benefits of pulses, avocados and all their vegetable friends.

Don’t give up meat completely, that isn’t necessary and maybe it won’t be good for your health, that’s up to you. Just savour it when you do. Splurge for the good stuff every once in a while and treat it with care and respect. You’re eating an animal that gave its life.

If you come to Farm’r you’ll see we have a giant cow painted on the wall. The cow is alive. It isn’t meant to showcase we serve beef. The cow is there to help you connect with food. The piece of beef you’re eating might not look like a farm animal. The meat on your plate might not feel to you like animal flesh, but yes, it was once part of a living creature.

The more you know about your food and where it comes from, the better decisions you can make about what to eat. I hope at Farm’r we can help and inspire you to eat however you chose.

Learn more about Farm’r here. Follow me on Instagram @restaurantgreg or keep up with Farm’r @farmrCA.