VICTORIA, B.C., CANADA—Three observations occur quite quickly upon arriving via long-distance ferry in this capital city of Canada's westernmost province (other than the storybook feel to its Inner Harbour, with everything from cruise ships to float planes to the ubiquitous water taxis churning up the waters that lap against rows of double-decker houseboats).
First, the average citizen here seems to know as much or more about our ongoing presidential election campaign as even the most well-informed American. Yet I doubt that more than one in a hundred people Stateside could name the current Canadian prime minister (Stephen Harper), with even fewer knowing that he heads up that country's Conservative Party, and fewer still aware that on Canada Day (July 1), tens of thousands of Canadians took to Twitter to announce their disdain for his right-wing policies using the hashtag “#denounceharper” to protest Canada's ongoing support for the war in Afghanistan, among many other concerns.
Harper's popularity rating has sunk to an astonishing 20 percent in the latest polling here, signaling an imminent shift in power, but truth is, the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less.
Second, it really is true that Canadians, for whatever other faults one might associate with their country and culture, really are as warm and friendly as the weather is cold and wet, at least here in British Columbia, where a summertime high of 15 degrees C is considered balmy and beautiful (that's 59 degrees F for the metrically challenged). Not that one doesn't encounter friendly Americans during travels throughout our country, but honestly, not with the same frequency or fervor as up here among the Canucks.
(And that's a term of endearment, I've learned, not the northern equivalent of “redneck”).
I'm not sure that disparity represents anything other than the vast differences in population size and homogeneity between the two countries, but the constant, unforced friendliness one encounters up here is both wonderful and welcome.
Finally, although there are plenty of vegetarian restaurants, lots of veggie entrees for sale in supermarkets and no doubt a fair share of vegan practitioners here in B.C. (often called Canada's California), there's a an eerie absence of vitriol over the alleged evil represented by the livestock and meat industries.
No news coverage of scientific studies suggesting that red meat is destroying the planet. No ongoing media campaigns denouncing Big Meat and Big Ag for ruining the fortunes of smaller farmers and processors. None of the constant advertising suggesting that only organic food production and consumption can protect the citizenry from exposure to Frankenfoods and the attendant death and disfigurement sure to follow.
In fact, a web search for various permutations of “British Columbian vegetarians” generally comes up empty on key Canadian news sites. Even an attempt on a popular U.S. search engine for “vegetarians in Canada” turned up a bunch of Indian restaurants and a website that offers “vegan ads, raw foods and vegetarian dating services” (veggiedate.org, should you be so inclined).
That's not to say that several activist groups—including PETA and HSUS—aren't busy stirring up concerns over the same issues on which they make a handsome living in the USA. They're attacking the Canadian cattle industry for its growing concentration (laughable by U.S. standards). They're mounting protests over confinement production in the pork industry. And they're trying hard to sell Canadians on the notion that taking meat off the menu would take global warming off the list of existential threats facing humanity.
But at least so far, their efforts are far lower profile, far less visible and much more widely considered fringe viewpoints, as compared with American anti-industry campaigns.
I don't know that their rhetoric isn't eventually going to gain more traction here, and that even peaceful, placid Canadians won't someday start snapping up veggie food products and sending in contributions to the cause of promoting the vegan lifestyle in numbers approaching those in the United States.
But I hope the eternal chill that settles over this wonderfully scenic province seemingly 11 months of the year will continue to mirror the cool detachment with which most Canadians seem to greet the attempts of U.S.-based activists to get us all to remove meat from our diets and from our collective consciousness.
For our Canadian neighbors—at least right here, right now—two words describe that effort: No sale.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator