By Jillian Morgan
Renee Gosse, like many Canadians, craves a hot cup of Tim Hortons coffee. She’ll take hers black, though, with some room for a milk alternative.
Gosse has been vegan since June. Her local Tim Hortons in Mount Pearl, N.L., is one of many that lacks soy, almond or coconut milk for vegan or dairy-free customers.
Frustrated, Gosse created a petition on Change.org with a plea: “Tim Hortons – Please Add Vegan Options to the Menu.” Change.org is a website that provides users with an open platform to start campaigns and draw in supporters.
Gosse says she was hoping for 5,000 signatures – and she reached this goal on the first day. The petition now has more than 21,000 supporters.
“I think it’s great to start spreading veganism in the world of fast food,” says Gosse.
“I’d love to go to Tim Hortons without bringing my own milk alternative and I’d love a vegan donut to go along with my coffee.”
Last June the Vancouver Humane Society released a poll that stated 33 per cent of Canadians – roughly 12 million – are vegetarian or trying to eat less meat.
Rachelle Boutilier, incoming president of the Halifax Association of Vegetarians, says it would be “just smart business sense” for a fast food chain to provide vegan or vegetarian menu options.
“They will open doors to people that they would normally be closed to,” says Boutilier.
The Halifax Association of Vegetarians provides dinners, invites lecturers and gives restaurant discounts to members. Boutilier says social media and documentaries have played a large part in the decision for people to adopt a vegan diet.
Documentaries like Cowspiracy – which investigated animal agriculture as a leading cause of environmental degradation – have become widely popular and influential in the rise of plant-based diets.
Gosse says the menu options at Tim Hortons are limited for vegans and vegetarians. She says her options include black coffee, bagels (without vegan butter), buns and Harvest Vegetable Soup.
Tim Hortons refers vegan and vegetarian customers to their allergy chart, where other menu items such as black tea, smoothies without yogurt, oatcakes, frozen lemonade, apple strudel, oatmeal, hash browns and certain breads are also safe to eat.
Diandra Phipps is the owner of enVie A Vegan Kitchen, a restaurant in Halifax that opened in August 2013.
She says she found a niche market of vegetarians and vegans in Halifax who want quality plant-based food. But she says about 80 per cent of her customers aren’t vegan or vegetarian.
“They want to eat cleaner, they want to do good for their bodies, they want to do good for the planet,” says Phipps.
She says it isn’t necessarily less expensive to prepare vegan or vegetarian dishes given rising vegetable prices and the high costs of meat substitutes, such as tofurkey.
Still, some restaurants have ventured into the vegan fast-food business in the U.S., such as Amy’s Drive Thru in California and by Chloe in New York.
“I don’t know if Halifax is ready for it,” says Phipps of vegan fast food. “(But) it would be an amazing thing to provide for the community.”
Amanda Tracey, a public relations student at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, says she always opts for vegan and vegetarian identified restaurants and rarely visits Tim Hortons or other popular fast-food chains, such as McDonalds.
“They don’t have a list of specific vegan options,” says Tracey of Tim Hortons. “If you go through the allergy menu you could find things that happen to be vegan but they’re not promoting it (as vegan).”
Tracey prefers to cook her own meals and often posts her recipes to her vegan food blog, “All She Does is Eat.”
“If I did go to a place that wasn’t known for having vegan food, I would be afraid it wouldn’t actually be vegan,” says Tracey. “I do try and go to the places that I know can accommodate me.”
Tracey is cautious before venturing into restaurant chains and fast-food joints. She says a bad experience at a Halifax restaurant – in which her vegan stir-fry contained meat – has made her concerned about a restaurant’s ability to provide quality vegan dishes.
Renee Gosse hopes to take the stigma away from veganism with her petition.
“Vegans eat on the run too, they’re busy just like anyone else,” says Gosse.
Once she reaches her goal of 25,000 signatures, she’ll present the petition to Tim Hortons. For now, she’ll switch back and forth from Starbucks – which she says provides milk alternatives at every location – and Tim Hortons.
Despite being more expensive, it’s the price she’ll pay waiting for that Tim Hortons vegan donut.
Tim Hortons media relations office couldn’t be reached for comment.