Student Life

Making veganism palatable

Chef Jean-Philippe Cyr talks about the food industry and his diet transition

Are you curious about vegan food? Always wondered if it’s affordable for you as a student? Here’s your chance to learn more about it! The Montreal Vegan Festival will be hosting its fifth edition this weekend, on Oct. 20 and 21.

Given the festival’s success in previous years, organizers had to relocate from Marché Bonsecours to the Palais des Congrès for this year’s event. The Montreal Vegan Festival is one of the biggest in Canada and is free for all, since the organisers want to keep it accessible and affordable. Many activities and workshops will be held in both French and English by well-known vegan chefs—such as Gaz Oakley and Sébastien Kardinal, a French chef and founder of, a platform for an array of restaurant reviews, food tastings and new recipes.

Jean-Philippe Cyr—known for “La cuisine de Jean-Philippe,” a Facebook page, website, and now a book of recipes translated into English—is this year’s festival spokesperson.

Photo courtesy of Danny Payne.

Environmental and ethical issues surrounding the food industry are some aspects of veganism the chef wanted to share. Cyr said that, since the 1960s, the world population has doubled, while the population of cows has quadrupled, meaning our beef consumption has increased significantly in that time. He also mentioned issues concerning antibiotics given to the animals we consume. Cyr said the main problem our society faces now is caused by industrialization. “Back in the day, people had a cow and a pig to feed the family; it wasn’t a major environmental problem,” he said.

Cyr is a good model for students that want to try to out a vegan diet. He said becoming a vegan can’t be done on the drop of a dime—it requires a period of transition. “I was a classically [trained] chef, already cooking vegan food in a Buddhist temple, but still I was going to McDonald’s like everyone,” said Cyr. When asked about how he began cooking vegan food, he said his breaking point came one day when he had to serve lamb at a funeral home. The atmosphere of the funeral home combined with the fact that Cyr was serving a dead baby animal was, for him, a revelation. “It was an intense connection,” he said. That day, Cyr decided to quit his job. His wife suggested that he start sharing his vegan cooking knowledge online—which Cyr thought was a good idea—so he began to do so on Facebook.

Aiming to make vegan food accessible to as many people as possible, Cyr offers alternatives for traditional recipes to help make this transition easier. “My meals are simple and easy to do and are cultural references; spaghetti sauce tastes the same whether you put beef or tofu. There are ways to eat vegan without noticing it,” Cyr said. “I am a chef, not a nutritionist,” he added.

If you are on a tight budget, switching to a vegan diet can actually help you save some money. “Last time I checked, chickpeas were still cheap and tofu is half the price of ground beef,” said Cyr.

The Montreal Vegan Festival will take place Oct. 20 and 21 at the Palais des Congrès. Jean-Philippe Cyr will give a workshop on how to prepare tofu on Saturday, Oct. 20. On Oct. 21, he will take part in a vegan poutine contest with Sébastien Kardinal.

Feature image courtesy of Danny Payne.


Enactus Concordia supports the EcoYouth project

For the second year in a row as part of the EcoYouth project, members of Concordia’s student organization Enactus, are working to make a difference by providing children with the knowledge and skills to grow and cook their own food.

Press photo

EcoYouth is a project started by William Atsaidis, a third year Marketing student at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business. The aim of EcoYouth is to provide elementary school children with the opportunity to learn how to garden and the importance of eating right. Currently the group operates out of the Concordia greenhouse where they supply the children with the knowledge and skills to care for the plants.

The project works in partnership with Innovation Youth, a local youth center. Children from the youth center come three times a week to the Concordia greenhouse located on the 13th floor of the Hall building, to fulfill their commitment to an Urban Agriculture program. The students aged 9-10, work hand in hand with volunteers to learn about the basics of gardening and nutrition. In addition to gardening, the students learn to cook with what they grow. The proceeds of their cooking goes to supply a homeless center at the St. James drop in center.

Over the past year the organization has taught over 30 adolescent volunteers how to maintain and run an outdoor garden. Throughout their work they have managed to enrich the curriculum of the youth center. Additionally they have provided the youths with the tools to encourage self-development for sustainable food.

According to Jenna Smith, the director of Innovation Youth, the program has provided the organization with access to green space, something difficult to find in the downtown core.

“We’ve diagnosed a need that’s been there for years and now were actually doing something about it.”

This year EcoYouth is looking to expand their presence in the community. The organization currently relies solely on its one location at Concordia’s greenhouse at the Sir George William campus. However, they envision creating a second location with their own greenhouse. According the Atsaidis, the organization is seeking to expand their operations outside of the downtown core. The group is seeking to find a new youth center to partner with in order to expand operations. Currently Enactus Concordia is responsible for providing the funding and resources for the project. Due to the success of the current program they believe that it will be possible to create a second location by the end of the year.

Enactus is an international student run non-profit organization with 1,600 chapters at different universities around the world. The organization strives to create community-oriented projects designed to emphasize environmental and social responsibility. This past year, Enactus Concordia won the Forces Avenir, “Le project par excellence au Quebec” award for 2013.

For information on ways to help, please contact William Atsaidis at

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