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New year, no meat: More Canadians are embracing ‘Veganuary’

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People inclined toward a 30-day New Year’s challenge have a lot of options. They can give up alcohol for « Dry January, » put their credit card away for « No Spend January, » or ditch their razor for « Januhairy. »

But for some Canadians, it’s meat, dairy and other animal products that are getting the boot this month.

« It’s been going really great so far, » said Toronto’s Mckensey Hanmer, who is challenging herself to go vegan until Feb. 1.

« I feel like I’m eating a lot healthier, and I feel like I’m spending less money, » she said. « I like the challenge format, for sure — it’s kind of fun. »

Veganuary is a registered British charity that promotes the idea of trying out a plant-based diet for the first month of the year, and tracks online the number of people who take their pledge.

So far the non-profit has seen more than 200,000 sign-ups worldwide for this year’s challenge, about 7,000 of which are Canadians — an increase of more than 1,500 compared to last year.

Hello soy

Allison Merz is one of the people who took the Veganuary pledge, signing up for the charity’s daily emails, which include tips and recipes.

She kicked off her month of veganism with a trip to the store for vegan snacks and staples, like peanut butter and imitation meat made of soy.

« Last night I did some meal prep for the week. I made a vegan lentil vegetable soup and some vegan tacos for dinner, » said Merz.

Veganuary participants swap out meat and dairy for legumes, grains and vegetables. (Andrew Weber/AP Images for ALDI U.S.)

Both Merz and Hanmer say that they’re taking on a month of veganism after months or years of trying to cut down on the amount of meat they eat and thinking about their carbon footprint.

While she acknowledges that she might not end up going permanently vegan, Merz said her month-long experiment could open the door to a more creative arrangement.

« Maybe I could be vegan during the week and more relaxed on the weekends, » she said.

Homegrown version

The Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) runs its own version of Veganuary called the 7-day Veggie Challenge.

Participants are challenged to try out a vegan or vegetarian diet for a single week at the start of the year — and are then given the option of continuing for another three weeks.

The spotlight on vegan diets is growing, helped along by campaigns like this one, by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in the Toronto subway system. (Chris Glover/CBC )

« For a lot of people, they know they want to go vegan and they know it’s a good idea, but they’re just not sure where to start, » said Barbi Lazarus, the association’s donor and volunteer co-ordinator.

The Toronto group’s challenge has also seen increasing numbers of people sign up, which Lazarus says reflects a growing interest in plant-based diets and awareness of the environmental toll of animal products.

At a recent vegetarian food festival, TVA had more than 450 people stop by their booth and sign up for the challenge, up from about 300 in previous years.

Having a specific goal is appealing for many, said Lazarus, especially one where you’re supported with daily emails with tips and recipes.

« It gives you the opportunity to try it out without it being too daunting, » she said.

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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Anglais

Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar is the Latest to Hatch in West Island’s Bubbling Restaurant Scene

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Wings are the thing at the latest restaurant to make its mark on Montreal’s West Island: Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar.

At the buzzy new Dollard-Des Ormeaux eatery, the bird limbs come aplenty, with a menu listing eleven “wet & messy” wings, including smoked apple habanero, sriracha lime, and cherry cola BBQ; and four — cacio e pepe, ketchups chip, Nashville hot, and the garlicky, lemon pepper “vampire slayer” — dry rub flavours. They come 10 for $18 or 20 for $34, plus the option of ranch, parmesan, or blue cheese dipping sauce.

Tacos, nachos, poutines (one made with bone marrow, another with tater tots), smashed burgers, salads, and a classic buttermilk fried chicken dinner are just sampling of the other dishes that round out the offering. On the drinks side, there are cocktails, sangrias, and spiked milkshakes in popular chocolate bar flavours: After Eight, Skor, Bounty, or Reeses.

Opened on July 5, Birdhouse is among a recent influx of restaurants to grace the island’s western end, including birria taco slinger Tacos Don Rigo and barbecue joint Smoke Box — a double whammy in the same Pierrefonds area strip mall. That comes in addition to plans for Fairview Pointe Claire’s incoming “District Gourmand” (slated to usher in Tommy Café), and, of course, a number of the area’s longer-standing stalwarts — from southern belle Bistro Nolah to old-school casse-croûte Smoked Meat Pete — that have helped bolster the West Island’s culinary credentials.

The brand-new Brunswick Boulevard restaurant is the brainchild of Montreal entrepreneur Lorne Schwartz, restaurateur George Massouras (of Madisons and Arahova Souvlaki), and among the other partners involved, Brahm Mauer, son of the founder of beloved buffalo hot wings expert Wings ‘n’ Things. Mauer has tried his hand at reviving the original Wings ‘n’ Things recipe — the restaurant originally opened in 1986 — over the years, including with a Royalmount Avenue location in 2012, then as a roaming summertime food truck and NDG pop-up. That same truck has now been made over with a Birdhouse-branded livery to be deployed for private events.

A likely draw to many, Birdhouse is reprising the “famous flavours, untouched” of the once-upon-a-time NDG staple, represented on its menu as “The Legendary WNT Buffalo” chicken wing.

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