By Christopher Lum
In May 2017 the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank served their 75,000th meal to those in need. The food bank will open again on Saturday, December 16th @ 270 Gerrard st. E. (12noon - 4pm).
© Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank | YouTube
Vibe reporter Christopher Lum interviews Matt Noble, the executive director of the Toronto vegetarian food bank.
Christopher: This is Christopher Lum reporting for VIBE 105. This is Part one, with an interview with Matt Noble, the executive director of the vegetarian food bank.
Matt: We are called Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank. Uh, it’s all vegan, it is once a month, we basically have a space that’s donated to us from a community centre called Yonge Street Mission. They’re kind enough to let us use their space once a month and we serve about 250 people. At this point we started off only serving 38 in january 2015, but as of December 2016 we are serving 250 people now.
Christopher: What inspired you to begin doing this?
Matt: Myself and a bunch of the court team members, are environmentalist, animal rights activists, help advocates and we like to help humans as well. And so this is kind of the perfect way to help people... It was our perfect way to helping people and being able to also bring up the topic of nutrition. How it relates to the environment, how it relates to our health, how it relates to animals; our fellow beings, and also how it relates to the healthcare system, and how we spend our money and if we're, you know, really doing things the best way possible at the moment.
Christopher: A little while ago, there was an article discussing how refugees were lacking foods that are part of their culture including vegetarian vegan staples, leaves and other legumes. So, have you noticed in the uptake in refugees and people, looking for ethnic staples that aren’t normally sort of donated to other food drives?
Matt: Well, yeah. There's kind of two sides to that. We definitely have seen a few people who have been refugees. Luckily one of my friends that helps with the food bank lived in turkey for a couple years. So he’s able to do some translating, which is really helpful for some people. But at the same time, we also just opened our food bank in January 2015. So we are coming up on our two anniversary, but basically our numbers have been increasing every month for the past two years. So, we have not been long enough per se to have an established pattern, so we can see a deviation at this point. As far as we can see, we’re just getting more and more people every month.
Christopher: What do you think explains the increase in the individuals who are interested in a vegetarian/vegan food bank as opposed to just a regular one?
Matt: Yea, well it would be hard to say one reason, right? Because a large part of why we’re getting new people every month is just stuff like, you know, CBC news just did a story on us. We were on the nightly news last weekend, and we were on CTV about a year ago, and when we were on CTV we noticed a huge surge the next month, just because people were finding out about us. So a large part of why we’re getting more people is just because we're new and just because people are beginning to find out about us. You know, it took awhile for us to get into information from social workers to give to people, and to get onto the information hotlines and stuff like that. So, our social media presence is growing, bit by bit we are just getting known by people. I think that many people already kind of needed the service for the amount the people we’re serving, you know, did need it two years ago, but maybe they didn't know about us. So, you know, stuff like you guys (Vibe 105) doing this show (interview) and getting the word out there is helping people find out about us and use our service.
Christopher: So, there’s often a perception that vegan and vegetarian food is more expensive, whereas when you look at most meat products actually more expensive than their counterparts. Would you say that educating people who are near the poverty line on dried beans and things like that, in terms of saving money, and getting adequate nutrition, is a helpful avenue that you have been exploring?
Matt: Well we only do serve dried legumes and lentils at the food bank...we serve can stuff sometimes, but generally some of our proteins are dried like black beans or dried chickpeas or different colours of lentils. And we do that actually because it's so cost efficient. So, you know, everyone talks about the food bank. We serve a soup every month. Everyone hangs out and chats, people talk about recipes and everything. But we do talk to people. I think even by us just giving the assigned foods to people, we’re aware of the costs as well, and that's why we do it. So it's the perfect balance between the healthiest foods and the cheapest foods.
Christopher: Do you believe that you're helping to implicate to form a vegan/vegetarian community for low income brackets then?
Matt: I don't know for forming it, but we’re definitely bringing people together around it, for sure. Like I said this was a perfect kind of form of activism for us, cause we got to help people and we also got to talk about helping animals, and we got to talk about the environment and our health as well. So, you know, we have a volunteer registered dietitian named Pamela Ferguson who used to actually teach at University of Toronto, and she has a full class, you could say, every month. Certain people maybe need certain questions answered; some people are curious about something so we have these little group sessions with her. So, you know, we’re bringing in her, we’re bringing in people like my friend Dug McNish who's an award winning vegan chef here in Toronto. He’s a huge supporter, you know, he donated all the food for our recent vegan Oktoberfest party. So, it’s just a really great way to bring people together, we’re helping people and we’re spreading awareness about veganism for the most part. When it comes down to the situations at food banks and why Toronto vegetarian food bank even needs to exist in the first place, there's definitely a lack of vegetarian food for people, but if you're vegan and you go to a food bank, there's basically nothing.
For more info please visit the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank.