Vegetarian Action

Ontario's Vegetarian Food Bank

Vegetarians living in Toronto, Ontario, finally have somewhere to go when they find their cupboards bare. The Ontario Vegetarian Food Bank officially opened on Mother's Day 2008 with two locations in Canada's largest city.

Malan Joseph, a Roman Catholic, and his wife, who is Hindu, attend the Thiruchchenthoor Murugan Temple Trust in North York, a suburb of Toronto. "I saw that a lot of churches had food banks," the Toronto realtor said. "Then, I looked at the Hindu temple, which did not have a food bank." Joseph, in his interactions with people at the temple and in his profession, knew of vegetarians who were having a hard time making ends meet. He saw parents who did not have food for their school-aged children.

Joseph was not alone in his enthusiasm for the food bank. When Jessica Smith heard about the plan, she was quick to come on board. Smith, who converted to Hinduism in 2005, now serves as coordinator at the Scarborough location. Smith said the doctrine of the Hindu faith is non-violence. Since an animal has to be killed to be eaten and killing is considered a violent act, eating meat is considered wrong. "We believe that all living creatures have souls," she said.

The Ontario Vegetarian Food Bank has two locations- one in Scarborough and the other in North York. Certain neighborhoods in Scarborough are popular destinations for new immigrants coming to Canada, and North York forms the central part of the northern half of Toronto. Within the food bank's first few months, its two locations served upwards of 50 families (more than 200 people). The individuals taking advantage of the new service used to rely on traditional food banks but couldn't consume half of what they received. "With the vegetarian food bank, they are very comfortable knowing that nothing is involved with meat or handled with meat," Joseph said.

Although the food banks are intended for vegetarians, there has been a number of meat-eaters coming for help, mainly because the Scarborough location is the only food bank available for some distance. Patrons are provided with soy products (including tempeh, a soy product from Indonesia) as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. A farming organization in the nearby city of Milton, Ontario, has committed to donating green vegetables from a 125-acre farm. Also, Joseph has secured donations of packaged foods, such as soups and noodles, from area grocery stores.

The food bank coordinators are in the process of applying for government funding since the money to operate is currently coming out of their own pockets. They would like to secure enough money to keep both locations open more than once a week, instead of just on Saturdays. Joseph also says that future fundraising events will help to keep the food bank afloat.

At first, many patrons were vegetarian for religious reasons, but Smith believes they will start seeing more individuals who are vegetarians for other reasons. The food bank has been in contact with the Toronto Vegetarian Association, a 'community partner.' "I think the way the economy is going, I would not be surprised to get more people," she said. "I feel honored to be doing this for people. We are amazed by the support." Also, Joseph has been in contact with an individual from Vancouver who is interested in establishing a similar facility there.

For more information about the Ontario Vegetarian Food Bank, contact 1 (416) 744-HELP (4357). The Scarborough location is at 2370 Midland Avenue, while the North York location is at 2400 Finch Avenue West, North York, Ontario, Canada. The website is