Canada’s Only Vegetarian Food Bank

Linking faith and animal rights

Oct 03, 2008 04:30 AM

Stuart Laidlaw, Faith and Ethics reporter, The Toronto Star

It is impossible to eat meat without violence. An animal, after all, has to be killed before it can be consumed. And that means Jessica Smith, a Hindu, doesn’t eat meat.

“It has to do with the Hindu belief in non-violence,” the 32-year-old Toronto resident says. “And reincarnation.”

Smith, who converted to Hinduism three years ago, says a basic tenet of her faith is that all living things have souls, with many revered as manifestations of God. In such a faith, empathy for animals seems natural.

“It’s as ancient as the faith,” says Smith, who helped start Canada’s only vegetarian food bank.

In fact, it’s an impulse as ancient as most faiths. The Hebrew Bible, known as the Old Testament to Christians and considered a holy book in Islam, for instance, instructs man to care for creation – including the animals.

So it is not surprising that animal welfare groups are drawing a connection between religious teachings and animal rights.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States – the first non-clergy to run the society in almost 40 years – made the point during a vegan lunch at a recent religion writers’ conference in Washington.

All people of faith should work to improve the welfare of animals, Pacelle said. “They (animals) have the same spark of life as we have.”

The society recently launched Eating Mercifully, a film about evangelical Christians whose faith has led them to be animal welfare advocates, running sanctuaries for abused animals and lobbying against factory farms.

At the formal launch of the film last weekend at a Washington cathedral, Pacelle said: “It’s a sign of a merciful people to be good to these other creatures.”

The campaign, dubbed “All Creatures Great and Small,” is not looking to reinterpret anybody’s religion, but to “awaken” people to what their scriptures say about animal cruelty and humankind’s responsibility to care for animals.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, also made an appeal to faith communities when, several years ago, it set up the website and launched a campaign arguing that Jesus was a vegetarian.

“Jesus’s message is one of love and compassion, yet there is nothing loving or compassionate about factory farms and slaughterhouses, where billions of animals live miserable lives and die violent, bloody deaths,” PETA says on the website.

A Case for Jewish Vegetarianism, a pamphlet handed out at Toronto’s annual Vegetarian Fair, argues that the ethical underpinnings of Jewish dietary laws point toward “the ideal of vegetarianism.”

The website makes similar arguments.

The push has come from more conservative circles, as well. In 2002, Matthew Scully, an evangelical one-time staffer in the George. W. Bush White House, published Dominion: The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. Its cover featured a lamb, often considered a symbol for Jesus, tethered and dying, against a black background.

The bestseller told evangelicals they had a God-given responsibility to look after creation, making the link between faith and animal rights that activists now hope to draw on. The movement, still getting its footing in the United States, has yet to move north – though campaigners here recognize the potential.

“It’s an area we are just starting to explore,” says David Alexander, director of operations for the Toronto Vegetarian Association.

Christine Gutleben is director of the Humane Society’s animals and religion program. She says the campaign has been endorsed by ministers and priests from several Christian denominations, as well as rabbis and imams.

Their comments have been posted on the society’s website for the campaign,

“It’s a common aspect of all the major religions,” Gutleben said. “We just want to help make the connection.”

Comments on this story:

Native Peoples are very faith oriented….
yet, they are not vegetarians. They believe in spirits and have a great faith, however, they do not have to be vegetarian. They take from the land, and give back as well, appreciating where their meal comes from. When killing an animal, they thank the spirits for the meal. Also, how do the Inuit, in the far north, grow plants and be vegetarian in such a small growing season? They eat meat – mostly raw – and it sustains them – they have done it for centuries. Don’t claim that if you have faith you must be vegetarian – that doesn’t mean you are holier than thou!


Macleans, August 6, 2008

Finally, a food bank for vegetarians

It’s the only one in Canada and was founded, surprisingly enough, by a meat-eater

JULIA MCKINNELL | August 6, 2008 |

Vegetarian Jessica Smith faced a dilemma in June 2006. She and her vegetarian husband were forced to go to a food bank in Toronto. “And of course the inevitable came up: the tuna fish,” says Smith, who doesn’t eat fish or meat. “My husband is a boxer. He needs to eat. So do I. I have hypoglycemia. It was do or die.” The 32-year-old said the couple ate the fish in small bites and swallowed quickly in order not to choke. “We looked at it this way. It was an emergency. It was either we eat it or we’re going to get sick.”
When Smith heard that a vegetarian food bank was opening in Scarborough, Ont., she telephoned the food bank’s unlikely founder,

Malan Joseph, a Catholic real estate agent who eats meat. “It completely blew my mind,” says Smith. “I asked if there were other vegetarian food banks. He said no, ‘we’ll be the only one in Canada.’ ” (Marzena Gersho, director of national partnerships and programs at the Canadian Association of Food Banks in Toronto, confirms there are no other vegetarian food banks in the country.)

Joseph credits his Hindu vegetarian wife for drawing his attention to the plight of low-income vegetarians. “If you eat meat, you can eat vegetarian and non-vegetarian. But if you are vegetarian, you only have one choice. I’ve had a dream for 10 years to open up a food bank for vegetarians only,” he says. “For many, many low-income vegetarians, it is emotionally disturbing if they go to a regular food bank and are given meat or sausages.” The vegetarian food bank is non-profit and receives no government funding. Joseph pays out of his own pocket to rent the warehouse space, a two-level unit in a strip mall.

Smith, who after talking to Joseph signed on as the new food bank’s volunteer coordinator, believes she was born with a natural aversion to meat. Growing up in Sarnia, Ont., she remembers, “I’d eat my broccoli and spinach and all the foods that usually little kids hate. My mother used to have to hide meat in my spinach to get me to eat it.”
Among the Ontario Vegetarian Food Bank’s potential clients are those who have never eaten meat and would not — even if abstaining from it jeopardized their health. “Anecdotally,” says Smith, “we know about people who will not touch meat or fish even if it means they get sick.” The food bank’s Hindu clients, for instance, believe in the consequences of karma and are unable to inflict injury on any type of creature.
“I don’t want to put down a standard food bank. These people do good work,” says Smith. “But you won’t see any fresh produce there. You get things like peanut butter, canned beans and canned soup.” Unfortunately, a lot of canned goods contain chicken and beef broth, says David Alexander, director of operations for the Ontario Vegetarian Association.
Joseph canvasses grocery stores to donate fresh fruit and vegetables. “I’ve got green vegetables, too many to name. Potatoes, onions, soups, tofu. I’ve asked for cooking oil but so far no one has donated that because it’s a little bit expensive. We’ve got spices in little packets.”
“We’re looking at tofu, tempeh, lentils, chickpeas, cottage cheese. Food that has lots of protein,” says Smith, adding, “There’s this concept that vegetarian food is cheap and that even a low-income person can afford it. Actually, fruits and vegetables can be expensive, and will increase as transportation and oil prices go up.”
In April, a food bank in Golden, B.C., began a pilot project, stocking clients’ food hampers with fresh fruits and vegetables, thanks to the generosity of a 90-year-old woman, Ruth Wixon, who bequeathed her house and garden to the city. Food bank volunteers tend to the garden twice a week; clients pick up food hampers on Wednesdays and are overjoyed to find the fresh produce, says Sister Jelaine Christensen, a food bank volunteer. It used to be some clients would look through their hamper, saying, “I can’t eat that. I can’t eat that.” Now, she says, “people are excited!”
The food bank also receives donations from local residents who are participating in the nationwide Plant a Row · Grow a Row program. “People are planting vegetables in their gardens and planting a row for the food bank,” explains Sister Christensen. “We just had someone call this morning. They had peas they wanted to bring over.”
For those wondering what to do next with their vegetarian food bank groceries, a website called Broke-Ass Vegan provides recipes. Up this week: roast carrots with beer and Egg McVegans.


One Response to “Canada’s Only Vegetarian Food Bank”

  1. vivekananthan Says:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: