By Severina Chu
The black Canadian vegan community came together to feast in celebration at the first ever Toronto Black Vegan Festival on Sunday at Artscape Wychwood Barns.
Hosted by the Black Vegans of Toronto, a support group for black Canadians looking to make the switch to a plant-based diet, the festival featured various black vendors selling vegan products, including food, clothes, and cosmetics.
“The idea came to me to present vegan options to traditional African and Caribbean foods in an exciting cultural setting,” said festival manager Joe Thomas in an email statement. The festival aimed to not only bring together the black vegan community, but to also expose others to a new lifestyle.
“When people like us are already educated in the vegan world, festivals like this help to enlighten people who are not in this world,” said Jacqueline Taffe, vegan chef and creator of Natures Butter.
Taffe believes that a better awareness about food can help some make the switch to a plant-based lifestyle, especially with so many Caribbean diets being so dependent on meat.
“We were never actually supposed to be eating this much meat. So when people like us say that we’re vegan, we can teach others the same thing,” she said.
Creating a Cultural Connection
Melissa James, founder of Eastend Vegan, echoed the sentiment and emphasized the importance of being open to a healthier diet, especially within the black community. She said she hopes that more people will broaden their tastes and try to have a better understanding of the connections they have with food.
“What people don’t realize is that the impact of not just slavery, but just leaving home takes away a lot of connections,” said James.
According to James, many immigrants try to recreate tastes of home with what they have.
“You start to adopt a new culture and you no longer have the connection the way you would back at home,” she said.
In order to maintain these connections, people like Owyna Alexander, founder of Caribbubble, wanted to create a product that managed to tie a part of their culture into a vegan diet.
“I love bubble tea and I was looking for more relatable flavours to my culture,” she said. Alexander offers the popular drink in various traditional Caribbean flavours, including sorrel and ginger beer.
She said she aims to provide a more accessible version of the drink, in terms of both flavours and dietary needs.
“I wanted to be able to provide it to everyone, and I didn’t want the vegans to be left out,” said Alexander.
Fighting the Misconceptions
With the variety of innovative and flavourful products available at the festival, many vendors wanted to combat the stereotypes and misconceptions about vegan food, such as the supposed lack of flavour and food options.
“Flavour’s the biggest [misconception], just because people are so used to eating a certain way,” said James. While it is possible for people to emulate their favourite foods while eating vegan, she said that people need to realize that there will have to be some adjustments made to a recipe and that a change in flavour doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of flavour.
“It’s a first step towards health, so you have to understand that there will naturally be less salt and it’s going to change the flavour because you’re not putting in the same things you used before,” she said.
With this being the first event of its kind in Toronto, many vendors hope that this will encourage more black Canadians to become more open to a vegan lifestyle and prove that it is doable for people in all communities.
“A misconception is that veganism is mainly for white people because that’s what you see in the media,” said Shaleena McGregor, owner of The Sweet Tooth Vegan.
McGregor personally went vegan after doing research into the dairy industry and finding out the impact it had on animals. She now strives to provide healthier alternatives to normal baked goods and reach out to more of the black vegan community on her podcast.
“You don’t really see much diversity, so I’m glad that this event is showing that veganism goes across all races,” she said.
Hopes for the Future
With the event’s success, the Black Vegans of Toronto are planning for more events, starting with a Fall Harvest Festival in September. The hope is that these kind of events will educate more black Canadians on a vegan lifestyle and encourage them to make the changes to their diet.
“In all communities, and especially the black community, we’ll start to see that we actually have a connection to this food,” said James.
“We can create it, we can make something new from it, and we can grow from it and become healthier. The black community is really coming together.”