The statistics aren’t new – we’ve just been ignoring them, and the reality they reflect, for far too long. In Canada, Black median household income is $35,310 compared to $47,487 for white households.(1) Black Canadians are twice as likely to fall under the low-income status as non-racialized Canadians.(2)
White supremacy is undoubtedly at the heart of this economic disparity. Keeping people of colour in systematic and generational poverty, ensuring that their voices and dissent are kept marginalized and out of public discourse, is a practice that has been built into our society and its economic infrastructure since its inception.
I’m definitely not an expert, but I’m learning, and I thoroughly believe that radical re-division of our resources, and the implementation of economic system that doesn’t rely on disparity and discrimination, is a necessary step in ended racial injustice. How and where we spend our money is one of our best weapons against injustice and inequality.
Over the last few weeks, many folks have been publishing and circulating lists of Black owned business and organizations that we can and should be supporting. These lists have all been super useful but rather than reposting, I thought it would be useful for me to do my own search and write-up, so that I have a better understanding of what these restaurants, blogs and charities are working on and what they offer – this is of course not a complete list and I hope to add on to it in future posts.
Food and Restaurants
Ital Vital (741 Pharmacy Avenue)
The popular, though I think underappreciated, Ital Vital has been a steady and reliable presence in Toronto’s vegan food scene since it opened in 2014. It’s in Scarborough, which is a bit of a trek for us who live downtown, but they also are a regular at various veg food events around the city, which is how I discovered them. Owners and Rastafarian chefs Arnold Makus Freeman and Michael Drey Stephens serve a fresh, from scratch Caribbean and West Indian menu that focuses on quality ingredients, cooked to perfection and enhanced with incredible flavours. If your touring Toronto’s vegan food scene, Ital Vital is a fundamental stop.
Selam Vegan (812 Bloor St. West)
Many Vegan restaurants in Toronto focus on comfort food that relies on mock meats and other such substitutes. I’m not complaining for sure, but I also think it takes a great deal more mastery to make flavourful and filling meals out of simple vegetables and other basic plant ingredients. Many of Ethiopia’s staple dishes are plant forward and do exactly that – they elevate the raw culinary prowess of plants – so vegetarian options are pretty common at Ethiopian restaurants but Selam Vegan offers an entirely plant-based menu. I recommend ordering one of the combos so that you get the chance to try several different dishes. And don’t forget the Injera! It’s a sourdough flatbread that is a fundamental part of Ethiopian cuisine.
Chickpeas Veg, a catering company that also offers cooking classes and a meal planning and delivery service, is another frequently and friendly presence at veg food events in Toronto. With their fresh ingredients, masterful and unique flavours, and innovative dishes, they are “committed to transforming the face of plant-based cuisine to reflect the diverse cultures that have found a welcome home in the Greater Toronto area.” One of their offered classes is in making the aforementioned Injera bread – definitely sign up for that one!
One Love Vegetarian (854 Bathurst Street)
Masters in Caribbean Creole dishes, One Love Vegetarian serves small, but powerhouse menu from a cozy, very central and convenient storefront in the Annex opposite Bathurst Station. In 2018 they were voted Now Magazine’s readers choice for Best Roti – now small with so many Roti options in Toronto. While you’re grabbing your BBQ Tofu, Callaloo, and One Love Corn Soup be sure to take some time to check out the amazing mural on the side of the building
Veggie D’light (160 Baldwin Street)
All of us Hot Bean superfans were crushed when the Kensington Market burrito establishment closed its doors, but our vegan hearts were uplifted when their space was taken over by another wonderful plant-based restaurant – Veggie D-light. Chef Peter McKenzie’s serves a stellar Caribbean take-away and catering menu that includes such specialities as jerk seitan, moringa loaf, and Jamaican root vegetable soup. You could also order their food in a couple of different sizes of bulk meals plans if you want repeat helpings – and you probably will.
Dee’s Table, the blog of the multi-talented Denai Moore, focuses on the “re-introduction to Jamaican Food as you know it, using 100% fresh plant-based based ingredients and spices.” The UK based Denai, who is also an established artist and singer, operates a vegan pop-up supper club as well that is a core part of Dee’s Table, but there is a growing selection of recipes on the website. These are the kind of innovative and original recipes that unfortunately you don’t see circulating a lot in the blogosphere amidst all the smoothie bowls. Callaloo Scotch Bonnets Onion Jam Parcels, Whole Roasted Jerk Aubergine, Plantain Custard and Passion Fruit Pastry, and more – you’re going to want to try all these recipes!
Sweet Potato Soul
I’ve been a fan of Jenne’s Claibourne’s Sweet Potato Soul for a while and her plant-based soul food recipes continue to wow with both flavour and ingenuity. The photos are bright and beautiful, and you will definitely find yourself lingering hungrily on the images. In addition to the regular recipes, Jenne also posts meal prep ideas, like a series of make-ahead breakfasts, which is super helpful when you’re planning your week. You can also order Jenne’s cookbook via the website. Next up on my to-make list is the appropriated named Dreamy Oatmilk Chocolate Mousse Tart.
As the page loads, Jessica In the Kitchen’s lush food images immediately pop off the screen in tantalizing clarity and colour. Creator Jessica Hylton Leckie’s experience as an award-winning photographer really shows, but of course the quality of the recipes is what’s paramount. Jessica takes simple ingredients and really dazzles with recipes that are straightforward but delicious. You can also buy Jessica’s e-book via the website.
Blogger and YouTuber Afia Amoako pays homage to her roots with her plant-based version of Ghanaian favourites like Sweet Agege Bread, Jollof Rice, and Baked Kelewele. As someone who always seems to have leftover squash on hand, and no idea what to do with it, the recipe for Squash Pancakes immediately caught my eye – a simple, but original idea! On her website, you can also get a free e-book of Afia’s simple vegan Ghanaian recipes.
I made the mistake of visiting Martha Theus’ Veggie Soul Food while hungrily waiting for my dinner to cook, and now I can’t stop thinking of the recipes for Philly Cheesesteak, Fried Chick’n and others. In addition to the mouth-watering concoctions on the site, Martha also has a series of YouTube videos as well as several cookbooks that you can order on the website.
Charities and Not-for-Profit Organizations
The food insecurity crisis is growing with each passing day and the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed people and communities even further into danger. In Canada, according to a study from the University of Toronto, an estimated 12.4% of Canadian households experience food insecurity but for Black households the rate is 28.4%, which mean they are 3.56% times more likely to experience food insecurity, and this was pre-pandemic. Considering the amount of resources this country has (a one-billion-dollar budget for Toronto police alone) this is beyond unacceptable. Afri-Can Food Basket is “a community based non-profit organization that has been at the forefront of championing Food Justice and Food Sovereignty for Toronto’s African, Caribbean, Black (ACB) community.” They’ve been providing fresh produce to some 400 households per week, and they no doubt could do even greater things with additional support. You can donate via the website using e-transfer, paypal or credit card.
The Blackstone Foundation Library
Located on the second floor of the Chester Le Community Corner in Scarborough, The Blackstone Foundation Library is an organization that provides a safe space for Afrocentric learning and reading. Their flagship initiative is the library, but they also do peer mentorship and youth cultural wellness workshops. They do have community book drives, where you can donate used books to the cause, but you can also support by making a donation via the website.
The CEE Centre is a charity that focuses on developing and empowering the young Black workforce, while addressing systematic economic barriers and working to establish economic security and prosperity for participants. They have offer an extensive selection of programs to help nurture and prepare participants for specific career paths, such as the culinary arts, film and television and trades. You can sign up to volunteer on the website, and/or make a donation.
Freedom School Toronto
No how matter how much we like to sweep it under the rug, anti-black racism in our public education systems is very much a reality. Our curriculum is still dominated by a white narrative that completely ignores (or actively tries to erase) the lives, cultures, history and contributions of people of colour. With drop-out rate for Black students in Canada reaching up to sixty percent, it should be clear to anyone that our education system needs to urgently address its systematic racism. Freedom School Toronto is an organization that helps to intervene and create alternatives for Black children who have had negative and dehumanizing experiences in the public-school system. From September to June they operate a Saturday school, and then transition into a series of summer programs, but they also are engaged in several other initiatives including anti-racism training for teachers and staff. You can donate via e-transfer to the trustee organization – more specific details are on the website, under the FAQ section.
Black Legal Action Centre
The Black Legal Action serves on the frontlines, challenging oppressive institutions and injustices within a legal system that is rife with Anti-Black racism. They provide legal counsels, advice, aid and support to low and no-income Black Ontarians but are also rigorously involved in advocating for justice and transformation of laws that disproportionately impact low income and Black communities. You make a one-time donation or set-up a monthly contribution on their website.