On the flight to my new home in Toronto, I was feeling both nervous and excited. When you live in a city for a while, you know where to get your cruelty-free cosmetics and food. You know where to find organic grocery stores, vegan restaurants, fair trade organic clothes, community groups and food sharing opportunities. You learn about the secret cafés and other hidden gems. You kind of create a little green map of your city in your head.
But by moving to Toronto I was faced with a tabula rasa again. How dense would my little green map become in this city? Excited and somewhat nervous I set off to find out, and was pleasantly surprised.
A plentitude of vegan restaurants
Toronto is rich in vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants. Just wandering down random streets, I often find “vegan options” signs. My own favorite area (and probably every vegan’s dream place) is Kensington Market. In this multicultural, colorful, artsy and relaxed downtown hotspot, there is a plentitude of vegan restaurants. The first time I was strolling down those lively streets, I seriously could not decide which place to eat at first! Some of my favorites are definitely Hibiscus, with its great salads and vegan cheese crêpes; the newly opened Veggie D’Light where the tasty organic Jamaican food is only topped by the amazing personality of chef Peter and his team; and King’s Café which serves a variety of interesting Asian dishes. There is even a vegan bakery (Bunner’s) in the market!
If you are looking for the most bang for your buck, King’s Café and Buddha’s Vegetarian Restaurant, located near Kensington Market, are both yummy options. At Nazareth on Bloor Street you can fill two people’s bellies with Ethiopian injera and beans for just $12, but to experience this jungle-like place come early because waiting lines are common after 6pm. If we ever have room for dessert, my friends and I like to finish off warm summer evenings at Bakerbots which is just a five minute stroll from Nazareth and serves amazing vegan cookie ice cream sandwiches. Being vegan has never been this easy.
For more upscale vegan food, I love the fine dining experience of Grasslands and Vegetarian Haven. Chilling on a Sunday morning with friends over a Snickerdoodle cookie French toast at Grasslands is a definite treat.
A thriving vegan Torontonian community
I learned very quickly that I wouldn’t have to starve as a vegan in Toronto. But just as my belly had been hungry to discover the vegan food in “the six”, my mind was hungry to make new social connections. So I started looking for a vegan community and lo and behold, I discovered a lively bunch of people!
Joining different vegan meetup groups, I discovered gustatory pleasures with other like-minded people, and attended vegan potlucks to learn some great new recipes. The Toronto Vegan Facebook group is very active and always keeps you in the loop about different vegan events. There is also the Toronto Vegetarian Association for which you can volunteer and which hosts different social outings in various parts of the city.
There is even a vegan-friendly Karaoke bar called Disgraceland, and there are several annual events that make being vegan in Toronto exciting. The vegan bake sale and the Veggie Pride Parade, both take place during the spring. Additionally, this year for the first time Toronto hosted a vegan food festival!
In addition to all these fun vegan events, there are also opportunities to engage in more direct activist work while in Toronto, like joining the weekly activities of the Toronto Pig Save, the March to Close Down All Slaughterhouses or smaller demonstrations, such as against the fur trade or the Ripley aquarium.
Living in Toronto as a vegan
So if you ever wondered what it’s like being vegan in Toronto, you can rest assured that Toronto is definitely a city in which you can thrive as a vegan. There is a magnitude of plant-based restaurants and a lively vegan community. Even general health related events, like the Green Living Show, yoga festivals or fitness shows usually offer vegan food. There is a general awareness of the vegan lifestyle and many Torontonians actually know what the word means.
It feels like the time for compassionate choices is ripe here in Toronto, and I love being part of it all.
Guest post by Janice Kalagi
Janice is a personal trainer, coach and MSc psychologist. At Life Leaping, she combines movement, mindfulness and psychology to help people be happy and healthy. She specializes in healthy weight loss, strength development, and positive eating habits and body image. Her own movement practice as a vegan athlete includes calisthenics, Capoeira and dance. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.