Interviews with Vegetarian/Vegan Activists
Potlucks: An Interview with Garry Choo of the
are one way for vegetarians to get together, enjoy each other’s company,
show off their culinary skills and try new dishes. In the interview
below, Garry Choo
, of the
Vegetarian Association (www.veg.ca), shares his experiences
Q: Let’s start with a little biographical info. What
is your occupation? Have long have you been veg? Why did you go veg?
A: I was born and raised in
I am a manager in the IT department for a Canadian retailer. My primary
job function is long term planning.
I’ve been veg since 2001. I became veg as a result of
reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. Three things about
the book stuck in my mind:
wastefulness of raising animals for food. Especially the clearing
of the Amazon rainforest to grow soybeans for feed;
animals were treated in such a manner and also that they did not
come from ‘farms’, but from factories; and
treatment of people in the related slaughter and fast food industries.
After reading FFN, I began reading other publications
to ensure the facts were, well, factual. I read Beyond Beef by Jeremy Rifkin, Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore
Lappe, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and many others. These
books cemented my resolve to stay vegetarian.
Q: How long have you been organizing potlucks?
A: I’ve been organizing monthly potlucks since January
2005. It started as a vegan and raw-food potluck. It is now only a
Q: What led you to start organizing potlucks?
A: I became vegan and then a raw foodist because of potlucks.
I became vegetarian on my own, but I do not think I could have become
vegan or raw on my own. There was a great sense of community at the
potlucks, and the people in attendance also were a great support network.
In the fall of 2004, Anson DePezia, a raw foodist in
who organized monthly potlucks in his home, was discontinuing them
because he was moving away from the city for several months. I became
a raw foodist as a result of Anson’s potlucks.
With him gone, there was a void that needed to be filled.
The first potluck I organized was in January 2005, one month after
Anson’s final potluck.
Q: How do you publicize the potlucks?
A: Anson provided me with his mailing list of raw-foodists.
I used that as a start. I also had a large list of emails of vegetarians
that I knew. The potlucks were also promoted on the website, meetup.com,
where there were several vegetarian groups (vegetarian, vegan, raw).
It was also posted on the Toronto Vegetarian Association’s website, www.veg.ca
At the point when meetup.com started charging for their
services, people migrated to Yahoo groups. Several groups were formed
Toronto Vegetarians; ca.groups.yahoo.com/group/torontovegetarians
TVA Singles: groups.yahoo.com/group/tva_singles
I also discovered the Raw Food Toronto group, which I
Also, in the fall of 2006, Sandra McKeown, another
raw foodist, revived the raw food meetup group and that brought some
new people to the potlucks.
Q: How did you begin? What was the first potluck like?
A: The first potluck was great. There was about 30 or
40 people in attendance. We get from 20-60 people at the potlucks.
Q: What venues do you use? What are some other possibilities?
A: I use the party room in my condo building. It is about
3000 square feet in size so it can hold over 100 people. In the summertime,
we can expand it into a courtyard off of the party room. I’ve held
it in my apartment (once), but it isn’t that big and can only accommodate
about 20 people comfortably.
How do you deal with plates, forks, spoons, etc.?
A: We have a collection of reuseable plates (donated
by the TVA), cups and utensils. People are encouraged to bring their
own reuseable plates, cups and utensils. We also request that people
bring their own napkins.
Q: Do people have to sign up ahead of time?
A: I don’t have people sign up. I don’t find it useful.
I only let people know when the event is and they can show up if they
Q: Do you ask people to list the ingredients in their
dishes? For example, what if some people don’t take garlic or onion,
or some are allergic to a particular food?
A: Yes, ingredients are always listed in case of allergies
and for general information.
Q: How long do the events usually last?
A: People start showing up at 6pm, eating starts at 7pm
and it’s gone as late as 11pm.
Q: Other than eating, do you have any scheduled activities,
such as ice breakers or screening a video?
A: In the past, we have had food preparation demonstrations,
singers and speakers.
Q: Do you ever have special themes for the potlucks,
such as Asian food?
A: We had a dessert theme once. It was
very popular and the food didn’t last very long from what I remember!
Garry on the right, with some friends at the IVU Congress in Goa, India, 2006
Regardless, the ‘theme’ is always raw food now.
Q: Do you ever have a problem with not having enough
A: Maybe during the dessert themed potluck! There always
seems to be just the right amount of food. More often than not, we
have food left over at the end of the evening.
Q: Can someone show up without food and offer to clean-up
or do some other task?
A: I don’t really care if people show up without food.
It’s more about learning about raw food. Some people are nervous or
do not know what raw food is. I always encourage people to show up,
even if they are not bringing anything with them.
Q: Are there any legal issues involved, such as what
happens if someone suffers food poisoning?
A: I’ve never really thought about it because it’s an
informal event. I’ve never known of anyone getting sick from one of
the events. I’m not worried about any legal aspects. Vegetarians (Canadian’s,
at least) aren’t very litigious.
Q: What are some problems that you’ve encountered
or might encounter, and how do you try to avoid them?
A: People that show up with animal-based products because
they do not know what raw food is. There is some information on the
respective web sites. People list the ingredients so it’s ‘eater beware’.