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Interviews with Vegetarian/Vegan Activists
March 2007


Organizing Potlucks: An Interview with Garry Choo of the Toronto Vegetarian Association

Potlucks 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 Toronto Vegetarian Association (www.veg.ca), shares his experiences organizing potlucks.

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 Toronto , ON Canada . 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:

  1. The wastefulness of raising animals for food. Especially the clearing of the Amazon rainforest to grow soybeans for feed;
  2. That animals were treated in such a manner and also that they did not come from ‘farms’, but from factories; and
  3. The 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 raw-food potluck.

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 Toronto 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 including:

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 now moderate:
health.groups.yahoo.com/group/rawfoodtoronto

Also, in the fall of 2006, Sandra McKeown, another Toronto 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.

Q: 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 like.

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
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 food?

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’.