If another municipality decided to woo our fair city of Toronto, then Montreal or some other pal would probably advise them that the way to our heart is through our collective stomach. Every year, Hogtown’s hungriest come out in full force to participate in food events spanning communities, cultures, and cuisines⎯letting foodies relish the abundance of finger-licking, bowl-scraping, belt-straining fare around every corner. As much as we love food, we love organized, large-scale events that give us an excuse to chow down even more.
But the funny thing about love—to our new city suitor’s disappointment—is that it usually comes with some hate. Of course, we’re talking about Winterlicious and Summerlicious⎯the city’s biggest prix-fixe fests that are as divisive as they are hyped. For some, they make fine dining accessible, while others, including restaurants’ staff, use that time to practice home cooking. Even Torontoist can’t decide if we like or loathe the ‘Liciouses.
Well, like it or not, here comes the airplane with another helping. From this Saturday, April 9 to Sunday, April 24, Veggielicious will follow the same model of its namesake but, you guessed it, will highlight vegan options. According to David Alexander, the executive director of the Toronto Vegetarian Association which is organizing the festival, about 20 restaurants and cafés in over 50 locations spanning Toronto, Burlington, St. Catharines, Oakville, and Hamilton (see a full list of specials here), have signed up to offer “gourmet food that’s good for you, the planet, and that’s cruelty-free” for a deal.
“The foods we’re presenting aren’t usually options, they’re only side dishes in most menus,” Alexander says. Veggielicious is TVA’s answer to one of the most common gripes with Winter and Summerlicious: a lack of animal-free dishes that aren’t painfully predictable. And even though many restaurants are expanding their vegetarian options, Alexander says vegans are continuously left out of consideration. With Veggielicious, though the savings might not be as notable, veggie-loving Torontonians have choices from smoothies to soups to burgers that will please their diets, the earth, and the animal kingdom.
Its mission is honourable, and we wholeheartedly support the eating of vegetables of all kinds (even though we don’t always show it). But it also now adds yet another name to the ‘Licious League in the GTA: there’s Winterlicious, Summerlicious, Soupalicious, Hamilton’s Localicious, the former Leslielicious, Roncylicious, even Bug-a-licious. Not to mention annual neighbourhood festivals from the Mediterranean morsels at Taste of the Danforth to the Polish picks of Roncesvalles. The Toronto Vegetarian Association is even hosting its 27th Annual Vegetarian Food Fair at the Harbourfront this September. Now, we have to ask, is Toronto already stuffed with foodie fests?
“We’re offering something fresh, and something new. That will bring people out, thinking about trying new types of food,” says Alexander. “Even for people who just want to eat less meat, we want to show them that there are options in Toronto.”
Veggielicious undoubtedly has an audience: Toronto’s vegetarian and vegan populations are gaining prominence as more and more consider the environmental, moral, and health impacts of their diets. And Toronto has adapted to meet their needs, for the most part, even being named one of North America’s most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly cities by PETA. The result is a tight-knit and active community that loves veggies and knows where to find them.
“One thing I’ve found I have in common with all of my vegan friends is that we’re very enthusiastic about eating good food,” says Lisa Blonder Ohlenkamp, a volunteer with the Toronto Vegetarian Association who helped organize the festival. “So I think that Toronto vegetarians will turn out in droves.”
In order to grow and live up to the ‘Licious name, Veggielicious has to appeal to the cravings of meat-eaters too. But in its inaugural year, the current resto roster consists primarily of businesses that cater specifically to Toronto’s vegan and vegetarian communities: out of the 20 participating establishments, only seven regularly serve meat dishes.
“We focused on restaurants already serving vegetarian or vegan cuisine for a few reasons. We knew that these restaurants already have a familiarity with what ‘vegan’ means, where other restaurants less familiar with the concept might be more likely to accidentally serve non-vegan items as part of their specials,” said Blonder Ohlenkamp. But if other restaurants are ever going to understand, participating in events like Veggielicious is a good place to start. Unfortunately, many wanted to wait until the festival was more established before signing up, because with all the opportunities to showcase in food festivals year-round, restaurants have to start being choosy. So, too, do Torontonians when deciding on which one to attend.