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Designing Dignity in Food Banks

A vegetarian hunger-relief organization in Toronto argues that patrons shouldn’t be forced to choose between nutrition and their principles.
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Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Gary (not his real name) arrived in Toronto from Calcutta almost three years ago, and he sometimes struggles to feed his family of six, which includes his parents and two small sons. He attends computer-programming classes and works part-time, but his shifts are irregular and his pay is minimum wage. Amid escalating food costs in one of North America’s hottest housing markets, Gary has learned to ask for help.

And so once a month, he finds his way to the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank, where he fills his cart with brown rice, lentils, and deep green bunches of kale. Gary’s family practices a subset of Hinduism and he’s trying to maintain a cultural tradition of vegetarianism, so the food bank meets both his nutritional and spiritual needs. “The produce here is better than at the grocery store,” he says, standing next to his overflowing cart.