When the students who run Hot Yam, a weekly vegan lunch served at the Centre for International Experience on St. George Street, decided they would buy their ingredients locally, they didn’t have to look very far. They found a ready supply of local and organic produce in Kensington market – and a farm within the city limits. Food Cycles, an urban agricultural project in Toronto, now plants crops specifically for Hot Yam. “It’s about as local as you can get — ordering crops,” says Michelle German, the group’s honorary treasurer.
Sourcing food locally is not the only way in which Hot Yam attempts to be green. Because of limited storage facilities at the Centre for International Experience, staff members buy the majority of food the night before they need it, reducing the amount of energy required to keep things fresh. They don’t have a motor vehicle, so they use a bike with mini-trailer to transport the food to campus. And customers who want take-out have to bring their own reusable container.
Garbage is kept to a minimum. The café doesn’t use paper towels, cling-wrap or disposable dishes or cutlery. Biodegradable soaps and detergents are used whenever possible to clean up. If there are any leftovers, staff divvy up the food amongst themselves, or donate it to neighborhood shelters.
Many Hot Yam volunteers say they now echo the cafe’s sustainable practices at home. “I think a lot of things in my life are inspired by the Hot Yam,” says German. Patrons who ask about the food also get the sustainability message. “I think food is a really special way to communicate, and at the Hot Yam we’re able to express a lot of really strong ideals and practices just by putting certain things on a plate.”
Hot Yam runs every Thursday between noon and 2 p.m.