“It’s the best-hidden secret” at SFU, says owner Kalarupini Koraljka Roy, as she serves up a plate of mac ‘n’ cheese, curry, rice, and salad with calming, meditative music playing in the background.
Kala, for short, is referring to Veggie Lunch: a vegan lunch service that has been feeding hungry students at SFU Burnaby since 1992. Three times a week, Kala sets up in the Forum Chambers and dishes out heaping plates of delicious vegan food for only $6 a plate.
Kala lives her life in service of others. For her, charity is a way of life.
All the funds raised from Veggie Lunch help the less fortunate and fund services in the Downtown Eastside, such as their Women’s Shelter, the First United Church, and a soup kitchen and support centre called the Dugout. Proceeds also go to an orphanage in Udhampur, India. Kala also aims to assist Indian organizations with food distribution, as India has much greater food needs than Canada.
“It’s literally a full-time job,” says Kala, who rises early on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to prepare food for Veggie Lunch. She also holds a paying job to support her family, including a 17-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl. When she isn’t tending to those responsibilities, she’s trying to start up a vegan catering service.
Kala took over the independent program at SFU in 2011 and her friend, Patrick, joined three years ago. Together, the program has gained a small but dedicated customer base with many “regulars,” including students, staff, and faculty.
“I always have people on my mind while I’m cooking,” says Kala. She switches up the menus to cater to allergies and preferences of people she knows attend on certain days.
“It’s fresh, warm, cheap, and good for you,” touts Kala. She says eating vegan is good because it’s the “kindest possible food.” She is also concerned for the environment, given the meat industry’s considerable CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions.
The food is “karma-free.” It’s nutritious, clean, and Kala puts the food through a mantra meditation to purify while cooking.
Mantra means to “free the mind of troubles” to keep one happy and calm, explains Kala, who has been practicing yoga and mantra meditation since she was a teenager.
“That’s my life and I want to share it with others,” she says, especially at SFU where students are young, enthusiastic about life, and wanting to make a positive difference in the world.
When looking to make personal change, especially with diet, “it’s good to make steps that are consistent and not rash,” says Kala.
Personally, I am not a vegan — far from it — although I abstain from meat a few meals a week. When I eat Kala’s food, she describes me as a “flexitarian.”
There is a certain stigma associated with vegan cuisine, so many would be blown away at how tasty Kala can make mac ‘n’ cheese without using cheese at all.
“I always have people on my mind while I’m cooking” – Kalarupini Koraljka Roy
Aside from Veggie Lunch, Kala runs a community festival at Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside. The community there suffers from a lack of resources and low income, and is in need of “uplifting.” There, she serves food, leads meditation sessions, and gives haircuts and massages for the less fortunate.
This year, the festival will be held Saturday, July 9 from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. SFU students are encouraged to volunteer if interested.
“It brings different vibrations to that area,” Kala says, adding that compassion is what the community needs to be uplifted. There is even a beauty night where Kala and her volunteers give makeovers for the women in the area. Manicures, haircuts, and makeup can really change somebody’s self-esteem, she says.
Kala is also a member of Kirtan Vancouver, a non-profit organization promoting healthy living through meditation.
“Canada is a country of possibilities” for Kala, who was born in Croatia and has lived in Germany, Switzerland, and India. Many other places are so individualistic, and people get so wrapped up in their own personal achievements that they will step on others for a leg-up, Kala tells me.
Kala estimates Veggie Lunch serves between 180–200 meals and raises around $500 weekly. Any food left unsold is brought to shelters in the DTES.
“I’m hoping to grow,” says Kala, who looks to a similar program at the University of Florida in Gainesville that serves thousands.
Most advertising is through word of mouth. Though the program is independent of SFU and the SFSS, Kala said she “would appreciate more support” from both.
“Where else can you get this quality and quantity for $6?”