Feb 3, 2021 - Economy

Vegan food pantries become a new pandemic trend

Illustration of a box of food donations with the vegan symbol on the front.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Heightened demand for food banks has prompted vegans to organize, soliciting donations of non-animal products and setting up distribution channels for them.

Why it matters: As the pandemic persists, the number of people who are food-insecure remains alarmingly high — and any number of them may eschew animal products.

Driving the news: The "Las Vegan Food Pantry" — which started distributing boxes of fruits, vegetables, pastas and beans in December from an animal shelter in Las Vegas — has seen such overwhelming response that it's expanding operations and hours.

  • Organized by a vegan chef, it distributes up to 40 boxes every Saturday, each with enough for 1o meals.
  • People can sign up through the group's Facebook page, which has generated interest among food donors and volunteers.
  • “I’m an ethical vegan, so I don’t like the killing of the animals and the cruelty aspect of it,” Mindy Poortinga, the pantry's founder, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
  • She went vegan six years ago, and wanted to pitch in at a food bank during the pandemic.
  • But “I didn’t want to volunteer at places where I’m handing out animal products that I’m not feeling good about.”

There are similar initiatives in other cities. In New York City, Chilis on Wheels delivers plant-based food to needy people in Brooklyn and the Bronx. In London, Ontario, the London Vegan Food Bank has been in operation since 2018.

  • “The day that we deliver the boxes to people, we get a lot of heartfelt messages on our social media, just expressing how grateful they are," Michael Edward, a founder of the Ontario group, told Global News, a Canadian outlet. "We’ve had messages where people say they have tears in their eyes,” he said.

The big picture: Many experts suspect the coronavirus first spread to people through a live animal market, and PETA makes the argument that going vegan "can help cut off the next pandemic at its source."

  • Its "Vegans for the vulnerable" initiative asks people to pick up extra plant-based foods items while grocery shopping and donate them to a pantry.
  • Together with Chipotle and Baskin-Robbins, PETA Latino has organized donations of vegan burritos and ice cream to frontline hospital workers in Chula Vista, California.

Of note: A vegan food bank in Bath, England sends the message that you don't have to be vegan to become a client.

  • “We’re open to anyone who declares they are financially suffering," its founder, Helen Wright, told SomersetLive, a U.K. news site.
  • “We currently run the food bank from home and are hoping to find some free premises to operate from."
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