boycottaramarksept20

Photo of last year’s Free Vegan Barbeque by Sara Ostrowska

From far and wide, over bridges and down Water (Street), students and community members have gathered for years to meet, eat, and experience the food phenomenon that is OPIRG’s Free Vegan Barbeque.

The Free Vegan Barbeque is an annual event hosted by the Ontario Public Interest Research Group’s Peterborough chapter that is open to anyone and everyone from the Trent and Peterborough communities.

This year, the event will take place on Tuesday, September 16,  from 5-8 pm on the Sadleir House lawn.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for a community meal, for people to get together and experience vegan food,” explains Heather Ray, an OPIRG board member.

As one of the most anticipated events in September, with more than 150 people coming out, the free vegan barbeque has become a place where people gather not just for the food—though the food is a great bonus—but for the people.

“I think that’s why the vegan barbeque has been so entrenched in OPIRG’s culture … the want and desire for community meals is definitely still in the air,” says Ray.

The barbeque is catered by Food Not Bombs, another not-for-profit organization that hosts free, vegan, community meals every Monday evening at 6:30 pm in Victoria Park, across from City Hall.

The barbeque is purposely vegan, says Ray, because “vegan is a more inclusive way of eating.”

One of the main reasons for the creation of the Free Vegan Barbeque event was to mend the divides between Trent University’s main campus and the downtown.

Ray explans that events such as these help create inclusiveness between both worlds.

“It’s an opportunity to continue to bridge campus and community.” Having the event at Sadleir House gives everyone an opportunity to see what goes on at Trent University  outside of Symons campus.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for students and citizens who live outside of Peterborough’s downtown to venture there only when groceries are needed or when laundry can no longer wait, and there is a loneliness to that sort of life.

The intent of a community meal is to combat this loneliness by forging a community feeling. Conversations that perhaps can’t be formed in any other spaces can be formed.

In the past, many of these conversations have been focused on Aramark, Trent’s former food-service provider, and the lack of affordable, nutritious food available on Trent’s campus.

In fact, these conversations became so prevalent that for a time the event itself became known as the ‘Boycott Aramark Barbeque’.

However, with Aramark no longer at Trent University, these conversations can now move beyond  that one company. Yet Ray cautions that the affordability, quality, and sustainability of Trent’s foodservice are still prominent concerns for her organization.

“I think the conversations are probably not going to change all that much, there still a lot of work that can be done when you look at anything. We celebrate the success that the anti-Aramark campaign has had, but the movement on that campaign isn’t over.”

For those who are unable to attend the vegan barbeque, there are still many opportunities to check out OPRIG. “OPIRG is an organization fighting for social justice and environmentalism,” describes Ray.

There are opportunities to get involved with OPIRG through volunteering, by joining the board of directors, and through hired opportunities.

“Other opportunities include our fabulous working groups and we have a number of working groups that we help to support … anyone is welcome to get involved,” explains Ray.

There is also the Light Your Spark activist training workshop series; upcoming is the consensus based decision-making workshop and City Hall 101.

The Free Vegan Barbeque is an opportunity for people to venture outside of their comfort zones, to ask the questions they dare not ask elsewhere, and to say the things that they are yearning to say. “Community is a great space to get inspiration, to regain passion and find new passion,” says Ray.

Peterborough is a relatively big place, and meeting people in the west while living in the east is not always an easy thing to do.

The vegan barbeque changes that because, no matter what, you will always find someone new with something new to say.