Meet the vegan chef who wants to make St. Paul healthier, one meal at a time

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Colin Anderson took a break from cooking another community meal last week to sit near a garden and talk about food.

What, he was asked, would prompt a self-identified atheist/Buddhist to take to the kitchen at St. Paul’s Hamline United Methodist church and make a vegan dinner for up to 200 people? Or to start a vegan food shelf at another church nearby?

It’s about improving food security and empowering community by introducing locally sourced, sustainably raised food in neighborhoods with limited food options, he said. Through his Eureka Compass Vegan Food initiative, the Midway resident also hopes to launch a vegan grocery store.

“For us, it’s all about community. It’s all about nourishment, whether it be your body or your mind,” Anderson said. “I do these events at these churches because the higher power that I believe in is what we can achieve if we all start working selflessly and together.”

Eye On St. Paul recently sat down with Anderson, who partners with local vegan chefs Zachary Hurdle and John Stockman through the Twin Cities Vegan Chef Collective, to talk about his work to improve community health and unity, one meal at a time.

This interview has been edited for length.

Q: What are you hoping to accomplish with these dinners?

A: We need to get Minnesota to a point where Minnesota can feed Minnesota.

It’s in response to two desecrating corruptions of our food system: We are burning our environment — and resources that the future will rely on — and shipping nourishment to places that already have nourishment. We also have food that is so poisonous that we have diet-related disease and illness.

We have put the most unhealthy food in communities that have the worst effects of environment. Of racism.

Q: Tell me a little about Eureka.

A: I started Eureka Compass Vegan Food in 2017 as a correction of what vegan food was becoming as it became mainstream — heavily processed, deep-fried junk food. They make food in a lab, then they wrap it in plastic and ship it around the world. If you look at Impossible Burger, it’s literally genetically modified yeast that eats soy, which is just more mono-crop agriculture.

Q: It sounds like you’re not just promoting vegan, but recognizable, sustainable, locally grown food.

A: Yeah. We’re talking full-scope veganism. [For this meal] I biked to the farmers market on my cargo bike. I brought my own bags and my own box. Then I biked back here, put the food in the fridge. Nothing in plastic. Plastics manufacturing pollutes the environment, kills people every day. It’s hard to remove ourselves from it, but if we’re going to be full-scale vegan, we need to acknowledge that. We need to say, “That’s not vegan.”

And when I go to the farmers market, I look to buy the last of something, say the last of the cauliflower or the last of the red potatoes.

Q: Why?

A: There’s an emotional aspect when you’re vending something. And an efficiency. I have four small heads of cauliflower left. Well, that’s kind of a nuisance. Now, they’re able to consolidate.

Q: I imagine it feels good for them to sell out too.

A: Yes, yes! Too often, we refuse to acknowledge that is a human being right there. But that person standing there, at their table at the farmers market, if I can give that little victory, that’s solidarity. That’s community.

Q: What are you hoping people get besides nourishment?

A: That they see it. At each community dinner, the recipes are never repeated. If you want to know how I made that, I’ll tell you. There are people who send me an e-mail later on, saying, “What was this? Because this is amazing.” And I say here, this is how you do it.

I have a friend [a vegan chef and spoken word poet] who said, “We would rather witness a sermon than hear a sermon.” You want people to eat vegan food? Serve them vegan food.

Q: Have you started a vegan food shelf?

A: Yes. Thursday [July 28], we will do the first all-vegan food shelf from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Zion Lutheran Church, 1697 Lafond, in connection with Arts on Lafond. We hope to get the support to do this every Thursday.

Q: You’re spending a lot of your own money to buy food you’re giving away. Why?

A: I work with creative food people [such as Co-op Partners Warehouse]. I’m spending $1,300 on an order of local produce — I’m self-funding this until I can’t anymore.

Why? Because I want them to be sustainable too. We get $356 a month from 56 patrons. But if we had 2,000 patrons contributing $2 a month? We could do this every week. We’re not asking for donations. This isn’t charity. This is solidarity.

Q: How do you keep from being discouraged?

A: I’ve been discouraged. I have terrible moments of frustration. To sit there and you can see 400 people on LinkedIn, or 1,000 people on Instagram, saw that post and not a single one of them clicked that [sponsor] link?

But I’ve already succeeded. The people who I get the privilege to be around are phenomenal. It’s the feeling I get [when] somebody comes in and says, “Not only is this the best meal we’ve had all week, but my family, we needed this.”

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