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Panacea. An eco shopping oasis

July 22, 2011

Spotlight on Panacea. An eco shopping oasis

For today’s entry, I decided to focus on an organization, and one of my favourite places to shop, that I have mentioned several times over the past 8 months. Panacea, the Vegan Grocery store. So many of the products that I have written about (and loved) have come from Panacea, so it seems like a good time to focus on them.
Panacea is Toronto’s only Vegan Health Food/Eco Store. They offer essential consumer goods and groceries that comprehensively respect animal rights, the environment, and social justice issues at fair, competitive prices.

I took some time to speak with Ken about his store, and Veganism in General.

Frank: How did you get into this business? How long has Panacea been in business? Still the original ownership?

Ken: Well, I did not have a retail business background but having been involved with promoting veganism for many years, I had the idea in my mind for the store for many years prior to actually opening the store.  Panacea has been in business for almost 3 years now and I am the original/current owner. My background is actually professional engineering where I had a very successful career as a consultant in my specialty as a bridge engineer.  However, for many years I thought that the vegan community needed their own bricks and mortar retail store where everything would be vegan and you could obtain hard to find specialty products as well.  Furthermore, I thought that the idea of having a large health food style store where everything was vegan would be good outreach to the community to show the diversity of vegan food since many wonder what vegans eat beside fruits & vegetables.
Frank: I don’t want to assume anything – are you currently Vegan?

Ken: Oh, yes, and I have been vegan for over 20 years now. 

Frank: What are your thoughts on Veganism?

Ken:  Veganism is a lifestyle that seeks to respect all sentient life and primarily manifests itself in a pure vegetarian diet and rejection of animal-based consumer products, entertainment or animal-using industries.  By extension, the vegan lifestyle also respects human life and thus incorporates social justice and ecological protection.  And, since humans are essentially biologically herbivores anyway, veganism most truly matches what we are suppposed to be, despite millenia of the wrong diet.  So, I like to say that veganism is the next step in human evolution!

Frank: Let’s talk product. If a customer came in and asked for a recommendation for a product to bring to a Vegan dinner party, what would you direct them to?

Ken:  Usually in this case we focus on the great cross-section of vegan desserts, since dessert products are the easiest type of product to just pick up and take with you.  In this case, we often recommend the decadant cakes and cheesecakes by Toronto’s very own Sweets From The Earth.  However, there are lots of new food products that are easy to bring along or cook up quickly for a dinner party.  For less formal affairs, the frozen line from Gardein offers many entree options from seasoned “chick’n” and “beefless” strips to crispy, bbq or spicy “wings”; we also have a new very high quality line of faux seafood items by Sophie’s Kitchen.  Of course, we have lots of veggie burgers, sausages and other grillables for a bbq! For a lighter yet more decadent affair, the raw cashew-based “cheeses” from Dr. Cow make a perfect spread on crackers or enjoyed on its own with some wine.
Frank: I personally can’t get enough of the Coconut Bliss desserts. What is your personal ‘guilty pleasure’ that you carry?

Ken:  Hmmmm…do I have to pick just one?  First, I would have to mention the vegan truffles from Boardwalk Chocolates – amazing decadent truffles from a professional vegan chocolatier that I would put up against any specialty truffle shop in the city.  The coconut milk ice cream desserts that you mentioned are definitely a favourite too since the coconut milk provides such a rich, creamy, and tasty ice cream base and then the varieties available are just plain yummy!  In fact, now that more and more people are realizing that just about any specialty dessert can be made just as good if not better in a vegan version, vegan sweets are really leading the way in convincing people that vegan living is really vibrant and fulfilling, not a dull diet devoid of your favourite guilty pleasure.
Frank: What are some of your favourite foods you carry?

Ken:  I am always excited about new products and these are usually my favourites at any given time for the buzz in the store.  Currently, the line of vegan seafood from Sophie’s Kitchen, including shrimp, prawn, squid rings, calamari and fish fillets, is a favourite new product.  Its nice to be able to offer a quality faux seafood that offers a healthy, high quality and tasty mock alternative in this category.   We also have a new line of shelf stable (great for travelling, camping…or if you have a crowded fridge already) faux deli slices and meats from Italy.  Of course, I have many favourites among the staple products in the store too.  In general, I quite like Tofurky products (faux stuffed turkey roasts, deli slices, sausages, seasoned tempehs, pizzas) for their quality and taste as well their commitment to higher standards than many other grocery brand faux meats.   I must admit though that since I have been vegan for so long, while I enjoy many of these faux or prepared products, I am used to a more whole foods approach to my regular diet so some of my other favourites are more simple but often overlooked great staples – cultured tempeh varieties/miso pastes, Redstar brand nutritional yeast (the first condiment any vegan should have by the way!), quinoa, flax and chia grains, hemp seeds, kelp noodles, raw food snacks and so many awsome sauces, dips, dressings and mixes.
Frank: Who are your clientele? Are the primarily Vegans?

Ken:  Just like we intended for the store to be outreach to the surrounding community at large and a destination for the overall veg community, the clientele has always been mixed in that regard.  However, as some changes occur in the neighborhood with additional non-vegan retail competitors, the clientele mix is starting to become primarily from the veg*n community.
Frank: What trends have you noticed over time have emerged in regards to Vegetarian and Vegan lifestyles and foods?

Ken:  Over the past 20 years of being vegan I have seen constant positive incremental changes in the understanding and perception of veganism as well as improvements in the variety, quality, labeling and availability of vegan products.  However, in the past couple of years, the marketing of vegan foods has really taken off.  A recent industry survey of the Ontario health food retail sector reported that the demand for access to new products was lead by vegan products, followed by gluten-free and organic products.  In the past 6 months, I have seen more and more manufacturers prominently adding VEGAN to their packaging and advertising campaigns even if, as in most cases, they are not vegan companies.  Furthermore, where once veganism was not that well understood and was ridiculed, now veganism is a household name and commands significant respect among the general public. 
Frank: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing Vegans and how does Panacea address this?

Ken:  While veganism is now more well understood and has gained respect, there are still issues to be faced by the underlying misinformation related to the diet still espoused by agribusiness interests, the medical community and the media.  Panacea provides both the retail resource of sourcing quality and truly ethical vegan products as well as a location to obtain clear information about dietary needs, food quality, environmental and social issues clear of marketing, bias or vested interests.  

Frank: Last question – the majority of readers of the blog are not Vegan. Make the pitch to all the readers on why they should eat Vegan, and more importantly, shop at Panacea!

Ken:  There are so many overwhelming reasons to eat vegan and without sounding preachy, all these reasons are so overwhelming in their argument.  Whether one truly cares about themselves, the planet, animals or starving humans, the vegan diet is the only answer. 
First, for health, there is no diet healthier or more true to our biology than the pure vegetarian diet.  A substantial amount of our health care costs and human ailments would disappear with a transition to a vegan diet, particularly most forms of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.  In fact, dairy products alone are probably the most unhealthy and toxic products consumed by humans and guaranteed to lead to weakend bones and upper respiratory problems – a pretty good sign we’re being lied to about anything diet related.  Unfortunately our “general understanding” of diet and related physiology, including within the healthcare profession, is sadly completely ignorant and understandably based on millenia of vested interests.  I just tell people to not take my word for any of this, and certainly ignore your doctor too, but just do your own independent research, being careful of information sources on either extreme, and you will learn that there is no way humans should ever be eating animal products, ever!
Then, if anyone truly cares about the environment, switching to a meat-free diet is the only true and substantial lifestyle change that makes a difference.  The meat industry is the single largest source of environmental degradation on the planet over and above any other industry – from greenhouse gas production, to toxins in the air, soil and water, to the biggest user of fossil fuels and the largest user and destroyer of fresh water!  It has often been said, you cannot be a meat-eating environmentalist.  In fact, a vegan who drives a Hummer everywhere, everyday is better for the environment than an occassional meat eater who walks or cycles everywhere!
Obviously, with respect to animals, not eating them is the best way to take a stand against the largest widescale cruelty inflicted upon sentient beings on the planet.  Unfortunately there is nothing redeeming about the animal meat industries, including right here in Canada and including the so-called organic or free-range meats.  Animals are a mere commodity in an industrial process – there are no farmers anymore – and they are kept in such confined and unnatural conditions and bred so intensely that they endure emotional anguish and physical pain every day of their short lives.  And considering we’re not meant to eat them anyway, going vegan ensures that your food is not abject cruelty on a plate.
Finally, for social justice reasons, the vegan diet is the only sustainable diet and one that respects human rights.  Basically, the meat industry raises billions of animals each year and these animals consume far more food than what feeds humans worldwide!  Approximately 85% to 95% of all the world’s cereal grains (corn, soy, wheat, etc) is fed to animals, and yet they only return 10% of the calories in return in terms of meat.  It is for this one reason alone that the statistic of 10% of the world’s population (the “western world”) consumes 90% of the food.  If you are not eating a vegan diet, then every meat-based meal you are eating means 9 other people went hungry for your meal.
Once the reality of our diet is looked at below the surface, there are so many clear-cut compelling reasons to live vegan!
Frank: Anything else?

Ken:  I think you have covered everything.  I would just like to say that vegans and veg-interested people should also know that Panacea is their store and supporting a vegan grocery business now in its infancy will help grow the vegan retail market overall, much like the early veg restaurants struggled and now we have an excellent and ever-growing successful vegan restaurant industry in Toronto.

There you have it. Thanks to Panacea for taking the time to chat with us. I cannot recommend this store highly enough. It has made this year unbelieveably easy. The people are super friendly, the products are so good – the majority of foods I have reviewed (and especially the ones I love) have all come from Panacea. They are located at 588 Bloor Street West, just west of Bathurst (across from Honest Eds) in Toronto.

From → Vegan Frank

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