Something that I’m very passionate about is individual and small group grassroots activism. Each of us as has the power, on our own or in joining together, to take action right now. I’m honored to have the opportunity to highlight such inspiring activists like Anita Krajnc of Toronto Pig Save and today, the Brown Paper Bag Movement. This group is doing inspiring work bringing quality vegan food to the needy of New York City. Their work speaks to the importance of making veganism, and real food in general, accessible to people in situations of economic disparity and people who live in food deserts, meaning areas without any access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. And even beyond that, it speaks to the importance of taking action into our own hands and making a difference for others in this world rather than waiting for someone else to do so. [tweet this]
I had the honor of speaking with four of the brown paper bag activists, Jesse, Zack, Miranda, and Matt, and wanted to share with you the genesis of their work in their words. [be sure to watch the video for the full impact]
On the formation of the Brown Paper Bag Movement
Jesse: With the Brown Paper Bag Movement, it’s a program where me and a bunch of my vegan friends decided that we wanted to help the less fortunate.
Matt: Some of us were already going out doing clothes drives. I forget who mentioned it, but they was just like, why don’t we, like, put together all of our resources and put some food in brown paper bags and, like, go feed the homeless? That’s how pretty much it got started. It was just an idea, and we ran with it. [tweet this]
Miranda: We started participating in this group called the Meeting of the Minds. Some people in this organization had started the Brown Paper Bag Movement and they were feeding the homeless, and at that time they were serving animal products. When we went home that night, Zack wrote a beautiful letter basically just asking for any donations, any vegan donations from a lot of companies that we actually support ourselves, and saying, you know, we’re feeding our brothers and sisters. We had a really good response from that.
Jesse: Most vegan companies are small Mom and Pop companies, and they’re in it for the right reasons, and they’re excited to help, you know, like, the idea of them helping with feeding the homeless is great to them.
Miranda: A lot of companies, such as Field Roast, Tofurky, Enjoy Life, Earnest Foods, sent us a lot of donations, so we were actually able, for the next Brown Paper Bag Movement, to create all vegan brown paper bag meals for the homeless people in New York City.
Jesse: We make vegan sandwiches for them. We put vegan energy bars, with, fruits and vegetables in brown bags. We also give out toothbrushes and socks and other hygienic items, soap, and we bag up probably four or five hundred bags and we hit the streets of New York City.
Miranda: So, we went out with over three hundred bags, with so many people…
Matt: I think the first time we went out, it might have been twelve, maybe fifteen people, and we had maybe like a hundred bags of food. And, fast forward to today, we have no shortage of supply of people really. Last night, we did about three hundred bags of food, I’m pretty sure, and it went like in two hours, so that’s how much of a necessity it is.
I think it’s easy for people to assume that those who live on the streets will or even should take whatever they can get. But being homeless doesn’t remove ones humanity. Let’s hear about the reception the brown paper bag movement has had among the needy of New York City.
Jesse: Everybody is so excited, you know. A lot of these people are laying on the streets, you know, they have nothing. They’re laying there with no socks, no shoes. They have nothing to eat. They’re very happy and excited to get anything, and it’s heart-warming to be able to help [them]. You know, it really touches your heart and it inspires you to do it even more, because there’s so many people out there that need this. When they see somebody that is out there to genuinely help them, they open up, and they tell you about them, and it’s amazing to see all the stories and to connect with these people.
Miranda: We met a lifelong vegetarian. He’s been on the streets, and he was so happy and grateful to just be receiving good food. And one of the funniest things we’ve learned is that they have standards just like everybody else. Like, they don’t want to be eating bologna sandwiches. When we went out the first time, like they were telling us, “no, do you have any peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?” You know, they don’t want to eat that garbage either. So, that’s been the most beautiful thing: companies giving from the bottom of their hearts, not expecting money or anything in return, Just wanting people to just be fed, and it’s just so beautiful.
Matt: I offered a lady a bag, and she’s like, “No, I don’t want it.” I guess like, prideful. And I was like, “It’s vegan and it’s organic,” and she was like, “Really?! 'cause that’s all I eat,.” And we started to talk about factory farming, and why it’s important to eat organic. That gave me a lot of motivation, 'cause [someone] like her, who doesn’t have that many options, she can’t just like go shopping whenever she wants to, to still be, like, a stickler for what she puts in her body.
Miranda: This other company Acure Organics had sent us five hundred body washes, and one of the guys that we had given a bag to had opened up the bag and seen the body wash and he’s like, “Oh, my gosh thank you guys so much, like a lot of people donate stuff to us and I can never even accept anything ‘cause it’s all like poison and just chemicals.” And so he grabbed a whole bunch more body washes from us and, he’s like, “This is going to last me so long.” That was really memorable for me, just seeing that they do care about what they put in their bodies and on their bodies, and that is something that’s important, not just to us but to everyone, you know?
The Brown Paper Bag Movement reaches beyond the streets of New York City in raising greater awareness about food inequality, the marginalization of the needy, and a general consciousness-raising about extending compassion to all beings.
Jesse: We’re just trying to inspire people to give back to the community, help the less fortunate, and to seek enjoyment from helping others. Not enough people in society want to help others. Whether it’s helping animals, whether it’s helping fellow humans, we need to get back to sharing and caring, with compassion and empathy for everybody. You know, it’s not just about your immediate family and friends, but everybody matters. Everybody needs help. [tweet this] With the Brown Paper Bag Movement, it’s been a great way for us to help the community, and these people really need it. So I encourage anybody to, you know, go out there, whether it’s a Brown Paper Bag Movement, or it’s just you by yourself to try to help others, you know, a dollar, a sandwich, you know a bottle of water, anything. You know, people need these things. We need to not just drive by all these people but try to help them.
Zack: For us, we’re creating awareness for others–this is the whole planet thing. We need to all start showing compassion to everyone on the earth, you know?
Matt: They’re really special moments, even though it’s like, thirty or forty seconds that I spend with a less fortunate person who doesn’t have much. Just looking in their eyes, you see the despair on their face when nobody’s looking at them, they’re just walking past them. But when you walk up to them and you're like, “Hey man, could you use something to eat?” and it’s like, you just showed them twenty pounds of gold or something, and they’re just like, “Yeah man, thank you.”
This is action that you can take in your own area and the brown paper bag activists are more than happy to help.
Jesse: That’s all you need: a few people, a few bucks and you write a few letters. I didn’t believe that these companies would send out so much stuff and, like it was just, very inspiring to see.
Miranda: I mean, it’s something that can be done by yourself, if you want to do it with your friends, whatever you like to do. But a little goes such a long way. Take whatever change you have at the end of the week, buy a few ingredients, create a few bags, just like that, just goes such a long way.
Zack: It’s really about, like, just finding the time and effort to make a few meals. It’s doesn’t have to be as many as we do. It’s doesn’t have to be a thousand, you know, it could be five meals, whatever. Just showing that compassion and love to others is a huge step, you know, just having the awareness that there’s others. You know, there’s times where we might be going from work, or coming home, and we have something, and we see someone, and we’re going to give it up to them, ‘cause it’s just that compassion of all the time knowing things need to change, you know?
I’ve included contact information for Jesse, Matt, Zack and Miranda and the Brown Paper Bag Movement as a whole below if you want to reach out for help getting started in your area
Making real vegan food more accessible is so important, and I’ll be creating more videos on some other movements working towards this on different fronts with urban rooftop gardening, community agriculture in food deserts, connecting local gardeners with food pantries and more, as well as an entire series of videos on eating vegan affordably.
I will include links to some of these projects below, as well as resources if you want to get involved or if you yourself are struggling to find fresh, real food.
I hope that you found this video inspiring and motivating. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Brown Paper Bag Movement and what these activists have shared. Let me know in the comments!
Resources for Getting Real Food to Those In Need [more to come!]:
Ample Harvest (connecting local gardeners with food pantries in the US)
Grow A Row (same concept in Canada)
Philadelphia Community Gardens
Detroit Area Community Gardens
Chicago Community Gardens
NYC Community Gardens
Atlanta Community Gardens