The Hot Yam! food collective was founded in the wake of the closure of the Radical Roots cafe in the spring of 2006. During its years of operation from 1999-2006, the Radical Roots cafe (formerly known as the Vegetarium) provided a homegrown alternative to mainstream food service options at the university. Radical Roots was a student-run, not-for-profit cafe with the mandate of:
“…providing the U of T community with nutritious, vegan, organic and affordable food. The cafe currently supports fair trade cooperatives in Central America and local organic farming networks and contributes to student life on campus by hosting a variety of workshops, speaking events and free community dinners. We also provide meaningful work and volunteer opportunities where students can learn valuable skills. Radical Roots is a space where all students can gain hands-on experience about health, nutrition, the environment and where students can increase their connection to the land and their community through their food choices.”
The Radical Roots cafe fulfilled this mandate with the help of a student levy of $0.15 per session, which is currently collected through the UTSU Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental fee. After Radical Roots closed for internal reasons, the absence was felt very strongly by former supporters. There were many students who perceived a continued need for the kind of food and atmosphere that Radical Roots offered. In late 2006, members of the U of T student community came together in order to start filling the hole that Radical Roots left, and formed the Hot Yam! collective. Since January 2007, the Hot Yam! has successfully functioned as a not-for-profit and entirely volunteer-run food service group, preparing and serving a fresh, “home”-cooked, inexpensive, mostly local, mostly organic and entirely vegan meal once a week to the public during the regular school year. The group has managed this without any outside funding and relies solely on the work of committed volunteers and the revenue collected at meals.Members of the Hot Yam!, past and present, are an eclectic mix of environmental activists, human rights activists, community farmers, educators, artists and good cooks!
Despite the diverse backgrounds of our volunteers, we have a common interest in making good food available on campus and supporting other groups who are motivating positive social change. We have teamed up with groups like UTSU, UTCare, ENSU, UTERN and FASU to provide catering services during events and rallies, in addition to the weekly lunches we offer. Most recently we worked with UTSU to supply food for protesters attending the Drop Fees Campaign rally at Queen’s Park (December 5 2008) . We have also worked in collaboration with local food organizations and businesses in the city like Local Food Plus (LFP) and Toronto Sprouts.
We support and help organize Eat Local!, an annual event which features displays from farm and food organizations and a free locally sourced Hot Yam! meal. We also participate in U of T’s annual Nutrition Week and are often involved in various colleges’ environment week activities. Our cooperation with other innovative groups on campus help to make the connections between good, clean and fair food and other kinds of social change more visible.