Stretches and scrambled tofu


The growing popularity of yoga and brunch culture is about more than a trend.

In Toronto’s graffiti-covered, fruit market-filled, increasingly-gentrified Kensington Market, exists the calm oasis of the Hibiscus Café. It’s a short streetcar ride from Spadina station and provides health conscious brunch and treats that are appealing to yoga communities.

Anne Parsonage sees the pairing of veganism with yoga as a uniquely millennial phenomenon.

There’s an inextricable indie element about the place. Glass jars full of plants – terrariums – signal a hipster exclusivity. Current owner of the café, Andy Malkov reflects that it is still the same neighbourhood since he and his sister took over, but it has certainly gotten busier. Their clientele includes members of the yoga and cross fit communities coming in before or after a workout.

Hibiscus is one of several establishments that offer gluten free and vegan brunches. Riverdale has Green Earth, The Junction has the Grasshopper Restaurant, and Parkdale has Cardinal Rule.

The marriage of yoga and vegan brunch is metropolitan and millennial. It’s a recent subculture amplified by social media from Gen Y participants. The increased interest in an organic, vegan, and gluten-free diet is changing menu options.

At Hibiscus, the current menu consists of soups, salads, crepes, brownies, ice cream and more. Malkov describes their menu as being “comfort food” that “comes in options that are very tasty.”

In his travels across Canada, including Montréal and Yukon, he noted lots of vegetarian options. He says that Montréal has places where you can get vegan pancakes. As far as brunch is concerned, at Hibiscus you can get something naughtily covered in powdered sugar and maple syrup.

“We’ve created brunch items…it’s pretty much crepes for brunch and some healthier options.” The crepes are made with a special gluten free batter from vegan buckwheat. “A lot of our customers just want to cut out gluten. Some come for other reasons; they just want something delicious, something filling.”

–  Malkov. 

He recalls that five to 10 years ago it wasn’t as easy to find gluten-free options, “in some ways it became part of the fashion. But on the other hand, some people have very serious gluten reactions. We just happen to be in that market.”

Toronto-based writer and creator of the Love Lettering Project, Lindsay Zier Vogel is a brunch enthusiast. For the uninitiated, brunch is a meal in between breakfast and lunch typically eaten on the weekend.

One day, several years ago, when Zier Vogel was a producer on the set of So You Think You Can Dance Canada she grew bored on set and started to sketch out a map of her favourite places to grab brunch in Toronto. By 2011, she published her first edition of the Brunch Map for the public. Among the restaurants featured in that edition, she says, gluten free wasn’t really an option. “Gluten-free is definitely new,” she says. “It wasn’t around five years ago.”

Toronto vegan yoga blogger Amy Stubbs, originally from the Kawartha Lakes in Ontario where the yoga-brunch culture isn’t as prevalent, is often seen on Instagram (@SustainableYogi) posing in outdoorsy scenes. She’s been committed to the yoga lifestyle for 10 years and has completed hundreds of hours worth of training.

For her, it’s not a trend.

She says that social media has had a massive impact in popularizing the practice. “I do think that some people go into it because they’re seeing it on social media…” Stubbs says. “That’s how people get their news… they see it literally trending.”

The yoga-brunch culture’s rise is part of veganism becoming more mainstream. According to a 2015 poll by the Vancouver Humane Society, about 12 million Canadians have attempted to eat less meat.

Veganism is not just the exclusion of meat, but also the exclusion of animals in the food making process altogether. Veganism can be seen by the yoga community either through the lens of compassion for animals or trendiness. Over the last decade, vegan yoga culture has burgeoned into a part of popular urban culture, and some people are joining because of romanticized views of this holistic and difficult lifestyle commitment.

Some businesses have capitalized on both markets: the people who do it for a few months and move on to the next lifestyle trend, and people who are on a lifelong journey.

“I would say as someone who has long been an ethical vegetarian and made the switch to veganism a couple years back, that it is a pretty standard thing within the community. A lot of people eat vegetarian lifestyle because of the ethics that go along with yoga,” says Stubbs.

A few blocks away from the Hisbiscus Café, on the corner of Spadina and Dundas, is the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Yoga instructor Anne Parsonage of Yoga from the Heart Canada teaches at the school. Her classes are, as her business card describes them, “inspirational spirit-based yoga classes.”  The room she gives lessons in, like the café, is full of greenery and natural light. Her long hair is braided to the side and her overall demeanor is calm and focused.

When she thinks of brunch she remembers her Manitoba childhood with “aunts and uncles [who] were farmers. Brunch is eggs… bacon and eggs is brunch… we like our gluten and our bread!” Parsonage sees the pairing of veganism with yoga as a uniquely millennial phenomenon.

In its more traditional roots, the yoga lifestyle includes a diet of “not meat or alcohol but eat more nuts, lots of milk … In India the real yogis, they have milk, cashews, fruits and vegetables, so that’s the traditional angle on the actual food itself.”

Parsonage demonstrates a yoga pose.

Vegan brunches and yoga may be enjoying its time in the limelight but it’s not a trend. Veganism and yoga is a serious lifestyle change and commitment that requires dedication, conscious thought, and persistence, says Parsonage, who has been practising for 20 years. She describes the physical activity of yoga as a reflection of one’s inner life or soul.

When teaching, she puts emphasis on the main components of free flow breathing, objective thought and understanding the spiritual meaning behind each pose. “That initial novelty and joy does wear off. You need to keep moving through it.”

Parsonage’s teachings are important for brunch and yoga newbies to keep in mind, especially in an era of instant gratification with a sea of picture perfect poses laying flat and still on the screen right at one’s fingertips.

Brunch offers a comforting way to enjoy something filling, satisfying, warm and relaxing. Yoga can be an intensive work out that increases the flexibility of the body and restoration for the mind.

Millennials, despite what some may have you think, can have focus and persistence. Even when trending hashtags change, the community that celebrates the vegan-yogi lifestyle in Toronto will come up with more creative ways to have fun and keep moving.



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