It seems hard for me to remember the first time I get in touch with music, books, movies, websites and magazines. I just know that at some point they start to be part of my life. And that’s how I feel in relation to T.O.F.U. too. I just know that I’ve read they were looking for contributors a couple of years ago and I’ve got in touch with Ryan Patey, one of the founders of the magazine and have contributed with one article to them and since that we’ve kept in touch and I will be always a T.O.F.U. reader and fan.
For those who don’t know, T.O.F.U. is an amazing vegan online magazine from Canada and you can download the issues paying what you want. There’s a new issue about to come and I can’t wait to read it. In the middle of the chaos of closing this new issue, Patey took some time to answer a few questions to us!
When and how did you start having the idea of starting a vegan magazine ?
The idea of starting a magazine came about in a process that seemed organic for more reasons than one. Initially, I had come up with the idea to do a small vegan cookbook/zine (Veganize Me!) as a fundraiser for an outdoor show I was organizing with a bunch of youth in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A couple of the youth, and my partner at the time, were vegan, so it seemed to make sense. The cookbook was a success, and we decided to do a second one (Tis the Season to be Vegan) soon after. Again, the cookbook sold out, which helped to inspire us to think of other projects. Although I became busy with other things, my partner decided to take on the task of creating a dining guide (A Cure for Vegoraphobia: A Vegan Dining Guide to Halifax), which also went over relatively well.
Soon after this, I moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba. For a bunch of reasons, we came up with the idea of doing a magazine while talking on the phone (yes, it was long enough that Skype, FaceTime, and text were not that popular), and then we shifted into high gear and made it happen.
Since then, it’s been a definite labour of love, especially now that I’m the only one running the show. There have been some serious breaks in-between issues, but I’ve also lived in several different cities, both in Canada and South Korea. As well, holding jobs that actually pay my bills has, unfortunately, remained a priority.
What are the most challenging aspects on running a vegan digital magazine?
I’m not really sure how to narrow this down. I guess keeping things on-track and committed to some sort of deadline, especially now that I’m doing a lot of it on my own, is probably the most difficult. It helps once I’ve given advertisers a publication date, but before that it pretty much just falls on me setting and missing my own deadlines, and I’m always able to find a bunch of reasons to do just that.
Along with this, keeping an active presence online in-between issues is a task in itself. I’d like to get outside and away from the screen more often, but there is always that last status update to make, or that last email to reply to.
You’re about to release issue number 7. What can new readers expect from T.O.F.U.?
Over the past few issues, the magazine has started to try and push buttons with people. Stepping outside of simply being a publication for recipes and pro-vegan articles, there has also been a commitment to focusing on issues within the vegan movement that need attention. For example, the last issue focused on veganism and its intersection with other forms of oppression, whether intentional or not. We were also lucky enough to interview A. Breeze Harper who has done some amazing work on race, white privilege, and veganism. She’s received plenty of criticism for her work, but the magazine remains a supporter of what she is doing, and it was great to be able to highlight it in issue six.
For the upcoming issue, the focus was placed on veganism and body image. There are some pieces that are incredibly personal and honest about the struggle to fight for both veganism and body/fat acceptance, and I’m really looking forward to the conversations they might spark.
Right now you’re the only person behind the scenes of T.O.F.U., right? What do you like the most in the process of preparing a new issue?
For most purposes, yes, I’m the only one behind the scenes of T.O.F.U. right now. I do have a good friend who handles the website development, and I’ve had a few folks help out on the creative/design end, but most of the tasks that have to be done are done by me. I guess this is due to a mix of me preferring to do whatever I can before I ask other people, not having the cash to hire folks, and just knowing great people who are far too busy with their own amazing projects.
With that in mind, I guess there are a few key moments that I really like while preparing a new issue:
- putting out the call for contributors, especially in regard to the focus pieces that tend to deal with tougher topics, and getting responses from people excited to write.
- working out the cover concept and figuring out just how to make it happen. I’m a big fan of art that has a meaning/message, so that moment when I think of the visual way to convey a key part of the issue is always great.
- uploading the magazine and telling the world that it’s available. Watching the downloads happen, and seeing what people feel is a reasonable price for it (if they pay at all), is always interesting. It’s not that I mind people downloading it for free, and I know there are a million reasons why they would do that, it’s just interesting to see that there is such a variety in the price people are willing to pay.
T.O.F.U. is written by contributors from different parts of the world. Do you have writers that contribute to all issues or do people keep changing?
T.O.F.U. has a few contributors who have written more than once for the magazine, but most of the people who write in any given issue are new. It’s not that there is a set rule against writing again, it just seems to be a matter of who is available to write when I put out the call. Sometimes people can’t meet the deadline, they don’t have an idea, or they just don’t hear about it until it’s too late. Plus, I’m not in the financial situation to be able to pay anyone for their articles, so it’s difficult to persuade someone to contribute on a consistent basis.
I’ve seen that you have a “new grant program” to support and sponsor projects? How does it work?
Ever since the decision was made to go digital-only, the T.O.F.U. grant program has existed. In a nutshell, since the issue itself is pay-what-you-want, and most folks download it for free, I take half of the advertising income and pick someone to give it to. Currently, the whole thing is overseen by me, but I do hope to eventually be able to open it up for submissions and some sort of voting process by readers.
Although it’s still not at the stage I want it to be, I am happy that it has allowed me to show support to some great vegans over the past three issues. In fact, I was able to inform the recipient for issue seven last week that she would be receiving the grant, and she was quite happy. She’s done a lot for the vegan community, and it was nice to be able to turn around and do something for her.
Hopefully, as the magazine continues to grown, the grant will too, and it will be able to make a significant difference in the lives/work of those who receive it.
Getting to know more about the people who are behind vegan projects is one of the goals of our People page, so who is Ryan Patey? What inspired you to become vegan? What do you do in your daily life besides taking care of the magazine?
On my better days, I’m a Copywriter for a web/marketing agency called JAC based in St. John’s, NL, the founder of T.O.F.U. magazine, and someone who likes to travel and eat good food wherever he lands. On my bad days, I’m someone who has far too much on his plate and a curiosity as to why he never really did put his Psychology degree to any more use than getting a job in an office in South Korea to write kid’s books for six months.
I became vegan over a period of a year or two, maybe longer. I think I can attribute the initial spark to a vegan partner, and the whole list of projects we undertook as I outlined previously. Once I realized the cookbooks were going well, I decided I couldn’t be involved if I wasn’t even vegetarian. So, it slowly started to happen. Eventually, kicking the cheese habit was the last step, and when that happened six or seven years ago, I never really looked back. Overall, I’m vegan because I know I can’t actually kill anything myself, so I don’t feel right living off the spoils of such an action.
Outside of work, work, and more work, I hop from airport to airport when I can, and when I’m not doing that, I’m cuddling a cat and taking pictures of food, bands, or said cat with my phone. I only really accepted that my life should involve a cell phone about a year ago, so I’m trying to make up for lost time as quick as possible!
Food seems to be one of the most popular topics when people look for vegan information online. How do you see this?
Food is an important part of any culture, so it would make sense that people place a great amount of importance on it in the context of veganism. Of course, the movement itself is mainly focused on what one eats, so that also plays into things.
However, with the ease in which one can be vegan increasing as time goes on, I do hope that people will start to shift their focus to deeper issues than what is simply going on their plate. I think it all happens in baby steps, and if a good cupcake will get people to take one step closer to look beyond the walls of a factory farm or maybe partake in a Meatless Monday with their family, then so be it. The key is that we all keep taking the steps necessary to move forward, and none of us (vegans included) stop at the things between our forks and knives.
How vegan-friendly do you think Canada is today?
Today, I feel like Canada is really vegan-friendly. Well, at least the bigger cities. The country is so big, and the population is so focused in key areas (Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, etc…) that things certainly take a dip when you leave those spaces, but they’re still not horrible. The major grocery store chains have natural value/health sections now, and these are common no matter how small the town is. For example, my hometown of roughly 5,000 people now has a selection of almond, soy, and rice milk. A few years ago, this would not have happened. Actually, my mom even found Daiya shreds in one of the smaller grocery chains while shopping. So, whether or not you can walk into the local restaurant and ask for a vegan meal without a puzzled look is one thing, but you can at least find a decent meal in the grocery stores.
Otherwise, there are great pockets, such as Winnipeg, that have amazing vegan scenes, even if the city (700,000 or so) is not as big as some others in the country. Boon Burger (an all vegan burger chain unique to Winnipeg) now has two locations, Mondragon (anarchist vegan collective/bookstore/grocery/restaurant) is going strong, and there’s even a local restaurant chain, Stella’s, with a location in the airport that sells smoothies and great vegan meal options, including breakfast. Needless to say, when I’m done airport-hopping or working in the office in St. John’s, it’s nice to come back to my apartment in Winnipeg where a great burrito is just a short walk away.
What’s your favourite food and place to eat? Yes, I’m asking you to choose only one
Hmm, if you’re going to make me choose, you’re going to have to deal with more than one answer!
- Aux Vivres in Montreal, QC, Canada. Without fail, I end up there 2-3 times during any visit to Montreal. I know there are plenty of other great veg eateries in that beautiful city, but Aux Vivres has never let me down with their great menu, staff, and overall atmosphere.
- Ethos in Bangkok, Thailand. I spent quite a few hot days reading a book at a small table in this restaurant with my sandals off and people buzzing about just outside. Their menu has plenty of great things to choose from, and their description of Coca-Cola is wonderfully honest.
- Happy Hummus Hut in St. John’s, NL, Canada. Granted, their menu isn’t as expansive as Aux Vivres or Ethos, but this place is a gem tucked into a small city known more for fish and chips and strong rum. The staff and owner are super friendly, and it seems like people are supporting them, which is great. Now, if only I didn’t work so far away from them whenever I was back home, I would eat there more often!
(Photos courtesy of Ryan Patey)