Sometimes, a free lunch is just that. Sometimes, it brings up a whole lot of other ideas.
For Jagger Gordon, offering up pay-what-you-can sandwiches, soups and salad, plus dogs and burgers at Soup Bar by Feed it Forward triggers a whole conversation about food waste, marginalized food and hunger.
Located on Dundas St. W. at Bathurst St., it opened in late May and offers free or cheap meals seven days a week. The day we visited, it served Tom Yum Goong soup, daal, and a quinoa and vegetable salad. Plus deli meat sandwiches and, the latest addition, hot dogs and hamburgers.
While a huge sign reads “free,” in fact, you can drop in $2.50 or more to pay for your own lunch, or donate to someone else’s meal via tokens. Those who have no cash just toss in a token.
Gordon, a native Montrealer, grew up in Florida and served in the military. Those skills led to stints as a private detective, bodyguard and stunt actor. Lots of glamour, stars and travel, but the single dad soon realized he needed a stable career.
“I hung up my ego and went with my passion and became a chef,” says Gordon. He settled in Toronto, studied at George Brown College and soon launched his own catering company.
He kept getting gigs in commercials chopping up vegetables, pro style, or tossing pizza dough — his chef skills and comfort with the camera offered him a real niche. “That paid the bills,” he says.
As he nurtured his dual career track, he grew to despise tossing out food after catering events. In 2014, he cooked for a massive Oktoberfest outdoor event that got rained out.
Gordon froze most of the grub. Then he took it down to Trinity Bellwoods Park and hosted a free event. “That food fed 300 people that day.”
That inspired him to ask himself, “Why am I not doing this with all my food?” So, Gordon founded Feed it Forward as a nonprofit (he’s currently registering it as a charity), and set to launching projects that both fed the hungry and diverted food waste.
In late 2014, he placed a freezer at a Toronto church, connected through that organization for names of families in need, and stocked it with daily meals for eight families at a time. Feed Families rotated its recipients monthly — they used an electronic padlock to access the freezer.
To put together those 12,000 meals he made over the course of a year — which included turkey dinner for Christmas — Gordon used leftovers and so-called marginalized food. Grocery stories sell cold cuts, lettuce and tomatoes for as much as 50 per cent off, if you know when and where to look. (In his view, expiry dates are more of a marketing scheme to get people to throw out food and buy more — the food itself is usually fine.) He got donations as well.
Gordon also started offering delivered meals to people in crisis. And every Monday, he serves up lunch at Nathan Phillips Square. He’s often doing large, free food events.
A pop-up at Scadding Court in early 2017 got him speaking to staff there. He told them he wanted to do a more permanent kitchen and Market 707, which the community centre runs, would be a great fit. They agreed.
Two days later, Gordon got a call that a space had opened up. He paid the rent, called on his nephew Adam Spencley, his “number one” in the kitchen, and started shopping and cooking. Gordon connected to a large industrial bakery in the city that agreed to donate its overflow — it cooks extra to serve its numerous clients in case they need it — daily.
The Soup Bar opened May 21 and already it serves more than 150 meals a day on a budget of about $100.
Up next, Gordon is cooking for more festivals and growing organic produce at a donated farm. He plans to open a pay-what-you-can organic grocery store as early as August. And he’s got lots of other ideas.
All the while he’s juggling this project and his catering business, plus those acting gigs. He’s mastered his spiel about hunger and wasted foods, but admits he struggles to fit in finding others to share the workload and pushing the fundraising side. “I’m not good at asking for help and money,” he says.