SFYou: Kalarupini Roy dishes out on Veggie Lunches

Meet the woman behind one of SFU Burnaby’s more charitable and lesser-known dining options.

Kalarupini Roy (pictured) has been the main coordinator of Veggie Lunch for the past seven years. (Chris Ho / The Peak)

By: Anindita Gupta 

Fast Facts on Kala

  • Name: Kalarupini Koraljka Roy
  • Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
  • Department affiliation: Roy is one of the only SFYou profilees never to have attended SFU!
  • Business name: Veggie Lunches, Gaura Hari Karma Free Meals, Kirtan Vancouver, independent catering company . . .   
  • Hometown: Roy was born in Croatia and spent time in India before moving to Vancouver.
  • Hobbies: Cooking, of course! She also enjoys yoga.
  • Fun fact: Kalarupini goes by Kala since it’s easier for most people to say.

While crossing Maggie Benston Centre (MBC), you may have seen or missed a small sign that reads “Veggie Lunches,” leading down to Forum Chambers. It’s easy to miss if you have never ventured into the little entrance that leads to a vast room with a piano. However, once you have eaten the food cooked by Kala, the host of Veggie Lunches, you are guaranteed to never miss the sign again! With meals for $6, Veggie Lunches started out as a student’s venture to encourage more people to support a vegetarian option. When it first began, back in 1992, it was run merely as a vegetarian club by a student. Over the years, many names have been associated with the Veggie Lunches program. Since 2011, Kalarupini Roy has been at the head of the ship.

Kalarupini Koraljka Roy, or Kala as she is better known, is of Croatian origin, and has lived in Canada for the past 13 years. At its origins, Veggie Lunches was affiliated with larger institutions like the Hare Krishna Food for Life Organization, run by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) society. In more recent times, Kala made the decision to separate Veggie Lunches from any religious institutions and run it with the help of a few dedicated students. For Kala, student help is invaluable. Sometimes, student helpers re-register Veggie Lunches as a club, like at its origins, since Kala cannot do it herself.

“It would be nice if anybody wants to volunteer so we can do some things together. We have just managed to survive here at SFU Burnaby for so long even though we are not a part of SFU or SFSS, we are independent. Our profits are directly being used by us and our other endeavours…”

Kala devotes most of her time and energy to the Veggie Lunches program, which not only feeds students but also raises funds for other charities. She is an active member of two large, local, non-profit organizations: Kirtan Vancouver and Gaura Hari Karma Free Meals. Kala is the Organization President of the latter, which has been helping to serve meals to residents in need in downtown Vancouver in 2004, and has even helped to organize meals in India. Beyond SFU students, Kala cooks and feeds many in need all over the city, chiefly in places like Dugout Vancouver, a woman’s shelter, and First United Church.  The other organization that Kala is affiliated with, Kirtan Vancouver, spreads awareness and encourages people to achieve a better, healthier lifestyle through the means of yoga and a non-violent, vegetarian/vegan diet.

Due to the amount of benevolent work Kala is involved with, her days are pretty packed and begin much earlier than the average person’s. She wakes by 5 a.m. every morning and heads to her kitchen, a three-minute walk away from her home. There, she preps, cuts and cooks fresh meals for the day ahead of her — which usually takes until 9 a.m. Kala always has a helper on hand, ready to help load the car with hot boxes full of food, and they try to get to their destination by 11 a.m.

“By 11:30 we start serving and we are here until 2:30 p.m. most of the time, unless we run out of food. . . Sometimes it’s too busy, sometimes it’s slow like today,” Kala said. The summer is a slower time at SFU for Kala, but she hopes that more people will drop by for a meal.

Her days are divided between cooking healthy, “karma-free” vegetarian and vegan meals for SFU Burnaby on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and cooking for the other charities and soup kitchens she supports on her other days. According to GHKFM’s website, by karma-free, Kala refers to the concept from Eastern philosophy which states that any action involving killing or suffering can earn a person bad karma. Karma-free meals are additionally put through a mantra of meditation, which affects ingredients “in a very positive way and make recipients of such food peaceful, happy, and spiritually elevated.”

Quite miraculously, Kala also has an active catering business on the side, through which she caters food and cakes for birthdays and weddings. Over the past 7 years she has been relentlessly cooking meals for the hungry students of SFU Burnaby all by herself. Her secret? Tweaking the menu just a little bit every other day, to keep things interesting.The rotating items include a curry, a lentil soup, a pasta, and most famously, her vegan mac ‘n’ cheese, which she makes with cheaper, healthier ingredients that vary from yams to coconut milk. Since the Veggie Lunch program is known by a few, recurring customers, she has grown to know them closely and varies her ingredients according to allergies of her ‘regulars’ which also makes the cooking process easier and less monotonous for her.

“It feels like cooking is the only thing I am actually able to do,” Kala laughs. “You know, we all have something that comes to us. And not everything comes to everybody. Some people are really great at math, I am really bad at it, I can…”

Ironically enough, Kala was interrupted by a customer seeking a meal.

When talking about food and cooking, Kala claims that her passion for food was mainly generated by a lack of taste in the food she ate growing up! Back then, in the continental part of Croatia where she grew up, she was exposed to foods cooked with only four spices: salt, pepper, sweet paprika and Vegeta (an all-purpose seasoning made of dehydrated vegetables). She would watch cooking shows and channels and try out recipes that were completely different from what she was used to eating. At 17, Kala chose to become vegetarian and started to cook for herself. It was definitely a healthier choice for her, considering one of the main meats consumed in Croatia is pork, which Kala’s mother considered unhealthy.

That was how Kala was first introduced to Indian cuisine, but later in life, she actually moved to India for a few years and was exposed to the land of spices. Having had much of her formal cooking training in India and in Indian cuisine, Kala discovered the unending varieties and options by which vegetarians live. When she discovered the innumerable vegetables, legumes, grains and lentils she had to choose from should she continue living as a vegetarian, her reaction was simply “wow.”

“Indian cuisine was eye-opening for me,” she says, as she talks about how she has been fortunate enough to have had a few very talented cooks teach her and impart their knowledge of food to her.

For students who have only recently started venturing into working up their skills in the kitchen, she has one main tip: don’t be afraid of mixing spices and trying out combinations, and never be afraid to add in more spices, it just adds to the flavours of your dish. If you’re doubtful about cooking despite the existence of the Internet, she’s even considered starting yet another side business, where she packages spices and adds instructions for students!

Besides health reasons, Kala also made her dietary change due to ethical and environmental reasons.

“I do believe that we have no right to hurt other creatures, because there is so much food available, there is no reason [to eat animals]…” After switching to her current vegan diet, she feels that non-vegetarians are, in fact, the ones that have limited choices.

“Awareness is important,” she says while pointing towards the informative pamphlets that she has placed beside the food that she serves, helping spread this knowledge.

In the future, Kala aims to gather the support of a few more students that can help her connect the rather small Veggie Lunch program to a larger audience by spreading its reach to SFU’s Vancouver and Surrey campuses. She also hopes to slowly but steadily expand into the UBC community as well.

When asked whether she knows what she wants to do with Veggie Lunches, as an independent program without the back-up of any larger religious institution, she smiles and — gleaming with positivity — says that they will be “wherever we are needed and wanted.

“It’s not based as a business. We don’t run this as a business, our purpose is not business, it is to bring awareness and to promote a healthier lifestyle and diet, to more ethical and kinder world. And the best place to start and bring awareness to, is the place that our future is at: the university.”

Photo courtesy of Chris Ho