by Stevie Wilson | We’re often inclined to forget that the buildings, spaces, and events that impact our lives (or don’t) had tremendous effects on those who experienced them before us -especially if these places are still in use. One example of this divide between our past and present notions of Vancouver are the food choices we face every day. You may take that veggie-dog-wrapped-in-cheesy-
As a case study for changing attitudes towards “rabbit food”, the Naam on West 4th presents a unique cultural keystone that has aided in establishing both a community and a lifestyle for many Vancouverites. Founded in 1970 (or ‘68 depending on who you ask) on the principles of natural, animal-free cuisine influenced by Eastern philosophies and traditions, the Naam Café opened at 2722 West 4th (later 2724) in a space that had previously housed a fish & chips shop, a coffee bar, and a laundromat, among other businesses. Entering this busy district as a small eatery, the Naam would eventually take on many names and forms, including Naam Restaurant in 1980, Naam Store Grocery in 1982, and finally Naam Natural Food Restaurant in 1985. It’s said that the founders and followers of the Naam’s food movement were inspired by the teachings of guru Kirpal Singh, whose eponymous work translates from the Sanskrit for ‘’Name’’. Earlier followers of Singh, and devotees of the associated Surat Shabd Yoga, had previously opened a small Georgia Street café called God’s Little Kitchen.
As our city’s oldest natural food spot (not to be confused with the first vegetarian restaurant, a distinction that belongs to the nearby Golden Lotus Natural Foods in 1967), there’s a rich cultural history entrenched in the walls of this former 1930’s silk shoppe, one that continues to define and be re-defined by new generations. When Golden Lotus, which offered a Buddha’s Feast for 50 cents, shut its doors in the early ‘70s, enlightened flower children were drawn to the new restaurant on Rainbow Road – conveniently opened by a former cook of Golden Lotus – in droves, effectively creating a new mecca for counter-culture enthusiasts who were shunned by other establishments. Situated amongst other spiritually-focused shops such as Banyen Books (born out of a reading corner in Golden Lotus), Lifestream, and Nature’s Path, the community for Vancouver’s young eco-conscious population was vibrant. Anti-war activists, hippies, would-be Greenpeace members and more gathered at the Naam to discuss, eat, and live life in tune with tofu.
In addition to offering what one researcher aptly referred to as “stoner food”, the Naam’s menu has evolved over the years to feature vegan options as well as macrobiotic dishes, and caters to a wide variety of vegetarians, non-vegetarians, and hungry UBC students alike. Being one of the only 24hr spots in the city, it boasts a philosophy and atmosphere that hasn’t changed much over the years save for the influx of younger servers, who may or may not be under the same influences as their predecessors.
Stevie Wilson is an historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to show you the things that you already see. Just nod your head and pretend you’re paying attention.