Letter: Virtuous Pie is contributing to the gentrification of Chinatown

Virtuous Pie, a vegan pizza and ice cream restaurant, has announced on their website that they will be opening a new location in Wesbrook Village in the fall. For those who regularly roam the streets of Chinatown, you may already know of their Chinatown location. The vegan restaurant is one of the many new “trendy” businesses that have opened up in Chinatown in recent years, along with the likes of Fortune Sound Club, Bao Bei and Selector’s Records.

While the presence of businesses like Virtuous Pie creates a facade of a “new and improved” Chinatown, in reality, this is gentrification at work. For those unfamiliar with the term, gentrification is the process of renovating a neighbourhood to provide housing, goods and services for residents of a higher socioeconomic class than the existing residents of the area. In the eyes of developers, Chinatown is more “valuable” (read: suited for the needs of upper/middle-class residents) with businesses like Virtuous Pie. The City of Vancouver’s plan to “revitalize” Chinatown has only exacerbated this process.

Rent increases — a key symptom of gentrification — cause housing to become unaffordable and longstanding businesses to close, decreasing the amount of shelter, goods and services available for low-income residents. Gentrification in Chinatown has caused rent increases that eliminate social housing and affordable amenities  — pushing low-income residents out of the neighbourhood. Chinatown residents need affordable groceries, not $13 vegan pizzas. If this continues, low-income residents will be unable to live in Chinatown. On Virtuous Pie’s website, they claim to be a “loyal neighbour” who “give[s] back to the community,” but they are doing quite the opposite.

On their about page, Virtuous Pie boasts their desire to “create positive change in the world” by encouraging a plant-based diet. This comes at a cost, though. The joy of filling your belly with vegan pizza and your heart with moral satisfaction is accompanied by the act of displacing low-income residents from their homes.

To stand in solidarity with the low-income residents of Chinatown, I will not be supporting Virtuous Pie. I urge you to do the same. Financially supporting their new on-campus location will fund their Chinatown location — fuelling the continued gentrification of Chinatown. Being thoughtful about where you spend your money is not the only way to stand against gentrification, but it’s a start.

To clarify, I’m not saying that Virtuous Pie is the sole contributor to gentrification in Chinatown. Unfortunately, they are one of the many factors. Other contributors to the problem include — but are not limited to — “spot zoning”, condo development projects and other gentrifying businesses.

Carnegie Community Action Project, an initiative focused on “housing, income, and land use issues in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver,” released a report this year on gentrifying retail in Chinatown. In this report, Virtuous Pie has been listed as a gentrifying business and a zone of exclusion for low-income residents (a “zone of exclusion” being a business in the neighbourhood that its local residents do not feel welcomed in on the basis of their class, race, or (dis)ability). If you are serious about the fight against gentrification, reading this report is an excellent starting point.

I understand the appeal of a vegan pizza restaurant on campus given that plant-based options are limited at Mercante’s and Pi R Squared. But there are still options. May I suggest Pi R Squared’s Vegan Deluxe pizza or Mercante’s Margherita pizza? We can still enjoy a hot slice of pizza pie without supporting the displacement of marginalized communities.

If you ever want to chat about gentrification over some pizza, I’ll be at Mercante.

Rachel Lau is a third year media studies student pursuing a minor in Asian Canadian and Asian Migration studies.