rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

A token solution for the Downtown Eastside

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Save-On-Meats owner Mark Brand cares about Vancouver's homeless. We know this because he has a reality television show on the Oprah network -- Gastown Gamble -- which follows the stories of "young entrepreneurial hipsters" as they "struggle" to open an upscale deli in the Downtown Eastside. While Brand's show, which also features his wife Nico, documents the anguish the restauranteurs suffer as they agonize over how best to save the troubled residents of the neighbourhood, it doesn't represent so well the owners' complicity in displacing, alienating and disempowering the residents who have lived there for years.

Never mind, though. Mark Brand has a new plan. As reported by the Province, Save-On-Meats has produced 10,000 "tokens" which patrons can purchase to distribute to "homeless" people (who obviously can't be trusted with money). These tokens, which bear the restaurant's logo ("They will never be traded for cash," Brand assures us), can be exchanged for a Save-On-Meats breakfast sandwich, worth $2.25.

Aside from free advertisement and a warm, fuzzy feeling, Brand won't profit from the project. Neither, of course, will the residents of the Downtown Eastside whose access to healthy food is virtually prohibited through the Lower Mainland's addiction to development and the province's negligence of low-income people. Now, anyone on social assistance (which allows $26 a week for food) will find themselves coerced into eating at a high-end restaurant and agent of gentrification which excludes local residents. (Aside: Does Brand know that the LOVE/HATE knuckle tattoo is the legacy of Night of the Hunter serial-killer minister, Harry Powell? He should learn.)

Mark Brand's "compassionate" approach to gentrification -- he employs a few residents from the DTES whose "colour" make for great viewing on the Oprah network -- is nothing new to the neighbourhood. In fact, it's become the de rigueur strategy for calming a citizenry starting to notice the city's abominable record in protecting low-income residents. Bob Rennie's infamous refrain, "Do you have what it takes to live in the Downtown Eastside?", which enticed the upper-middle classes to buy units in the Woodwards Building while caricaturing and degrading the real lived conditions of the low-income residents they displaced, remains the battlecry for developers and entrpreneurs -- even hipster ones.

Here's a project I'd like to pitch to Mark Brand and the Oprah network: build safe, affordable housing with access to nutritious food and the means to prepare it. Call a moratorium on predatory condo development. Listen to the real, viable solutions that have been promoted ceaselessly by local residents, activists and allies over the past 30 years. Give decision-making power to the people who live there so that they can plan, build and grow their neighbourhood as they wish.

Oh, and don't film it. We need another restaurant docu-drama like Gastown needs another high-end latte bar. Just leave them alone.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.