“I have always felt salad needed a rebrand!” says Tina Barton, owner/operator of Hungry Babe, a vegan prepared-meal service that handcrafts and delivers filling, tasty salads and other prepared foods to “hungry babes” in Ottawa, all while serving up an important message: Eat when you’re hungry.
As a former grocery manager, Tina knows the challenge of finding quick, portable, vegan/vegetarian lunches that weren’t “sad, watery salads that feel like a punishment.” Now, through Hungry Babe, Tina’s improving our lunches and changing how we look at food.
Having faced a lifelong struggle with disordered eating, Tina’s company’s name and branding intentionally reflect this. “I don’t have a strong memory of how I came up with Hungry Babe, but I have always had a difficult relationship with food and my body. Disordered eating habits have been part of my whole life, sometimes a very secret, shameful part,” Tina says. “At every age, size, stage of my life, I’ve returned to the very basic mantra, ‘eat when you’re hungry’ as a way of centring my physical needs and reminding myself that they are valid.”
The community response has been powerful: “Seeing people resonate with the branding in person is so special. Once, an older woman was really moved by one of my t-shirt designs—which has a group of fat-bodied babes—and she told me she’d never seen a body like hers on a t-shirt except as a joke.” Tina aims to offer the 613 vegan meals that are “fat-positive, food-positive, body-positive, and fun.”
Nurtured by her community
Tina started with a simple idea: flavourful, satisfying lunches that didn’t rely on diet-focused branding. She recalls upsetting food packaging at health food stores, phrases like ‘guilt free’ and ‘hungry girl approved’ to promote a certain lifestyle. Words such as ‘pure,’ ‘skinny,’ and ‘light’—marketing that didn’t sit well with Tina, who felt this language contributed to diet culture and food shaming.
Tina’s colleagues encouraged her to “just start and see where the business could go.” She began selling her homemade vegan meals at Herb & Spice Shop under the moniker Hungry Babe. Slowly, it grew and was soon welcomed into ProKitchen Canotek, a shared kitchen space in Gloucester home to Michael’s Dolce, Top Shelf Preserves, and Snell House Foods. “I always feel inspired and supported by the businesses I share this space with,” says Tina. “I love collaborating with my kitchen mates on special menu items. Michael’s Dolce and I try to collaborate on a vegan pizza every couple months.”
Growth at a challenging time
Tina feels “very lucky to have a strong network in the Ottawa small food business scene.” Her business has grown despite the challenges of the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic, and her meals are now available at four Ottawa locations (and counting) including Herb & Spice Shop, Noor Food Market, Red Door Provisions, and Sandy Hill Pet and People Food Co-op.
For 2021, Tina has “a few things in the works. Some are outside of my control, but one thing I’m really excited about is the launch of direct sales and a home delivery service through my website.” She says this move comes from a desire to have more one-on-one contact with her customers.
“With wholesale, you just drop off the product with the staff and don’t really get to interact with the person eating it, unless they reach out to you directly. Some people do that, and it always makes my day.”
While she builds her website, Tina continues to look for new retail partners interested in carrying her products. “It goes a long way when customers ask stores to carry brands they like.” Oftentimes, requests from her supporters have helped land her prepared meals and salad dressings into the city’s best local independents.
Dreams for our future
“To be honest, I’m trying to stop dreaming about work,” Tina says. “It hasn’t always been my dream to cook for a living, or even run a business… so now I’m trying to dream up the kind of life I want. I want to be around creative people. I want to problem-solve and eat really good sandwiches. I want to be a leader. And I want to be trusted by those who rely on me… those are my dreams now, and I get to work towards all of them through Hungry Babe.”
To Ottawa’s dreamers, Tina says: “If you are dreaming of something, personal or professional, by all means work towards it if you can! But if what you’re dreaming of feels out of reach, I see you. If what you’re dreaming of isn’t a job, or can’t be worked towards in a conventional way, or isn’t enough for other people, I see you.”
“Salad isn’t a punishment!”
Tina’s message: “Don’t eat salad just because you feel bad about your body.”
Her takeaway: Have lunch. Eat when you are hungry. You deserve it.
Today, Tina is supremely grateful for where she is and very excited to continue cooking for more people in Ottawa. “Making food for people I love has always made me so happy. I hope I can make food for you one day soon!”
Hungry Babe is a vegan prepared foods company that specializes in filling, yummy lunches for folks in Ottawa. They’re striving to be food positive and fat positive in the kitchen and out in the world! Follow them on Instagram @hungrybabe___ and head to their website to place your order.