As we explore who is involved in providing nutritious food in ways that foster community and build on the strengths of the vulnerable, let us introduce you to…
Brayden Appleby is a recent high school graduate who lives and works in East Vancouver. Each week, Brayden receives an honorarium for his role as Community Cook at Crossroads Community Meal which serves the Commercial Drive area of the city.
The Crossroads Community Meal Cook programme was established 4 years ago at an East Vancouver church along with the meal’s neo soup kitchen participatory model as a way to challenge the idea that participants are either a server/volunteer or a recipient of food charity. Now, as part of numerous grassroots community projects, Grandview Calvary Baptist Church offers simple on-the-job training whilst cooking for up to 50 low-income neighbours and street-involved participants, through a form of structured volunteering, accompanied by ongoing mentorship, foodsafe training, and work skills training as the job and individual progresses.
So Brayden, you’ve been working with the kitchen team at the Community Meal for a year now. Tell me what’s one way in which the work has changed your ideas about food and community?
Brayden: It’s stressful! I mean, who wouldn’t be stressed out cooking for 50 hungry people who know my name and what my role is in the community? But actually, most of the time it’s really good to cook with others and share the responsibility of making the night work. I’ve learnt a bunch of different skills cooking with different and new types of ingredients that I didn’t grow up experiencing and this has stretched me — and inspired me as well. The South Asian favourite, Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani), is an example of local family food heritage that I’ve learnt from others along the way. I would never have thought I would be cooking such a highly praised meal for other people, let alone 50 of them. It’s now one of my favourite dishes to cook.
You’re a young guy, recently graduated from high school (in the past year) – What are your observations from volunteering as a participant and as a member of the community meal who is also participating in something bigger than yourself?
Brayden: Actually, I find it unusual – People my age often seem like they are too busy to get involved in the wider community (outside their age group or family / community of origin) or sometimes they don’t want to make the effort to try or don’t think their effort will make a difference. I think the community meal cooks programme has created a humbleness in me where I’ve realized that life isn’t only about me, but about serving with and for others.
What have you got out of the community meal programme that you never thought about before or what has changed about your impression of community kitchens / meals since becoming involved?
Brayden: One of the main benefits is that I have a sense of belonging to something that encourages and serves other people. I’m a member of something bigger, and wider than myself and it’s a two-way-thing – We all benefit from involvement, in our own way, giving but also receiving.