“Famine or Feast” – WHO IS ASKING INTERESTING QUESTIONS IN THE CONVERSATION ABOUT HOW WE EAT? (POST #8)

As we continue to explore the dynamic between food and justice, let us introduce you to…

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Tim Dickau

Tim Dickau has been a pastor at Grandview Calvary Baptist Church, in East Vancouver, for over two decades. He led the church to refocus its mission towards the emergence of a number of creative responses as a church in and for the local neighbourhood. Grandview Calvary Baptist Church will be the venue for the upcoming, October 29th, Famine or Feast conference: “Connecting faith, food & people”.

Planted: In a little under two weeks, Grandview Calvary Baptist Church will host a conference, in association with the Canadian Food Grains Bank, as a part of the Good Soil Campaign. The provocatively titled, “Famine or Feast“, conference hopes to engage participants in conversation around food issues, both locally and globally.

When did food justice, and the conversation around holding an ethic, to how we eat, first strike you as important?

Tim: I think there have been two primary sparks that have got me thinking and acting differently. One is the theological vision that sees God as wanting to restore God’s creation and for it to be fruitful. A lot of the evangelical spirituality that I grew up with would be what I call “dualistic”. It didn’t take the earth seriously and basically said that the purpose of spirituality was to get away from engaging with the world and creation. That has shifted for me dramatically with the biblical story, creation and bringing new life, out of death. That was one trajectory that got me thinking differently.

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Roadside market in Nicaragua. Image credit: Richard Leonardi (www.flickr.com/photos/breadfortheworld )

The second spark that got me thinking was being around people dealing with poverty and recognising that I took for granted so many aspects around food—its abundance, having nutritious food, getting whatever food I wanted. Being around people who live with poverty opened my eyes to the importance of nutritious food, access to food, growing food, eating well and how that could be achieved. In particular, travelling overseas, where there is greater and different types of poverty, really impacted me. One story in particular—we had a family from Nicaragua who were part of our church [in Canada] and they connected us with a church there. We were helping them with building work and learning from them about issues they faced. When we were in Nicaragua, we were with a family with a teenager, whose name was Roberto. Roberto was 14 years old—really intelligent, a great personality. But his mother had to make the decision to feed their family, or send Roberto to school and she couldn’t do both. She just couldn’t do both. So she had to stop sending Roberto to school. They still wouldn’t eat regular meals though. They would often eat only once a day as a family. And I thought, what can we do about this kind of situation? How can we make a difference? It really spurred me on to continue to the conversation about food and living well in creation.

Planted: How has your thinking changed over the years in how we could make a difference?

Tim: The challenge has been in seeing how things are connected in many ways regarding food. My own consumption is connected to the production of food (in good or bad ways) which is connected to how we use resources. These issues, and our lives, are all so connected. It’s a process to begin to see the connections between issues surrounding food—it’s production and distribution, that really challenges me, personally, and us, corporately, to shift how we live locally, and live globally, as well—to share the resources of the world so that everybody has enough.

Planted: In terms of your own shifting of thoughts and understanding of global food systems – Where do you see major changes in how your Canadian congregation responds to these issues?

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Grandview Calvary Baptist Church. Image credit: Bob (www.flickr.com/photos/bobkh/)

Tim: One of the gifts of belonging to a community, that is actually engaged in these issues, is the opportunity to learn from each other. So we have people who are thinking about sustainable urban agriculture [gardening and growing your own food] and they are learning about it and they mentor and teach others about it. That’s a gift of community—how do we connect people to knowledge and understanding so that we can shift how we grow food and how we consume it? So there’s also the organic, locally grown, food purchasing group that is organised in our community by Kurtis Peters (see his story here). These are some of the kinds of things you can do when you have a community working on these issues together. It gives you new opportunities.

I also think A Rocha has been huge in our community in terms of helping us to think deeply about creation, about food, and about how it’s grown. Even the partnership with the A Rocha CSA, that we are a part of, promotes ideas around healthy eating and the thoughtful purchase of food from farmers who grow it well. There are other community members who are so knowledgeable about a number of subjects; like food and agricultural sustainability, colonisation and food, personal consumption, and others who have developed real gifts around hospitality in the community and at our weekly community meal on Thursday  nights (called Crossroads). The community meal has been crucial in offering a space to serve nutritious food for people who don’t get it regularly enough. And we need each other—to spark our imagination in different ways, to live differently around food and to encourage one another to participate in ways that will help to bring more food security to other parts of the world, as well as our own city. I view this as one of the big reasons for holding this Famine or Feast conference together, to address these issues overseas, to learn and to act locally as well, with one another’s help.

Planted: In a nutshell, why do you encourage folk to come to the Famine or Feast conference on Saturday, 29th October in Vancouver?

Tim: I’ve come to realise how important food security is to human flourishing and to living well. We have to start thinking more deeply about this issue, which means thinking about our own consumption, thinking about our own food production, and thinking about our own policies around food charity and income support, and thinking about our own contribution, nationally, to foreign aid directed to farmers. All of these issues are so important and just basic to creating a world that we can live in, well, as human beings. And this conference is a way to put out that reminder, front and centre, for a day, so that we continue to move forward.

Planted Addendum: So Pastor Tim, you’re obviously passionate about the subject of farming—what’s something that we might not know, about you, that links you directly to the land?

Tim: Well, for the first 12 years of my life I helped my mum in the garden. [This meant] … shelling peas, picking peas, picking tomatoes, some cultivating, picking raspberries, trimming the raspberries and so on. A lot of my summertimes growing up were in the garden. Then when I was 12, I switched to the bigger farm and I started harvesting the grain, loading the grain trucks, and being involved with the whole grain seed operation. Half my childhood was in the garden, and half in the fields.

Planted Addendum: Do you have a feeling that your family was “called” to the land?

Tim: I was the 4th generation of our family on the farm; my great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father, had all worked hard to clear the land, to develop the land, to nurture the land and there was a sense of stewardship of this resource, and we needed to care for it and be creative in managing it well so that it could be fruitful. There was also a lot of long hours! And that was the hard part—as a teenager, when I wanted to go out with my friends, we would be working until 10:30 or 11 at night. Unless it rained, I couldn’t go out in the evening. So I became a master weather predictor! When I thought it was going to rain, I’d phone my friends, around 4 o’clock, and say, “I think it’s going to rain! Let’s plan to do something tonight.”

Planted Addendum: Fun fact—What’s your favourite food? Your deathbed wish, as it were? 

Tim: I love scalloped potatoes. I’m an easy man to please!

 

 

WHO IS CHANGING THE CONVERSATION AROUND HOW WE EAT (POST #6)?

As we continue to explore the foodie scene and who is involved in bringing good food to the vulnerable in our community, let us introduce you to…

Jenn Cline

Left: Jenn Cline, on the farm Right: a fellow farmer!

Jenn Cline is a former professional chef who also has a BA in International Development Studies (with a focus on food systems). She has always had a love for food, for people, and how the two intersect so beautifully. Jenn is now a farmer in some of the best farming land in bountiful and beautiful BC!

Planted: So, Jenn, what first got you interested in food and farming?

Jenn C: I think I’ve always had a yearning to grow food, yet never made the space or time for it growing up in an urban context. I spent many years in the food service industry making beautiful and delicious meals for people but became disillusioned with the way that [restaurants] and that part of the food system happens, before getting injured on the job, and needing a way to move forward. So I happened into farming, and it has been a marvelous world wind of an adventure thus far. Also, I thrive on feeding people, and always have. By farming I can feed people [with] healthy, delicious food, and be part of a community that is working to be responsible stewards of the land for future generations of creatures: human and non-human.

Planted: During your personal journey, has anything changed – in how you see food, food security and other issues around food justice and social equality?

Jenn C: I think food is currently understood primarily as a commodity – an entity that is separate from us, yet we depend so heavily on it. It is literally what keeps us alive! Yet there is this strange disconnect in our understanding of the production of food, based on a lack of experience and knowledge. Food waste is one outcome of this system of disconnect. I think as a society we lack the experience of the mystery of food – That every fruit and plant and grain that we eat is the miracle of a seed! A single seed! The fact that seeds are being manipulated [genetically] and patented is a blatant statement of how messed up our relationship to our food really is. Patents make sure that not everyone has access to food, which makes a lot of people food insecure – a sure sign of social inequality.

Jenn Cline at Farm Mountains

Farm School field trip to Pemberton

Planted: So what signs of hope encourage you to continue working to change the conversation about social responsibility and food?

Jenn C: One sign of hope to me is the place that I work – It is a farm that grows food for low-income folk and families in the lower mainland. People from different socio-economic backgrounds and experiences gather to serve one another by tending the land, tending the seeds, and joining in the mystery that is growing food. Food is grown in abundance, to be shared in abundance.

A sign of hope is a child digging in the dirt, knowing what vegetables are, that food comes from here [the dirt], and not just far away places or supermarkets.

A sign of hope is the farming community I am being welcomed into and seen as a companion in, not a competitor.

A sign of hope is a seed breaking through the soil and bringing life to its environment.

There are signs of despair all around us. So we must look for the signs of hope, of change, of a better future, and work wholeheartedly to be a bearer of that change and hope in the world.

– Jenn Cline, June 2016

Dining in Silence

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A Hearing Impaired Experience of Community Meals

Written by Angelina Lam

The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) Awareness Survey reported that almost 1 out of 4 Canadians have some hearing impairment. It is commonly thought that hearing loss is related to age, however younger people can also experience changes in their hearing ability.

Dining for people with hearing impairment can be challenging, especially when it comes to ordering food. A new restaurant, Deafined opened in Vancouver with the main dining staff serving customers using American Sign Language. This restaurant aims to help promote and empower those that have hearing impairments. Deafined recruited their staff from local schools such as Vancouver Community College, Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and YWCA Metro Vancouver Work BC.

My first experience dining at Deafined was delicious Middle Eastern food. A young waiter with the biggest smile greeted my table. He was patient when we tried to order in sign language. At our dining table was a booklet with common sign language that is useful when communicating with the dining staff such as “thank you” and “check please.”

Through my experience dining at Deafined, I noticed how important body language and facial expressions are when interacting with people who are hearing impaired. Reading someone’s eyes to see if they nod or seem confused is a simple step to determine if they understand.

The waiter also kept an eye at our table and re-filled our water without us having to flag him down. Before we left the manager came to ask us how our experience was and if we wanted to learn anything else in sign language. Overall, I felt that Deafined was a safe environment with staff members that shined with positive attitudes.

Deafined is intentionally set up to offer employment opportunities for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and to break down barriers between the deaf and the hearing. Restaurants like this encourage us to think about community meal settings, where hearing-impaired individuals with food security needs can find themselves in settings that are difficult to navigate.

Ways we can help improve dining at food programs:

  • Brightly lit rooms can help with easier lip reading
  • Lowering the music volume and unnecessary background noise can help those with hearing aids to pick up conversation and necessary sounds
  • Having pens and papers available at the dining table can be useful for those who are not familiar with American Sign Language
  • Training staff basic American Sign Language and how to read body language and facial expressions can be helpful for basic communication

Angelina is studying to be a dietitian at UBC. She is interested in learning about the complex challenges of hunger and health. In the future, Angelina wishes to work in the community and develop programs and resources that are accessible to everyone.

“God, humanity, and land” – WHO IS ASKING INTERESTING QUESTIONS IN THE CONVERSATION ABOUT HOW WE EAT? (POST #7)

As we continue to explore the dynamic between food and justice, let us introduce you to…

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Kurtis Peters

Kurtis Peters currently facilitates a bulk-buying group focused on connecting local organic farms with his community around Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. He also currently teaches Biblical Hebrew and related things at UBC, and tries to plug food in wherever possible. He is deeply concerned for justice for the earth and its people – something which is driven by his strong connection with the biblical story.”

Planted: Kurtis, tell us a little about your personal journey concerning food, land, and justice?

Kurtis: It’s been a slow process getting into food-related justice. I think the first step came when I saw a documentary about the American meat industry. It was pretty disgusting. As a result, Erin (my spouse) and I decided to eat less meat. At that time, we were on a student budget, so we couldn’t really afford much meat anyway. Over the years we learned more and eventually just became vegetarians.

But you can’t be a vegetarian long before you come across other food issues. We watched the documentary film Food, Inc. and that was a major revelation for us – all the nastiness of the industrial food system being exposed. We couldn’t help looking at food in the stores (and their labels) with a whole new lens. Around the same time as watching a number of food-related documentaries we had become part of a social justice group connected to our church and this group was really good at analysing unjust systems (capitalism, colonialism, etc.). Pulling back the veil on corporations abusing land, farmers, consumers, and the political system just seemed to click.

But none of this would’ve been quite as compelling for me as it was, had I not spent close to a decade studying the Bible in post-secondary education. I became increasingly convinced that the God of the Bible is a God who demands justice for the oppressed. This means liberating slaves, eliminating patriarchy, ensuring the good health of all creation. And it means an intimate connection between God, humanity, and land. This comes up in so many places throughout the Bible, but one that stands out is the book of Leviticus, which argues that the people of God are to live on the land, to allow it to have its rhythmic rest (Sabbath) so as not to over-harvest it and so that wild animals can have access to its produce, so that labourers are not overworked. People who have fallen into debt and sold their land are to be allowed to return to their ancestral territory. Everyone has access to livelihood. The justification for all this? It’s not, as one might expect, that people are to be charitable to each other, though that too is true. The justification is that the land doesn’t belong to the people in the first place. It belongs to God, and that God is one who liberates slaves. If the people abused one another or abused the land – well, God would remove them from it and the land would experience Sabbath-justice without them if it had to. It’s a very interesting vision for society. And that kind of thing is all over the Bible. Between that, our justice group, and finding out more about our food system, I felt there wasn’t much choice but to put a better vision into practice.

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Streams of Justice

Planted: Through your work and education, what has changed in how you see the issues of food and justice and how they intersect?

Kurtis: One of the major things that has changed is that I can no longer see food as a commodity. Food is a gift of abundance from land. If we abuse the land, we get bad food. If we nurture the land, it nurtures us. It’s a relationship really. That has led me to try to connect directly with local farms who are doing a good job of nurturing the land. So we get a CSA veggie box from Surrey, we get biweekly farm deliveries from a dairy farm in Agassiz and eggs from a woman raising hens in Yarrow. We grow some food at home (though I can’t say I’m great at it). And we do a lot of making things from scratch (beer, wine, kombucha, kefir, ginger soda, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, preserves, etc.). Don’t get me wrong, we do buy some packaged food. But my conscience directs me to the labels and to finding out what’s hidden by labels (especially terms like “natural”). I like organic, but I know the label doesn’t mean as much as it could. I try to avoid GMO products. I try to avoid palm oil. I try to buy produce only from BC, with one or two exceptions (I’m trying to bulk up on local garlic for the year, but I haven’t gotten there yet). These are the kinds of things I’m working on. But it’s not only about the stuff that benefits me as the consumer. Often, small, local, organic all mean better conditions for workers (most of the time). But we also have to be aware that some of these farms are using exploited migrant workers with Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program. So knowing the farmer means more transparency and accountability. I’d like to strengthen that with my own food-choices. On top of all that, I think I’ve become at least suspicious, if not cynical, of most mainstream food. It’s hard to do this in community, especially as a parent of young kids, when lots of friends and family are around. You don’t want to judge anyone, but you also want to make good choices based on your understanding of justice, ethics, as well as health. Food is tough and everyone has an opinion. But we’ll do the best we can.

Planted: So, what signs of hope are there that encourage you to continue to dialogue in the conversation about food and being socially responsible?

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Image credit: Pol Sifter (www.flickr.com/photos/polsifter)

Kurtis: Well, it seems to me as though there’s a groundswell of people who are concerned about food systems. I worry that it’s a fad. Lots of ethical consumerism has gone through fads. But I’m encouraged anyway by how common it is, at least in our quirky “alternative” neighbourhood, to find people caring about where their food comes from and caring about the future of this planet beyond our own lifetimes. I hope that this is a concern that is here to stay and that the power of Big Food can be challenged. For ourselves, I’ve found that the quality of our food (and our cooking) has improved dramatically. I’m pretty sure we have found a way to spend a below-average amount on food for a family, while not compromising on quality or ethics. Sure, we buy more expensive things, but we know how to use them well and make them go far. I’m sure food is only one of several elements, but my health has only gotten better since we started on this path (about 10 years now). In the end, I feel like we’re living a bit more into the biblical vision of food and land justice. And we’re not alone. There’s a lot of people out there and a lot of folks in our community who are compelled by this vision and that gives me great strength.

Impact of ‘Compass’ on People who are Vulnerable

 

By The Reverend Christine Wilson, Care Advocate, Kerrisdale/Marpole Community Pastoral Resource Centre at St. Faith’s Anglican Church

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-9-05-40-amMany non-profit organizations supporting people in our neighbourhoods who are vulnerable often used to keep FareSavers on hand to give to clients who needed to use public transit. BC TransLink is no longer issuing ‘FareSaver’ tickets and now that the fare gates are closed at all the SkyTrain stations, while a single use compass ticket may be purchased at SkyTrain stations, anyone paying cash on the bus or using up old ‘FareSaver’ tickets are not able to use the ticket to transfer to the SkyTrain.

Understanding the need for these organizations to continue to be able to provide public transportation support to their clients, TransLink has launched a program to replace the old FareSaver one which will allow for purchase of single use Compass tickets in bulk directly from TransLink.

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-9-07-18-amThough it is both more complicated and limited than FareSavers, the hope is that TransLink will be able to use the data collected to measure the scope of public transportation support being provided and come up with an alternative, particularly for people who are attempting to get to homeless shelters and advocacy centres.

Through TransLink’s ‘PRE-PAID BULK COMPASS TICKET ORDER FORM’ organizations may purchase Zone 1, 2, 3 or concession ‘single use’ Compass tickets in batches of 50 tickets and adult or concession day passes in batches of 25.

The tickets tap in and out like the compass card and the rider can transfer from bus to SkyTrain or vice versa as long as it is within the paid zone and a 90 minute travel window.

Expiry of tickets:

  • Compass tickets carry a 254-day expiry from the date that TransLink encodes the ticket.
  • The back of ticket says, “This ticket will expire within 30 days” as a means to encourage use. TransLink recommends that you keep your tickets in an envelope with the packing slip that it came with, which details the serial numbers and expiry date.
  • Use a first in first out method to distribute the tickets.
  • It is okay to write an expiry date on the tickets if it helps to manage them.
  • In the event that you have some expired tickets they can be exchanged for new Compass tickets, but TransLink asks that tickets be managed tickets so that this is an exception.

Payment types:

  • Prepayment can be made by electronic funds transfer (EFT) or cheque enclosed with the order form. Credit card payments are not accepted.
  • EFT information should be sent by  email to bulkorders@translink.ca

 

To learn more about the program or to request an order from Call 604-453-4490

Food Intolerances & Food Services: Providing Choice at Community Meals

Written by Holly Heximer & Marilee Pumple, UBC Dietetics Students

According to the Disability Alliance of BC, 50% of Canadian Food Bank users report having a disability, which can include digestion challenges such as celiac diseaseBread & Cheese.jpg or sensitivity to wheat. Across Vancouver, many people depend on food banks and community food services, yet are faced with the harsh reality that they cannot digest all of the foods available in these programs.

People on a limited income affected by chronic conditions or food intolerances must sometimes choose between going hungry or eating foods that make them feel ill.  Without access to acceptable foods, they risk becoming increasingly malnourished. How can food providers create a safe and inclusive environment for people requiring a special diet?

Celiac Disease Requires a Special Diet

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine.  When an individual with this disorder consumes gluten, their nutrient absorption capabilities decline and they experience uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, pain, rashes and irritability. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and is an ingredient in many processed foods, providing texture, chewiness and elasticity. The Canadian Celiac Association estimates that 1 in 133 Canadians are affected by celiac disease. The only treatment for people living with celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. Similarly, some people who are not true celiac feel better when not eating wheat, and thus try to avoid it.

Reliance on Food Services

Individuals with dietary restrictions like wheat sensitivity often face a lack of choice when accessing charitable food programs as items commonly served often contain wheat or gluten. Gluten-free specialty foods are typically more expensive and are donated less often. Naturally gluten-free foods such as potatoes, beans, rice, corn, meats, fruits and vegetables can provide plenty of nutrients for a person avoiding gluten. However, these items are not always available.

10th Church Community Meal

The opportunity to speak with individuals facing ongoing health challenges arose while visiting a community meal at 10th Church. One guest shared her experience of living with a wheat allergy.  She suggested volunteers at food programs be receptive to guests inquiring about ingredients or allowing them to disclose their diet restrictions at the start of the meal. There may be a misconception that when a guest inquires about ingredients or preparation methods that they are being picky or rude. However, providers should be empathetic to clients who must ask questions necessary to follow through with diet restrictions.

For people coping with a health condition, it may be challenging to disclose personal information regarding dietary restrictions. A person with a special diet may fear that if there is no alternative, they may not be able to eat at all. Individuals often choose to remain silent about their restrictions and risk their health just to ensure they get something to eat. A separate menu for guests with special diets may not be practical, as it may single out individuals for receiving special treatment. Instead of isolating guests during their dining experience, having similar menu items without common allergens, such as wheat-containing gravies or sauces, may allow for these guests to enjoy their meal while not compromising their health.

As more people become diagnosed with allergies and chronic conditions, food providers may have to rethink their methods for providing food. Although it may not be feasible to accommodate everyone, focusing on client concerns will ensure a more inclusive and safe dining experience.

Recommendations to Food Providers 

  • Provide space for guests to ‘check in’ with staff before the meal is served where they may privately share any allergies or food restrictions.
  • Provide a display board featuring menu items with a common allergens disclaimer (eg. nuts, shellfish, wheat, soy, etc.) so that guests may avoid a certain food without the need for full disclosure.
  • For donations, immediately separate donated gluten-free foods from other items. When sorting foods, scan labels and mark foods that may contain hidden sources of gluten such as sauces or soups. Use separate food hampers or storage for those requiring a special diet. Look for these words on ingredient labels: malt, spelt, wheat, gluten, semolina, kamut or barley.
  • Avoid contamination of gluten-free foods by preparing meals on a clean work surface. Prepare gluten-free foods before other foods, to avoid trace contamination. Ensure each dish has its own utensils when serving food.
  • Label dishes at buffet or family-style community events. List ingredients so that celiac individuals can identify which dishes are safe to eat.
  • Plan meals with a variety of foods.  If the main course has pasta and cheese, for example, choose a dessert without wheat or dairy.
  • Ensure staff and volunteers are trained with safe food handling practices, demonstrate empathy and help clients with food intolerances in a respectful manner.

For more information on celiac disease and a gluten free diet, visit the Canadian Celiac Association.

Holly Heximer is entering her 4th year in the UBC Dietetics program. After graduating she plans to work rurally as a clinical or community dietitian.

Marilee Pumple is a 4th year student at UBC, also studying to become a Registered Dietitian. She is passionate about health, wellness and overall care for others.  She has a particular interest in food literacy and gerontology.

WHO IS CHANGING THE CONVERSATION AROUND HOW WE EAT (POST #5)?

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…

_MG_10711071Trixie Ling is passionate about food, hospitality and building community by bringing people around a table to eat together, learn from each other, share stories and life. She believes that good food can nourish our body, mind and spirit, and deepen our relationships with each other. Trixie lives out her beliefs through her work as a Community Connections Coordinator in East Vancouver by creating welcoming spaces with neighbours through community night dinners and East Van Talks. She has a Masters Degree in Public Policy from Simon Fraser University and is interested in policy, advocacy and community engagement around food justice, mental health and poverty issues.

What got you interested in sustainable food?

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 10.29.55 AMMy interest in sustainable food grew as I volunteered at Vancouver Farmers Markets, cooked at community meals, and helped to grow vegetables on a sustainable farm.  As I learn how to grow my own garden, I see the intimate connections between land, local food and empowering people to feed each other.  One example of this connection is our church garden, the Garden of Eatin’. Our vegetables are used for our annual Harvest Feast in the fall where we make pots of delicious vegetarian soups and homemade bread. We invite neighbors to help us harvest, make soup, learn new recipes and eat together – there is a sense of pride in gaining new knowledge and skills to cook and enjoy good food with each other.

I first went to the community dinner at the First Christian Reformed Church in East Vancouver about five years ago and started volunteering because I love to cook with other people and wanted to get to know more people in our church and neighborhood.  The food is set up as a buffet family-style meal, and it surprised me how much people love getting their own food (instead of being served), choosing how much or little they want.  Another surprise was seeing how much people appreciated our vegetarian meals and wanted the recipes! We always make fresh vegetarian meals to support sustainably grown food and show people different ways of nourishing our bodies without meat.  We are committed to being environmentally responsible with our practices of recycling, composting food scraps, and using real dishes.  Since we do not have a dishwasher in the kitchen, everyone who eats washes their own dishes, which encourages people to stay around after eating and further connect with each other.

Through your work, what changed in how you see the relationships between food, poverty, and community?

Working as a Community Connections Coordinator, I have seen many community members who go from just eating to coming regularly to set up, cook and clean after dinner.  We do not have a formalized volunteer orientation or process, instead we build relationships and trust with people to get involved, take ownership, and be a part of our extended family.

Through our weekly dinner, we offer food and friendships to people in the neighbourhood, and over time we get to know each other enough to celebrate milestones, including birthdays and baby showers.  Some of our community members are low-income, at risk of homelessness, or face other challenges like poor mental health, addictions and poverty. Eating together around a table, listening to each other’s stories can break down negative stereotypes and inequalities, and help us to better understand the complex issues of poverty and depths of loneliness.  I have learned that poverty is not only a lack of income and shelter, but on a deeper level poverty is a lack of good relationships and sense of belonging.  Community members who have become regular volunteers have a strong connection with people and a sense of place in East Van.  Community kitchens and communal meals are important in addressing poverty and providing what we all need as humans to flourish: food, dignity, relationships and community.

What do you need to further your bigger goals for your neighbourhood?

I have experienced the power of bringing people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and beliefs around a table to share food, stories and life together in a welcoming space.  I would love to use food as a way to create more open spaces and opportunities to have dialogues around multiculturalism and better understanding of different faiths and religions in the community.  This summer there will be a new refugee Welcome Centre run by ISS of BC, located right beside our church and I hope to eat with our refugee neighbours (including many Syrian refugees) and build relationships with them and learn about their cultures, stories and way of life.

I also hope to expand our learning opportunities through East Van Talks by inviting more community members from all different ages and walks of life to share their ideas, knowledge and passions.  I want to encourage people in other communities to develop their own version of East Van Talks and provide creative opportunities and partnerships to learn from each other and inspire change in the community.

Contact Trixie Ling at communityconnections@van1crc.org

WHO IS CHANGING THE CONVERSATION AROUND HOW WE EAT (POST #4)?

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…

CristelCristel Moubarak is a registered dietitian, founder of nutriFoodie, and all-round food-nut. She is a jill-of-all-trades with her love of nutrition, food, education, entrepreneurship, counselling and people. She shares knowledge and educates people on how their bodies work and how to get the most out of what they put on their plate; all while watching how much comes out of their wallets.

Cristel’s goal is not short-term gains, or ‘just’ weight management, but on the complete package: long-term health, and enjoyment of everything you munch on. She is focused on clients, their happiness and their lifestyle. Food is a big part of all of that, and if you are not enjoying what you’re eating, it’s pointless.

What got you interested in sustainable food?

I’ve lived much of my life in Lebanon, where sustainability was not all that recognized, or implemented. So when, in September 2010, I had an opportunity to work with Chef Steve Golob in a self-directed studies course on sustainability at UBC, it really resonated with me. I became involved with the Farm to Cafeteria program that focused on educating children on where our food comes from, and how the system can be made sustainable and applied within our foodservice industries.

Today, that has translated into using as much fresh foods as possible, while reducing waste. I love to create meals out of leftovers or stale ingredients. I believe that home cooking is important to health, and that’s my core practice in nutriFoodie; bringing our food habits back to what our grandparents grew up on. Now that’s sustainable!

Through your work, what changed in how you see food and health?

The key to nutrition and health comes from a good relationship with food, and that begins when we are young. As with most things, eating – the what and how much – is learned in our formative years (“don’t leave the table until you finish everything on your plate” sound familiar to anyone?). By focusing on children’s camps, my hope is that I can teach children how to identify “real” food in grocery stores, get them away from processed items, and learn to enjoy meals in a communal manner while raising an appreciation to what they’ve cooked from scratch; to give them a healthy relationship with food from an early age, and set the up for nutritional success for the rest of their lives.

When I graduated from UBC I believed I knew everything to start my career. Needless to say, I quickly realized: “the more you learn, the less you know” – the best part about my profession, though, is that it’s a lifelong learning process and I’m more than happy to accept the challenge. I keep learning and growing in my practice: I learned that eating is not about counting numbers, it’s about quality; it’s not about forceful restriction, it’s about understanding your body cues. 

What do you need to reach your bigger goals around kids gaining a good relationship to food?

My largest stumbling block at the moment is space. I need a well-equipped, clean kitchen with plenty of space for little kids to be moving about in as well as the camp leaders to supervise and teach; no easy task. It’s such an important set-up. Children get to see the food, touch it, taste it, make it and share it. They need to learn what they are eating, where it comes from, and make it real. They need to have their minds inspired to ask questions about what goes into their body, and to learn what real food looks and smells like. All of that needs to be at an affordable rate, as my goal is education of our future generations – all of them – and thus I would like to keep the cost within the realm of most parents. Those that are not as well off are far more likely to engage in poor diets, and that is the demographic I’d like to target first. As a dear friend reminds me of Michael Pollan‘s words: “the rich get organic, and the poor get diabetes”.

WHO IS CHANGING THE CONVERSATION AROUND HOW WE EAT (POST #3)?

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…

KDKaren Dar Woon, is the owner and executive chef of Your Secret Chef, my third food business. As well as working with individual households for day-to-day meals and social events, I teach food skills for community agencies, and work with organizations to provide food programming. My most public contract is with Gilmore Park United Church, as their community meal chef, since 2007. I’m a mom to two wonderful women, a wife, a festival volunteer, former Director at The Sharing Farm, and currently Secretary of the BC Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier.

Why did you get interested in sustainable food?

Perhaps I’ve always been interested in where our food comes from. My grandparents kept a small food garden in the backyard of my childhood home. As a young parent, and then single mom, it was important for me to teach my kids about self-sufficiency; knowing how to grow, cook, and preserve, food was part of that learning. It could be a measure of success that my kids both knew how to cook as tweens, and taught their house-mates as young adults.

Professionally, I was already aware of some challenges for community food centers before it became “fashionable” to consider such things. Food which is grown without extensive chemical treatment, by farmers who are actually making a living, and with low impact on our local ecology… this food is usually sold as a premium product, with premium prices.

What’s frustrating to me, is that community food programs often don’t have the budget to facilitate making the sustainable choice. Sometimes we need to acquire a lot of food, inexpensively. Wouldn’t it be better if all our food was grown with health and wellness for people, land and animal, in mind?

Through your work, what changed in how you see community meals & food security?

It’s really been a privilege to work in the community meal (CM) program at Gilmore Park United. The program was initiated as a community-building work, as well as to address the physical hunger need in nearby residents. Because the church is blessed with some financial stability, the CM has stable funding, which, while basic, is adequate.

One special moment: Learning that caregivers at a neighbourhood group home brought the residents to Gilmore Park CM as a programmed outing. The workers needed a break from daily meal preparation, and I was honoured that they found our environment so comfortable and welcoming for their group.

Through my association with Gilmore Park, I started to work more closely with The Sharing Farm (formerly Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project) to use produce which was grown, or gleaned, by volunteers in our city.

Richmond Food Security Society facilitated using the produce as raw materials for preserving workshops, and a whole new community of food preservers was hatched. I’m really proud to have been part of that.

Perhaps the most significant change has been in my understanding of how organizations lack infrastructure for working with fresh food. Especially when we speak of diverting non-market (“imperfect”) food away from the waste stream, and into community kitchens, we must also talk about resources such as time and space. Churches, community kitchens and non-profit organizations may lack sufficient cold storage, freezer space or pantry space to make best use of donated or diverted foods. Or, volunteers, who provide the majority of the labour, may lack time for processing 50 lbs of tiny crooked carrots, compared to the same of “standard” carrots.

What do you need to see your community eat better?

It would be amazing if civic planners could balance public greenspace with public gardening spaces. The presence of small plots in urban areas really does increase the likelihood that individuals will learn to plant and grown their own food. And, I’ll bet that people who grow their own food have a deeper awareness of food waste. The community, at large, benefits, because less food enters the waste stream, less food spoils before being eaten, and more food is used in its original purpose.

Another “something” that I think is critical to strengthening the food system, is the creation of permanent building(s) in the urban centers, where farmers and other food producers could ship/deliver their product for packing and distributing to consumers. The building would include spaces for cold storage, sheltered space for minimal processing (trimming off root ends, bundling/packaging), and maybe a commercial kitchen for making preserves or sauces. I see some success for an operation which could assist farmers/producers in selling their stuff, without the farmer having to personally attend to a stall all the time.

At the same time, I really applaud the work being done by the BC Farmers’ Markets Association, in supporting farmers’ markets throughout the province. The BCFMA is also working with community agencies to provide food literacy programs and financial support to low income households, so that everyone in our communities can access fresh, healthy food.

Canada needs both a national food strategy and a national housing strategy. These two aspects work hand in hand, as food and shelter are the largest part of household budget, especially for lower income households.

What I see in Metro Vancouver is that the cost of housing is disproportionately high, relative to median income. When households are struggling to pay for housing and transportation, there’s less money for food. When families struggle financially and the adults are working more, there’s less time for cooking and eating together. I think that our society suffers greatly as a result.

WHO IS CHANGING THE CONVERSATION AROUND HOW WE EAT (Post #2)?

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 ApplebyBrayden 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.

For more info about Crossroads or Community Meals / Kitchen in general, contact our Coordinator Simeon Pang: crossroads@gcbchurch.ca OR simeon@cglf.ca

What is Really In a Red Coffee Cup?

 

Written by Karen Giesbrecht & Simeon Pang

Christmastime amplifies things. Everything seems bigger and brighter as the days draw closer to the coming of the Christ and all the seasonal traditions and festivities that surround this global event. There are opportunities for creativity, generosity, closeness and sharing the love that the holidays generate.

But there are also amplified occasions for loneliness and inequality. How can a moment in history that brings such a great light into the lives of believers the world over, also be the advent for people experiencing some of the darkest times of the year? And how is this hope for love and acceptance communicated by the smallest things?

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 3.09.43 PMAt Christmastime, sweet and spicy latte from Starbucks, in attractive red cups is one of our favourite treats. But they also symbolize something we are increasingly distressed by. Almost every week, we see our friends on the edges of poverty walk into a community meal with a disposable cup from Starbucks or other specialty coffee shop in the neighbourhood.

A few folk have likely fished the cup out of the garbage, hopefully rinsed it out, and filled it with free coffee from a local charity. Others have spent the few dollars they have on the drink, forgoing more nourishing food or other necessities. But why? Maybe because good coffee communicates status, especially at a time of year that highlights the differences between the rich and the poor. The red cup communicates:

  • I’m ok
  • I belong
  • I’m a true Vancouverite
  • I deserve an indulgence for once
  • I can pass as one of the well-off ones…

In Vancouver, in particular, we are rich in good coffee shops. And we are rich in folk who are willing to donate time, goods or money to help those in need, especially around Christmastime. To all of you who show such tangible kindness – Thank-you, thank you, thank you!

However, during this season of generosity and cheer, let us consider that sometimes the way we help can actually hurt the recipients.

Here’s how: sometimes when we give or volunteer, we do so in a manner that increases feelings of shame and inequality for the recipients who are not encouraged to do what they can for themselves, or who are not afforded opportunities to be generous themselves with what they have.

As we seek to celebrate the dignity of all those we serve & serve alongside, here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Visit a community meal as a guest. Come with the openness to experience, with others, what it feels like to line up, be lost in the crowds, to eat food you may not prefer, and to be shown kindness by the volunteers, but not necessarily given a voice.
  • Find someone who does not dress like you, or who obviously came from a different place, and learn their name.
  • Offer to do some of the harder tasks at an event – like dishwashing, scrubbing pots, or taking out the compost.
  • Keep an eye out for people who are new, or who do not seem to be connecting with others.  Invite them to share simple jobs like bussing tables or keeping the coffee table stocked.
  • Collect basic hygiene items: socks, toques, gloves, underwear & backpacks, being most needed when it’s wet & cold. A drive for specific items, rather than bags filled with secondhand clothes, is more helpful.
  • For Food Safe rules, most food must be made on site – especially potentially hazardous foods that may spoil or be undercooked, like turkey & mashed potatoes. Homemade baked goods are less risky for food-borne illness & are a treat for guests, especially if they contain nutrient rich nuts & dried fruit.
  • Sponsor a community meal, or part of one: a healthy, balanced meal can cost $3-$5/person, or $450-$750 for 150 people. Adding fresh fruit for dessert is about $40; salad is $60. Fresh produce provides vitamins, minerals & fibre that is often limited in the diets of people who live in poverty.
  • Paying a community member to wash dishes for 4 hours is ~$50 (at minimum wage). Employment allows people to gain workplace skills, a sense of purpose & independence.

“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” ~Maya Angelou