By Michele Vernet – Michele currently works at Sunnybrook Hospital in the Odette Cancer Centre. She loves fresh, beautiful produce and local food initiatives that build capacity and healthy communities. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Health.
Anyone with a love of food can attest to the joy of cooking with friends and family. You could chalk it up to a shared love of delicious food but there seems to be more to it than that. Something happens when people gather in a kitchen to create a meal together and celebrate their labour. Kitchens have long represented comfort, warmth and intimacy; where stories are shared and relationships take shape. Many of us take the ability to cook and share meals together for granted. For those who are marginalized be it for reasons related to socioeconomic status, age, ethnicity or mental health, the Stop seeks to reach out and create a community within a community through cooking. I sat down with Wei Su, a registered holistic nutritionist and the Community Kitchens Coordinator, to talk about The Stop’s different programs.
The Stop currently has six different programs that are divided between its Christie St. and Davenport Rd. locations, explains Su. Similar goals and themes are thread throughout the various programs. The programs focus on building capacity through the development of food skills and knowledge about healthy food choices. At the same time, the programs reduce social isolation by providing a fun, non-intimidating environment in which to connect with others.
“Many of the people who come to our community kitchen program are also part of our gardening program so they’re learning things about saving seeds, about growing, about harvesting and we use a lot of the produce in the gardens for our community kitchen programs” explains Su. “Participants love the freshness of what’s being harvested from our gardens and the greenhouse.”
The Global Roots program, which involves seniors growing food from their home country, also provides ingredients for the community kitchens allowing participants to learn more about lesser known foods and the possibilities for growing food from around the world in an Ontario climate.
Teamwork, sharing knowledge and engagement in the recipe are key components to the participants’ sense of accomplishment and success of a community kitchen meal. Many of the programs also have presentations on various topics that the participants themselves choose and present on. “Community kitchens are not just about us teaching them things; it is about participants bringing their history, their background and what they know about food” says Su. Very recently the community kitchens programs received a substantial donation from the Newman’s Foundation. In creating communities linked by food, The Stop continues to be an innovator in community organizing and promoting healthy local food options.
Check out www.thestop.org for more information.