The Things People Say When They’re Eating – by Karen Secord

 

Food Bank Ottawa Charity CanadaI think I spend far too much time worrying about offending people, especially when they are eating. It’s a hazard of my job; a kind of quicksand I can find myself drowning when the conversation doesn’t go the way the person across from me feels it should. 

“You must really feel so pleased to be helping those people eat good food”.  

I wonder when I hear this, or any number of variations of it, whether the speaker sees my chest heave deeply, holding in a growl while I try not to choke.

Am I one of those people? Who are those people?

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I am not disabled. I am not trying to raise my children in a motel room where a microwave is the kitchen and the beds are the dining room table.

And I have certainly never had to flee my homeland, sacrificing my career, culture, and family.

I don’t work for minimum wage serving others only to stand in line at a food bank to get the rations to feed myself.

I don’t have only coins left in my pocket after paying rent, medication, and a bus pass.

For me purchasing delicious food and sharing it with others is one of the great joys of life. Of course, throughout my life, I have been afforded the means and opportunity to thrive. 

My dinner companion pushes forward, “It’s great that you are teaching people how to cook.”

I can’t help wondering about those long-held myths that perpetuate the narrative of “if only they learned to cook better they would save money”. After a decade of cooking and sharing meals and telling stories, we decided to survey our Neighbours with the hope that they would be gracious enough to offer their insights.  

“Thank you for asking,” said one respondent. “No one has ever asked me before.”

Just over 270 households completed the 94 question survey, administered in three languages. What we heard is that the vast majority of households who participate in our programs are living in poverty.

Of the households in the survey, 69% had an annual income before taxes of less than $20,000.  Just less than 53% had an income of $15,000 per year or less, while almost 20% had an income of $10,000 or less. 

Noteworthy here is that 61% of the households had at least one adult who had completed some college or university.

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No-cost produce market at Fresh Eat Fridays at the Hintonburg Community Centre. Volunteers and staff bag produce that Neighbours want and choose.

Basic social assistance rates for a single person with a disability or receiving Ontario Works (because they don’t qualify for Employment Insurance) are $14,028 and $8,796, respectively.  This compares with Statistics Canada’s Market-based Measure (MBM) of the cost of a modest, basic standard of living in Ottawa/Gatineau of $20,053.  

What I knew was confirmed. You can’t save money when you don’t have money. Having a grocery store in your neighbourhood is truly irrelevant when you couldn’t afford anything in the store anyway. 60% of respondents said they shop at the dollar store. I suppose “access” means different things to different people.

At Parkdale Food Centre a no-cost produce market every Friday means that good quality fruits and vegetables are free. And so are the over 200 meals our kitchen lovingly produces for volunteers to distribute. 

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A delicious and nutritious salad for Neighbours as part of our meal & market on Fresh Eat Fridays.

Good food is not a luxury. Yet, we heard over and over how parents go without food so their children can eat, that seniors steal food for their pets, and how hunger affects a person’s mental health. At our weekly “Coffee and Conversation” I asked folks what they needed from the government.

The mostly older group, drinking coffee with muffins, egg salad sandwiches, and apples to take home, agreed that they want to have enough income to be able to purchase the food they enjoy just like everyone else. At the same time, they want the social programming Parkdale Food Centre offers, in fact, they want more of it!

Our friend and Neighbour Eric at Coffee & Conversations. Wednesdays starting at 9 am followed by Chair Yoga.

 

The right to food is enshrined in various international human rights instruments which have been signed and ratified by Canada, beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, Article 24(2) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Preamble of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I think when I sit around the table with friends and family this December my gift to them will be a gentle reminder that “building back better” is going to require a shift in the questions we ask, the narrative we perpetuate, and the myths we pass on.

Maybe this holiday season you will join me in starting a conversation about the human right to food…

PFC staff and volunteers at Fresh Eat Fridays.

 

I am a Culinary Activist – By Simon Bell

It was after my shift, late on a Friday when it hit me.

I was sitting in a park, just a block or so from where I worked as the Chef of a very busy and popular restaurant. I had just finished a long twelve hours in the kitchen and I had positioned myself on a park bench in what you could only describe as “upright fetal position”, just sort of staring into the middle distance, with exhaustion. 

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I cannot recall what it was that had me so upset and why I could not walk the other two blocks home right away.

Was it a customer complaint?

An overcooked piece of meat sent back?

A challenge with the myriad of components and variables that you contend with day to day when running a professional kitchen?

Either way, I know now that whatever it was it wasn’t important to me… at all.

 

Sitting there in the park, still covered in sweat from working the line, hands throbbing from repetitively burning myself over the course of my shift, my eyes caught a street outreach van that had pulled up beside the park and was assisting someone who had made their home for the night in a sleeping bag tucked under a tree.

I watched as the outreach worker handed him water and what looked like half a sandwich in a zip lock bag, they kneeled over the man and chatted with him. As I sat there watching, I felt embarrassed that I was feeling the way I was, that I was so wrapped up in something that wasn’t a matter of life or death. 

Maybe this story reads corny, and the purpose of writing this is not to announce to everyone how woke I am and that everything else is insignificant next to human suffering and injustice, I’m too white and too male to really claim that I’m an expert on those topics. But this was a pivotal moment in my life and I knew right away what I wanted to do and what I didn’t.

I realized that I would much rather use food as a way to create a community, to use food for good, and try to get to the essence of what food really means to everyone; home, family love, community.

I realized that I really didn’t want to read the latest yelp review or serve another over manicured plate of food to someone that really didn’t need it. Instead, I wanted to share food again, with everyone. It really shouldn’t matter how much money you have, should it? Everyone deserves the best when it comes to food, who could disagree? 

IT’S FOOD.

We can do better than half a sandwich can’t we?

What is food to you?

A fancy Instagram photo to share, to gain more likes?

Is it a commodity to sell to those who can afford it?

Has the food we eat become more about status than, love, community, family?

 I wish more cooks knew that there is more out there than what’s in front of you. I wish more cooks knew that they could find ways of connecting with people over food without any pretension or ridiculous pressure. That they can make a difference with your skills by stepping outside the restaurant and sharing your knowledge. I wish more cooks would jump out into the community and cook simple, beautiful food with others. I wish more cooks knew they could learn so much more than they think by cooking with people outside of the restaurant world. 

Years later, I am still in the kitchen but at Parkdale Food Centre, a charitable organization working towards solutions to food insecurity where my team and I cook up to two hundred meals a week alongside volunteers and Neighbors. I’m connecting with people in a way that I never thought imaginable with food. The most common mistake people make when asking about my job is the assumption that I’m Jamie Oliver feeding the children kale and quinoa or that I’m teaching people without any income how to eat.

They could not be more wrong. I facilitate, I listen, I assist, I learn and I don’t for a second assume that because I have worked in professional kitchens that I know how to make a better soup than someone who has found themselves coming to Parkdale seeking support. I am part of my community now. I know faces and names and we say hello when passing by, I have never experienced that type of connected community. I am home. I found my way out of the restaurant kitchen and don’t intend on ever looking back. I found a way to share food again. I found a way to ensure food is part of love, family, community.  

I am a Culinary Activist.

 

What is “Normal”? By Karen Secord

It’s starting to feel a lot like “normal”; like in pre-Covid times children are playing in parks, families are out shopping, neighbourhoods are hosting barbecues. But for those of us trying to navigate the ever-changing landscape of public health pandemic protocols, “normal” has been redefined.

The Province of Ontario may be “opening up” to allow for more activities, however, the reality is that the public health precautions we are obliged to follow, in order to keep our staff, volunteers, and Neighbours safe, things have not really changed. 

 

During a presentation by Ottawa Public Health on July 20, we were told that the following protocols remain in place:

 

  • Screening
  • Staying home when feeling sick
  • Mandatory Masks
  • Personal protective equipment including eye protection* (*eye protection is for when you can’t maintain 2m distance.)
  • Hand Hygiene
  • Availability to wash or sanitize hands upon arrival
  • For staff and volunteers to wash frequently
  • Adapt the activity to be COVID Wise and achieve the current provincial guidance
  • Consider outdoor programs and services
  • Scheduling system to ensure adequate physical distancing
  • Physical distancing visual markers & signage
  • Adhere to current gathering limits
  • Reduce Contact and Exposure
  • Frequent Communication & Updates
  • Ensure that all staff, volunteers, and guests are aware of the expectations for participation.
  • Post signage and directional markers to assist with management and flow of visitors.
  • Cleaning & Disinfecting
  • Cleaning and disinfecting of any high touch surfaces

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We’ve come a long way since March 2020. A full return to “normal” will take a community effort, and together we can.   There is nothing we want more than to see you in our happy, food-filled, bustling space. But we know that in order to create that space with open arms, once again we are going to have to think differently, design better systems, and create more indoor space. So, that is what we are going to do!

Watch for a Fall/Winter that still has the obligatory Covid-19 protocols but also has room for all of us to do more and do it better, in the community. Together, we can.

Neighbour to Neighbour

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Food, it is our Greatest Connector

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Join us!  Monthly Donors at the Parkdale Food Centre, our ambassadors, are a special collective. They share our vision of community and good food for all. Becoming a Monthly Donor is so important, here is why: 

Food transcends, it is our greatest connector. 

Food heals us. 

Food keeps us healthy.

We celebrate, mourn, reflect, listen, learn and love all around food – What power it shares.  

 

Beautiful flowers donated by Kate at City Love Flowers. These flower arrangements are given to our Neighbours every Friday at Fresh Eats Friday’s in front of the PFC.

 

Food insecurity and hunger are a consequence of poverty. 

1 in 7 Ottawans identify as being severely food insecure, many more rely upon emergency food services such as food banks and meal programs for support. For food. For survival.

But what about the rest?  

Ottawa’s First Outdoor Community Fridge at the PFC, Captured by CTV News

At the Parkdale Food Centre we believe that addressing food insecurity is more than offering a box of cans and a bunch of ripe bananas. 

We believe good food fosters community and health. 

It fosters kindness and trust.  

Good food fosters love. 

 

Thirteen youth using our very own spices in the PFC Kitchen!

 

All of our programs are powered by these principles. It is the generosity of PFC’s Monthly Donors that ensure we continue to share:

  • Nutritious Community Meals
  • Fresh Produce Markets 
  • Culturally appropriate, barrier-free access to healthy food
  • Cooking Workshops
  • Youth programing 
  • Social Enterprise nurturing valuable entrepreneurial and social skills for youth 
  • Youth workshops that help school-aged students understand the connections between poverty, food insecurity, and health 
  • Advocacy for systemic change
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Youth Programing: Solutionary Workshops at PFC by Growing Futures

Share our vision? Join us!

You will be welcomed into our community of Monthly Donors, like no other. Be part of the solution. Let’s address food insecurity better. Help us bring the special parts of food back for everyone. Good food and community for all. 

Become a Monthly Donor today, you will be glad you did. Click here to join our community of Monthly Donors.

Meredith Kerr 
Communications & Donor Relations Manager