Finding food friends
Cooking with others in a community kitchen allows people to socialize, have fun, and share their creative culinary ideas. Check out collective cooking in your community.
Sharing good, healthy food, breaking down social isolation, feeling less alone in a city, learning empowering lessons about how to choose high quality food for a healthy life: these are inspiring messages from community kitchens.
Community kitchens flourish
Community and collective kitchens are individuals meeting together in hands-on cooking experiences to learn cooking skills, kitchen and food safety, nutrition, and meal planning. Hundreds of these kitchens flourish across Canada. From the Maritimes to the West Coast, people are gathering together around food.
Debbie Field, executive director of FoodShare Toronto, describes a community kitchen as a group of six to 12 people who get together to cook on a weekly, monthly, or occasional basis. In the Toronto area, FoodShare, Canada’s largest food security organization, coordinates many types of kitchens and supports more than 50.
A partnership of the Saskatoon Community Clinic, CHEP Good Food and Saskatoon Health Region has been funding the Saskatoon Collective Kitchen. Janet Phillips, collective kitchen coordinator, says, “We use the term ‘collective kitchen’ instead of ‘community’ because our groups make collective decisions. “They decide how much their contribution will be ($2, $5, $10). They decide when they will cook, what they will cook, amounts to cook, and whether to cook a huge quantity of one dish or smaller quantities of multiple dishes. Most members take home between three to five dishes, depending on their budget.”
Joining a community kitchen
Community kitchens can be a place where people socialize, have fun, and share ideas. “Participating in a community kitchen breaks down social isolation and improves skills around healthy affordable eating,” says Field.
“Participants also want to learn new recipes that are affordable, healthy, and culturally diverse.” Cooking together for the camaraderie or addressing health issues may also motivate members to learn how to prepare delicious, healthy food for themselves and their families.
Commonalities exist among these kitchens, although each is unique not only in how they are run, but also in who attends. Participants come from many backgrounds: families, single moms, seniors, or ethnic groups.
A special diet related to health concerns, such as breast cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease also attracts members. Groups meet in community centres, churches, or schools, often coordinated by a community agency.
Sharing food in Ontario
Here’s a sample community kitchen menu to get the taste buds talking; Alvin Rebick, of Toronto’s FoodShare, offered up this tantalizing meal:
“Some community kitchens we initiate ourselves, but more often we work with organizations in the community who request our support,” says Rebick.
One of FoodShare’s successful examples is Kate’s Kitchen, a group of women who have had breast cancer treatment, which has been operating for over five years.
“Members meet once a month with a chef/nutritionist and community facilitator, who herself is a breast cancer survivor,” adds Rebick.
“Their menus are geared to healthy eating. The women cook together and discuss the value of a healthy diet during treatment, recovery, and for their future. For this group, it is extremely important that they have time to visit together and share ‘war stories’ to reduce isolation and fear.”
As Kate’s Kitchen runs all year, participants are very committed to their cooking and menu planning. The chef/nutritionist is up to date with dietary trends and creates menus that are delicious and nutritious.
“Learning how to feed yourself in the company of good people is how you should live your life,” emphasizes one breast cancer survivor. “Even outside of this kitchen, that’s something I now will do. Cooking was part of the benefit, but for me, it was also about being with other survivors, just getting friendship in the kitchen and afterward as well.”
FoodShare also runs community kitchens with the Aboriginal Education Centre of the Toronto District School Board. A French school operates a “girls’ cooking club” for girls in grade seven and eight in response to eating issues that arise within this age group.
Saskatchewan collective cooking
In Saskatoon, Janet Phillips is collective kitchen coordinator for CHEP Good Food Incorporated, an agency helping children, families, and communities to improve access to good food. Their motto: “Collective Kitchens = Food, Fun, and Friendships” summarizes their philosophy.
“We laugh at the jokes, cry at the onions, and nurture our families with food we create with love,” says one Saskatoon participant. “Because of my large family and busy evenings, it’s nice to have something in the freezer to pull out. I came for the food but stayed for the friends.”
“Our Collective Kitchens are normally made up of six families and/or individuals who pool their resources to cook nutritious food in bulk for their families,” says Phillips. Groups usually meet twice per month—once to do the planning and once to do the cooking.
Ongoing training sessions are held. If a kitchen is interested in learning something specific, Phillips finds an expert to instruct members. Recent workshops have included how to make perogies, authentic Mexican cooking, and two canning sessions. At one, the collective canned dill pickles. At another, they canned fruit and learned how to make crabapple jelly.
BC makes memorable meals
In the Metro Vancouver community of Delta, Jini Aroon, chef/cooking instructor, coordinates a newly created community kitchen in a church hall. “In our kitchen, everyone has something to share, and we learn from one another,” she says.
“My passion is to help others to nourish themselves better with the abundance of food that we are blessed with on this planet, so they enjoy optimal health. I love using local ingredients and produce to minimize carbon footprints while helping our local farming community.”
Enhanced with a sparkling, renovated kitchen showcasing new appliances, gorgeous cupboards, and shiny work surfaces, this program makes cooking welcoming and enjoyable. On a warm Wednesday morning, activity buzzes at this church. This gathering focuses on new moms, who are also provided with childcare while cooking.
Stir-Fried Vegetable Rice is on today’s menu. Hands are washed; cutting boards are out; knives are chopping fresh parsley, leeks, and chives; celery, carrots, and squash also go in the recipe; and rice is in the steamer.
Cheerful conversation and helpful cooking tips are exchanged—an informal hands-on cooking lesson right on the spot: turmeric—how to use it; salt—don’t add too much; the importance of putting protein such as egg into the rice meal. The cooking aromas are mouth-watering! And the reward: taking a dish home for the evening meal!
BC has about 500 community kitchens. Fresh Choice Kitchens, operating with the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, provides a central resource and directory of kitchen locations for sharing information among the growing number of BC community kitchens.
Finding community kitchens
Nutritionists, health agencies, and food banks are excellent resources for information. Check out this geographical list.
|North End Community Health Centre
|New Brunswick Association of Food Banks
|Chances Family Centre
|Food Security Network of Newfoundland & Labrador
|Quebec Collective Kitchens
|CHEP Good Food Incorporated
|Alberta Food Bank Network Association
|Fresh Choice Kitchens
|Many Rivers Counselling