Beyond the Food Bank

10 Oct

Fifteen years ago, as an exchange student in Montreal, I volunteered at a downtown food bank. One thing really surprised me: as fast we were to load up boxes, some of our clients were just as quick to unpack items like chocolate puddings and dipping sticks with processed cheese into our exchange pile. They’d often ask if we had extra tofu or another head of broccoli instead.

It’s not because you’re struggling to buy food that you don’t care about the quality and nutritional value of what you eat. While Canada’s over 800 food banks help fill bellies, many fall short when it comes to providing the nutrition people living below the poverty line need to thrive in their home, work and school lives. Last year in one month alone, a million Canadians used a food bank—more than a third of them, children. It’s essential to find ways to make sure nobody leaves feeling diminished by the experience.

Nick Saul, the visionary founder of The Stop Community Centre in Toronto recognized this.  He wanted to create a space of empowerment, where people could not only access nutritious, whole foods, but could also build their sense of self worth and belonging.

The Stop is a place where users can grow the vegetables required for dishes from amany world cuisines in the Global Roots Garden; children and adults can take cooking classes in the community kitchen; and locals can sit down together for a drop-in meal and break bread made in the outdoor brick oven. There are programs too for food advocacy, composting and supporting expectant mothers. When Jamie Oliver visited a few years ago, he said he’d never seen anything like it.

The exciting news is that Saul is now working through a new organization called Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC) to develop 15 partner centres across the country, everywhere from Winnipeg, Manitoba; to Stratford, Ontario; to Dartmouth Nova Scotia.

I visited The Stop yesterday evening for an event organized by Le Creuset, who will be stocking its kitchen–and those of all future Community Food Centres–with durable cookware, bakewear, dinnerware and accessories.

They have also launched a new line of mini cocottes with Chuck Hughes:

Proceeds will be donated to the CFCCs.

Chuck was fresh from teaching a group of children at the Stop how to make a delicious fall soup chock-full of pumpkin, pears and leeks, and topped with seeds and fresh herbs grown on site. They baked their own crusty rolls too. He gave us the demo too, filling the open-air cooking space with the aromas of fresh-baked bread, sweet veggies and sage.

I’m excited at this new model for sustaining our communities and am looking into opportunities to get involved. If you’re interested in using the services of your nearest CFCC, volunteering or making a cash donation, find out more here:

And if you’d like to try Chuck’s recipe…

Serves 4
2 small Sugar Pie pumpkins, roasted
3 medium pears, peeled, cored and chopped
1 large leek
3 garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds – crushed using mortal and pestle
7-9 cups organic veg broth salt & pepper

After you’ve roasted the pumpkin, scoop out the pulp into a food processor or blender. It’s easier to do this while the pumpkin is still warm and best to do in batches. Put a little broth into each batch to help puree the pumpkin. This should make about 2 1/2 cups of puree. Trim the root end and most of the green part off the leek, slice in half lengthwise and thinly slice. Rinse well in a strainer under cold water. Preheat a soup pot on med heat for a couple minutes. Add in olive oil followed by the leeks. Saute for 3-4 minutes or until softened. Add the fennel seed, stir and saute for a minute or so then add in the pears. Saute for a couple of minutes so the flavors begin to marry. Add in pumpkin puree, a pinch of salt and pepper, stir, then add in 6 cups of vegetable stock. Let simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until the pears are soft. Taste and season accordingly. I used an immersion blender to puree the soup but you could easily use a blender as well. Just be sure to blend in batches and not to overfill the blender (hot liquids expand). Rich, sweet and surprisingly a little buttery tasting sans the butter. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds.


2 Responses to “Beyond the Food Bank”

  1. nick saul October 14th, 2013 at 10:00 PM #

    hi val: thanks for the kind words about our efforts to spread the community food centre model across the country. let’s stay in touch and find a way to get you involved. happy thanksgiving to you and yours. best, nick.

    • Valerie Howes October 18th, 2013 at 10:26 PM #

      Thanks for your comment, Nick. I’d love to become more involved with the Stop.

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