Community kitchens: Better nutrition by working together

The best meals don’t simply fill the belly or fuel the body, say those involved in a growing movement that sees food as sustenance to build communities and nourish the spirit.

Calling them “community kitchens,” adherents engage people with all aspects of food: its procurement, preparation, consumption and even long-term preservation with canning. And as in all good food handling, there is the post-meal dish duty and cleanup. Everybody pitches in.

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Community kitchens are neither food banks nor soup kitchens. They are not simply about serving food to people who are financially strapped, although they’re welcome.

“There is something more there,” said Laura Cochrane, a member of the congregation at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Saanich. “People may come [because of poverty and hunger] and realize they get something more when they have participated.”

Cochrane is co-ordinator of a project in which her church, along with St. Luke’s Anglican and St. Aidan’s United, and the Mount Tolmie and Camosun community associations, have signed on to start a community kitchen on Shelbourne Street. The agreement was signed Tuesday.

They don’t have a location yet. But they have received a $100,000 grant from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada. And the groups hope to have a community kitchen up and running by September.

It will be a kitchen space where small groups of eight to 10 can gather, prepare, cook and eat a meal together and hopefully take home leftovers.

When it opens, the Shelbourne Community Kitchen will become part of the Community Kitchen Network of Victoria, which now has about a dozen operations across the capital region.

Diane Andiel, a community programmer with Saanich parks and recreation who is responsible for helping community kitchens, said community kitchens in Victoria are being run by a wide variety of organizations.

Andiel said Cool Aid, Saanich Neighbourhood Place, Women in Need and B.C. Housing have all run or are running community kitchens.

But she said community kitchens can be different things for different circumstances. They can be found in upscale subdivisions and in low-income housing complexes.

“It really is about coming together, cooking together and the community that gets built. It’s about how food can bring people together,” she said.

A community kitchen can be a central, permanent facility where people gather to collect, prepare and share a meal, join in the cleanup and take away leftovers, as the Shelbourne group plans.

Or it can be as simple as several people getting together once a week to prepare vegetables to take home for their families. The result is the same: better nutrition through working together.

“Don’t you think it’s more likely you would cook and eat those vegetables when they are all ready to go?” said Andiel.

Diane Collis, manager of Fresh Choice Kitchens, part of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society, said she has seen community kitchens take off across Canada in the past five years. Now, every province and territory has them.

Following the Canadian example, community kitchens have sprung up in Australia and the U.K. The U.S. has been slower because Americans first held them as pre-employment programs. But the Pacific Northwest states are now starting to get on board.

Collis said community kitchens are mostly about giving power back to people.

There’s the power of nutritional food, the power of learning how to prepare it, and the power of coming together and making friends. People who benefit can be single parents, youth at risk, seniors, new immigrants, or people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

“Community kitchens are about empowerment,” Collis said. “Empowering people to nourish themselves.”

She said social agencies, including food banks, see community kitchens as a way to improve public health.

“A lot of the community agencies and faith-based agencies are starting to realize the community kitchen model is an excellent health-promotion and illness-prevention strategy,” Collis said.

Pastor Lyle McKenzie of Lutheran Church of the Cross said the need to assist people with food security has recently become more apparent.

In the past year, his church has seen a doubling of food hampers handed out, from 15 to 30 per month.

McKenzie also said it has become more important for all churches to get out into the community. A community kitchen, with its central mission to have everyone participate in a meal, is a natural fit.

“Food always is [spiritual] for us,” he said. “Every Sunday morning, the worship is always the word and the sacrament, and that sacrament is a table. It’s a natural fit for us to be involved with a community kitchen with others.”

The Shelbourne Community Kitchen will operate on donations of food and money and with the assistance of volunteers.

Anyone who knows of a potential location along Shelbourne Street for the community kitchen, or wants to donate or volunteer can contact: shelbournecommunitykitchen@gmail.com or shelbournecommunitykitchen.wordpress.com.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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