Yeah, I'm cheating
. I will not
go out and increase someone's food security around me today. It's raining outside and all. Instead, I will tell you about something I've done in the past, and try to convince you that I'm still increasing someone's food security still today. Please don't tell Alchemy! I'll do better on a sunnier day, I promise :)Background story
After experimenting collective buying groups and observing collective cooking groups in Canada and Peru
, I had the will to act and joined a collective cooking group in my "hometown", in a small archipelago East of Canada
. At that time, I was living in my car and storing some food in my cousin's fridge. It was really hard to share with her family, especially since I ate weird foods, such as fruit salads and stuff with curry on it. Too much for the traditional food over there.
I then moved to Rimouski
and started a college degree over there. But I was getting addicted to collective cooking so I looked for groups over there. Two NGO's were organizing some: the women's house and the local food bank. Both were meant for jobless people and were held during the day. I thought... "whaddaheck?", how comes as a pennyless student I can't benefit from a collective cooking activity ? What if people would be in contact with such a great practice earlier in their lives, when they learn to secure their food and feed themselves properly?Collective cooking as a mean of increasing food security
What is collective cooking anyway? Well it's a small group of people gathering together to plan a cooking session and perform it
, sharing the organizational needs, the costs and the work together.
Now why would one wanna do that? Well it's usually cheaper
than cooking alone. It's fun
- you meet people from various backgrounds. It's an opportunity to learn
- other people have cooking skills that you don't have. Ultimately, it's time-saving
because you cook a lot at the same time and can freeze a lot of food. Plus, it's healthy
- the group usually makes better eating choices than a single person would. It's finally an opportunity to broaden your perspectives
on food by trying new recipes or new food regimes.
In the developed world, most of issues with food security are related to poor food management, to a lack of family education. Malnutrition leads to obesity and is linked with further social problems like isolation, mental health issues, poor education, addictions, etc. Any approach to increase food security must take that in account. And while community gardens are part of the solution, it is hard to fit in a school year, to obtain an area to grow stuff on in the city, to care for on a regular basis.
Collective cooking is a smaller commitment, and people's skills and confidence are raised gradually. You're not much of a public speaker ? You can't express yourself easily in a group ? Fine, someone else will lead the meeting - and we'll chat together during the cooking. Next time, it'll be someone else. Some day, it'll be you - so get yourself prepared mentally for it. Don't worry we'll help you. Not very good with numbers? Then don't do the accounting just now. Gimme some help with it next month, and the month after, you'll do it. I'll help you with it. You wanna do a vegetarian recipe? Let's negociate and suit everyone's needs: 5 to 7 people can reach consensus without too much social grooming
. We can all learn to communicate better, negotiate, agree and live a pleasant experience.My entrepreneur experience
So there wasn't any group to suit my needs. I started to vent my frustration at the volunteer café where I was working and a few people seemed to like the idea. They asked me to organize an info meeting and explain it better, with an example of how it could work, and to collect names and try to make a group. On the first meeting, 25 people showed up and we built 3 groups. I'd be part of the first, a vege-curious one that turned out to be vegan because one of the prospective members was. We were all students, most of us resident at the college residences and so we could use its cooking facilities - a collective kitchen area underused, with 3 stoves for 400+ people.
The residence's director heard about us and offered us a freezer and a small locker where we could keep extras such as salt, oil, flour, spices, etc. So we collectively bought some extras and decided to share them with other cooking groups (there were two other forming - a local folk food men-only group and a light foods weight-losing group, all students). They did the same, and within a few months, we had a pretty good commons running.
People at college started to push me to make an organization out of it and participate in the National entrepreneurship contest. The deadline was two weeks away, so I gathered the most dedicated members and we decided to constitute ourselves in an association with a small coordination group - get common ownership of stuff, plan potential dissolution and how commons would be shared, learn group democracy, provide cooking groups with as much support and autonomy as possible, get a logo, get a team feeling. So we did, and I started to work on writing the application for the contest. CuisiCégep was born.
So we learned from our practice, improved our forms, came up with a little guide for new groups, a training mentorship procedure, organized food-related activity in College such as a sushi conference/workshop, a crab collective dinner, a Valentine's day hunter's chinese fondue speed datin night, an Haloween's pumpkin decoration contest, we build an organizer's toolbox... Where to advertise this, to get permission for that... It was amazing that some people organizing activities were some of the shyest in the group, flowers literally blooming. Again, the residence director asked me to meet him in his office, this time to offer me a job at the college, and to ask our group to consult in the upcoming refurbishing of the collective kitchen area. Because we started revitalizing it, they decided to invest.
Scavengering our paper in the recycling bins, we convinced the college to implement trays to provide an opportunity to reuse printing paper where it was consumed. We co-organized a democracy evening workshop with the student union, and got in touch with a few grassroots networks. When we won the local, entrepreneurship prize, and then the national one, our budget exploded - 2750$ ! We bought industrial pots and pans, lots of reuseable freezing containers, and more basic dried staple foods.
The pictures do say a little bit about the people, but not so much. They do not show that Jerome
, getting the price with me on the right had been kicked out of the residences in the past for an hygiene problem, and that the residency director first refused to let him board his car on our way to the gala. Nor that we had to lend him a shirt and buy him some pants before entering the ballroom. Nor that he's gay, and struggling to adapt the big big world. Nor that he finally got his college degree after 6 years, and now works full-time. Nothing about Jean
that joined the group being completely anti-social - "in order to meet some girls", that could not express himself in a small group and that got suicidal later that year - I can't show you he organized the pumpkin contest.
Nothing about Cathy
who got her first experience in admin that way and got from admiring me to being admired by others. Nothing about Monica
, vegetarian gothic loner who expanded her network with a sports student and a police student doing international cooperation. Nothing about that dietetics student
who got fired twice from his internships for his end-of-degree internship, and that succesfully worked with us in building an hygiene training binder and trained us on food hygiene. Nothing about the group that decided to cook for an elderly house
in exchange of half their food paid. Nothing about the tears, the laughters, the crisis, the friendships, the drama, the learning.3 years later...
I went back to Rimouski recently. About half of the group is still there, still in touch. Not cooking anymore, not students anymore. The organization is of course not what it used to be - it was high maintenance and I hadn't planned to leave so quickly. But what we had planned was that if nobody cared to become a leader for the collective cooking, the college's social worker
could still run it. And she was still running it, with a little 3 groups, with just one meeting instead of two for a cooking session. There were still activities related to food, and people still come to it for various reasons, with their strength, and various needs, and engage in a learning community
there. The college still lends cooking and storage space, and even pays to maintain the commons, so that the money owned by the org goes untouched. There are still people there impacted by what I started there.
If it was to start over, I would probably build it in a more simple way and ensure that people would pursue their commitment - since then, I learnt how to pass things on properly, I wasn't that skilled back then. But I guess it's fine. It's a rainy day today, and, well, you won't tell Alchemy, won't you?