Food insecurity is a buzzword issue on campus, popping up in multiple campaign platforms and campus events. But it takes more than discussing an issue to create tangible change, and that is what Food for Thought has done.
A collaboration between the Student Wellness Centre, Mac Bread Bin, the Indigenous Studies program and Mac Farmstand, Food for Thought is an initiative that aims toto equip students with basic cooking skills they can use on a slim student budget. The group operates largely as a series of cooking workshops, currently held at the Fortinos community kitchen in Ainslie Wood.
While they have only run a few events this year, this is not the first time Food for Thought has popped up on campus.
“A few years ago when I was finishing up my degree, I was volunteering with Farmstand and… I started a little salad bar and… served salads to students,” explained Jordan Weisz, the original founder of Food for Thought. “And I found there was overwhelming interest in what I was doing and how. So I started doing [free workshops] through the Ontario Public Interest Research Group.”
Following his graduation, Weisz opened a business in Hamilton and put cooking on the back burner until last summer, when the groups now involved with Food for Thought came together.
Taryn Aarssen, a wellness educator at the SWC, began looking into Food for Thought’s previous efforts. Following a donation from the Mac10 Young Alumni Bursary, she connected with Weisz and Adam Chiaravalle, Mac Farmstand’s education and advocacy coordinator. Chiaravalle met Weisz at a lecture over the summer and was inspired by his stories of the original Food for Thought program.
“The funding was to expand our nutrition-related programming at the Student Wellness Centre in general,” Aarssen explained. “We offer Free Fruit Fridays, and that’s removing one barrier but there’s a lot more impact from offering food and cooking skills.”
Shortly afterwards, they connected with Taylor Mertens, who heads Mac Bread Bin’s community kitchen initiative.
“We’re all trying to put this together in our own separate areas based on the specific needs of those areas… Mac Bread Bin, Mac Farmstand and the Student Wellness Centre might have different goals but this kind of program meets all those goals and feeds the needs of all students,” Aarssen said.
Despite each member’s different goals, each wants to see students gain essential cooking and nutrition skills from Food for Thought’s programming.
“It’s really about technique and it’s about breaking down certain barriers that are preventing students from cooking for themselves, shopping for themselves,” said Weisz, who now leads the cooking workshops.
“Giving students [cooking] skills is really a life skill,” Chiaravalle added.
To ensure the workshops are built around teaching students how to make nutritious meals, the program consults with the registered dietician on campus.
Weisz, Aarssen, Mertens and Chiaravalle are all passionate about food, but their inspirations take different forms.
For Weisz, the nutritional element of home-cooking was one of his reasons for starting Food for Thought during his undergraduate.
“In first year I gained about 15 pounds eating on campus,” he explained. “And then you learn to cook and it really opens doors to relationships, community, the local agriculture.”
Aarssen, on the other hand, was inspired when she learned how to make her own soup.
“I look at my childhood and the reliance on Campbell’s soup and how that can be created very deliciously and with a few simple ingredients,” she said.
“It’s really about technique and it’s about breaking down certain barriers that are preventing students from cooking for themselves, shopping for themselves.”
Food for Thought
Mertens explained that he loved learning how to experiment with spices while making chicken fajitas for the first time, while Chiaravalle’s experience with food began with his first vegetable garden in Grade 8.
Enthusiasm only takes an initiative so far though. Like many other campus groups, Food for Thought has run into the common problem of space, or lack thereof.
“You’d be surprised how challenging it is to find a kitchen [because] technically it has to be a professional or commercial kitchen that will allow you to come in,” Weisz said.
While most workshops take place at Fortinos, Mertens cited the chili demonstration pop-up in the SWELL as a great example of how the group works with what they are given.
“It was intimate… everyone [still] had a turn… we make do with what we can and that’s all we can do, really,” he said.
“I think that’s an over-arching theme of what we’re trying to do,” said Weisz. “The point of this is to teach students to cook, but we also take into consideration the time and budget constraints that students are on… [and also] teaching people to make do with what’s around them.”
Food for Thought announces their workshops through their Facebook page, and will continue to connect people through food.