Chefs are Stepping up to Help Their Communities


Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, more than four million Canadians were living with food insecurity. Since quarantine began, this number has been steadily climbing. Community food organizations are seeing spikes in the number of people walking through the door in need of emergency food support (dining programs and food banks), while also dealing with losses in revenue due to cancelled fundraising events.

Restaurant operators are taking some of the hardest hits in this pandemic, but they’re also some of the most generous, with many simply donating the contents of their fridges to community food organizations. We’ve also seen many kitchens pivot to start making meals for community groups on both large and small scales. Catering kitchens are producing hundreds of meals a day, but even small, local rest-aurants are donating meals to their neighbours or running a simple sandwich takeout operation, just to meet the growing need for food. Other kitchens are sharing their sourdough starter and offering up their now quiet restaurants as pick-up spots for local producers. This is social gastronomy — the practice of using our craft and skills as cooks to support need and create change in our communities.
About two weeks into my own quarantine, I was feeling really restless and saw a chef friend was donating baked goods to a community organization that was delivering fresh food to isolated seniors in apartment buildings. I reached out to offer help and found they needed litres of soup in addition to the baked goods. I knew I had chef colleagues who could be pulled in to help, so I put a call out for soup prep and we’ve been delivering about 35 litres of soup weekly to Building Roots TO for the past six weeks or so. These soups are simple — often vegetable purées — but they’re made with local ingredients and all the loving care that will fit into that litre container. I continue to be so proud and touched by how instantly my chef friends were ready to help and it’s reminded me that chefs need to cook — we need to feed people. And, while our restaurants are down, opportunities such as this are gold.

To swing from a very local, community effort to a much larger, city-wide view, the MLSE team at the Scotiabank Arena have been cranking out about 10,000 meals a day to feed medical staff and support shelters and other community agencies (see full story on p. 47). It has every kitchen onsite running at full capacity and has taken over the court space to portion and pack thousands of meals every day. And they’re cooking from scratch, which is certainly more work than other options, but if ever there was a moment to get good meals into people who really need them, it’s now.
While there’s plenty of innovation and generosity evident in chefs’ responses to support their communities through the pandemic, it feels really important to also say this has been incredibly hard. Watching so many parts of our industry crumble and facing so much uncertainty about our own futures are stressors that are wearing us all down. So, to see my colleagues still ready to offer help when they themselves are struggling has really touched my heart and I know every recipient of soup has received a little taste of that kindness. FH

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