Food: A Taste of Home

by Doris Bercarich

Doris Bercarich was the Kitchen & Cooking Coordinator for Field to Table, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to working with communities to improve access to healthy and affordable food. She works as a chef, leads the Toronto Kitchen Incubator and teaches classes in healthy, seasonal cooking and community kitchen start-ups.

Even if you like to cook, you probably wouldn’t want to get on a bus to go somewhere else to make lunch. So, why are so many Latin American women doing just that?

“As newcomers to Canada, many women feel lonely and isolated,” says Sandra Godoy. “Back home, they had large families and lots of friends. Then, they come to Canada and have no language, no friends, no job. In the kitchen we laugh, we focus on healthy eating, we just listen.”

Sandra is a Health Educator with the Parkdale Community Health Centre. She started the Latin American Community Kitchen and, after ten years, she still enjoys getting together with the women and their young children once or twice a month to prepare quick and healthy meals. Since many family recipes are high in fat, Sandra shows the women how little changes can make a big difference. She also teaches them new recipes using low-cost, nutritious foods so they can eat well on very little money. Tuna has become a popular addition to many homes.

Comedores Populares, or Community Kitchens, are springing up all over Canada. A community kitchen can be any kitchen where a group of people choose to get together to prepare a meal. Most bring together anywhere from five to ten women who share a heritage and a desire to do well in their new home. They provide a place to practice English, learn new cooking skills and, most importantly, make new friends to share their experiences and troubles.

Talk tends to come easily in a kitchen. “We discuss so many issues. When the women are cooking, we sometimes don’t know if they’re crying because of their problems or the onions,” laughs Sandra. The kitchen gives Sandra a chance to meet the women and get to know them. Then, she can help each of them individually, with whatever problems they have; immigration, jobs, life skills, just to name a few. Mostly though, it’s about becoming part of the community. Sandra has been so successful at community building with these women that many have chosen to take on additional activities. Christmas craft sales and informal catering services are just a few of the things organized by the group.

Sometimes, the friendships and community created are bound by something other than heritage. In the case of Kate Sigurdson, a diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer brought her to a community kitchen. “I get the benefit of being with others who have a similar experience. We want to nurture our health – our bodies and our souls – because we know this will help us live longer, happier lives.” Their group meets once a month and they often have guest chefs come in to cook something new with the group.

Setting up a new kitchen isn’t easy. It took Sandra many months to get everything set up. A lot of questions need to be answered. Where do we find a kitchen? How much will it cost? What do we cook? The first step is to find a kitchen that meets your needs. Churches often have kitchens in their basements that can be rented for very small fees. Community centers usually have them too. They may have all the pots and pans you need to get started but, if not, posters can be put up in your area to ask for donations. The remaining odds and ends can be purchased quite cheaply at garage sales, flea markets and dollar stores.

Once you have the kitchen, you need the cooks. It’s a good idea to be sure you all share the same ideas about the food you want to cook. Some people may want to learn to cook Canadian food, while others want to hold on to their roots. Some may want vegetarian, while others eat meat. If you don’t sort this out before you start, you may find yourself spending more time arguing than cooking. Use your first session together to sort all this out, pick a meal you want to prepare next time, and don’t forget to decide who will buy the groceries and how they will be paid for.

It is a lot of work. This is why most kitchens get together only once or twice a month. Any more often, and the work becomes too much to handle. The most successful kitchens, like Sandra’s and Kate’s, usually have someone called a facilitator. They dedicate themselves to organizing all the details. Sandra does this as part of her job at the Parkdale Community Health Centre. Cynthia Feldman has this role in Kate’s kitchen. The group pays her a small amount for her efforts but it’s the results, not the money, which makes it worthwhile.

Perhaps the benefits of a community kitchen is best summed up by Kate when she says, “Being shoulder to shoulder, preparing food together is an ancient bonding ritual that women have taken part in together for centuries. It’s very comforting, it’s soothing, relaxed and a lovely way to spend an evening together”.

Community Kitchen Information

Latin American Community Kitchen
For more information or to be put on their waiting list, please contact:
Sandra Godoy, c/o Parkdale Community Health Centre, 1229 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M6K 1L2, 416-537-2455

Toronto Community Kitchens
To find an existing community kitchen in Toronto or to find out about community gardens, free meal programs or food banks please call:
Rene Biberstein, 416-392-6655
or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Starting Your Own Community Kitchen
For information about starting your own
community kitchen in Toronto, please contact:
Doris Bercarich, c/o Foodshare,
200 Eastern Avenue, 416-363-6441 ext. 235
or try www.foodshare.net/kitchen07.htm

For information about starting your own community kitchen in Vancouver:
www.communitykitchens.ca

CNM