The Recipe for Change

The ninth annual Recipe for Change event by FoodShare is an all-you-can-eat bonanza that supports chefs around the GTA and provides valuable funds to promote food literacy.

Picture yourself entering a warm building out of the cold February weather. You are immediately intoxicated by an aroma of foods from different cultures, from a bubbling curry to a hearty stew. Flourishes of green brighten and liven up the venue. Everywhere you look you can see a multitude of chefs making their own special dishes. The cacophony of people chattering about the food, sharing their delights and happiness, has an infectious air. You pick up your own plate and cutlery and make your way around the location, tasting, sampling and enjoying all of the delectable food that is being offered. And yes, you can have seconds. You can have thirds. You can have as much as you possibly want. This is the Recipe for Change event.

FoodShare, a non-profit organization based in Toronto that works with various communities to support increased access to high-quality healthy and fresh food, hosts the Recipe for Change event every year as a way of raising funds for its programs.

The event started nine years ago from the passion of many wonderful chefs working with FoodShare. It allows for “the opportunity to deepen the impact of the work we do connecting children and youth to hands-on food literacy programming — cooking, growing and tasting,” says Paul M. Taylor, executive director of FoodShare.

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Taylor has been a guiding force in the food security conversation for several years. A champion of social justice, Taylor fights for food to be a fundamental human right.

Mary Luz Mejia, a woman who lives, breathes and certainly eats food, curates the event. With careful consideration through several months of planning, Mejia puts together a host of chefs, micro-entrepreneurs and local breweries and wineries, all from the GTA, for this one special night.

Since becoming curator five years ago Mejia has turned the event into a veritable cornucopia of cultural delights, featuring food from chefs who represent a host of international flavours. “We’ve got people from all over the world. People from every background and stripe participating from Thailand, Mexico, Italy, Canadians and beyond who are making this special [by bringing] flavours from their corner of the world to Toronto in a very celebratory, exciting and delicious way,” Mejia says.

While the show supports food literacy and FoodShare, it also gives a platform for many chefs, specifically women and people of colour, who would not normally be asked to cook for an event like this. In this way, the event becomes a celebration of where we live. Mejia says, “We’re in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, so why not celebrate that and make that a real point of empowerment for the people that come and dine with us?”

As part of FoodShare’s pillar of inclusivity, this is the only event that caters to everyone, no matter their dietary restrictions or choices. Whether you are an omnivore, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, pescetarian, the list goes on, Recipe for Change is one of the few events where people of varied diets can attend and actually feel full. “It’s a lot of fun for Toronto to see itself reflected in its food, and to feel like, ‘this is for me,’” Mejia says.

As part of that reflection, the show itself is not flashy. In fact, it is the exact opposite of that. Even with big-name chefs like Luis Valenzuela, John Higgins, Nuit Regular, Hooked’s Kristin Donovan and more, Recipe for Change is not a stuffy, pompous show. It’s all about comfort, collaboration and enjoying great food together.

Mejia is a food and travel journalist with several years of experience in food TV production and direction and a plethora of catered events under her belt.

All of the funds from the event, including a silent auction that takes place during it, are given to FoodShare to help improve food literacy across Toronto and the GTA. Last year, the funds accrued were enough to hire a coordinator who could then go into a school and teach the students about the importance of healthy eating.

“Food literacy is having an awareness of the impact that our individual and collective food choices have on the environment, our health and our communities,” says Taylor. “For FoodShare, one of the ways in which we inspire food literacy is through creating opportunities for people to (re)connect with the process of growing, harvesting and cooking food.”

FoodShare helps develop community-led markets to allow people a chance of getting healthy, organic vegetables, as well as initiatives like the Good Food Box and Mobile Market, which aim to serve larger communities. In 2016 alone, FoodShare distributed over “2.2 million pounds of produce throughout Toronto through their various programs, as well as providing training to 8,697 individuals and [supporting] 1,261 community-led food initiatives,” says Taylor.

Speaking to the power of food, Mejia says, “to people, [food] is as basic as water or air. It has the power to unite us. It’s that one common element we all have no matter where you are from. No matter how rich or poor you are you can relate to food. It’s what we use to celebrate with and it’s what we use to grieve over. It is a powerful tool that can unite and break down barriers.”

Taylor adds, “Food has the unbelievable ability to bring people together. For cultures across the world food is a significant part of celebration. We can use it to share stories, build community and to have conversations about inequities in our society and the food system itself.”

The importance of food literacy and healthy eating cannot be overstated. FoodShare is an important organization fighting the food fight for a better, healthier Toronto and more, and events like Recipe for Change give us an opportunity to support the organization while enjoying some of the delicious, amazing food it wants people to know about. Recipe for Change takes place on Feb. 22.

photos courtesy of foodshare

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Brandon Harripersaud

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