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U of C club raises awareness for food insecurity and multiculturalism on campus

By Cristina Paolozzi, January 28 2022—

While the University of Calgary has extended their deadline to welcome back students for in-person leaning this winter, students are still feeling the brunt of this pandemic, now more than ever. 

With rising concerns regarding food insecurity, U of C club Home Food Community Kitchen is a service-oriented cooking club, which aims to address food insecurity and celebrate multiculturalism. 

Co-Presidents Ye-Jean Park, Sarthak Singh and Ye-Sung Park have led their team to create free meal kits and online cook-alongs to accommodate struggling community members during COVID. 

Ye-Jean, Singh and Ye-Sung spoke with the Gauntlet about why this club has been so important for students as well as some of their upcoming events and volunteer opportunities. 

Both Ye-Jean and Singh are undergraduate students in the Health Sciences program at the U of C, and Ye-Sung is a high school student at Webber Academy. Both Ye-Jean and Ye-Sung said that this club began in connection with their family’s restaurant which serves a variety of Korean, Japanese and Western fusion dishes. Ye-Jean also mentioned that it was through her university courses that she realized the impact that food insecurity had on people’s social determinants for health. 

“Some studies have shown that rates [of food insecurity] have doubled with the pandemic,” she said. “And so inspired by the family that I saw and the lessons we were receiving in terms of social determinants of health, we had decided to found the university’s first service-oriented and food education cooking club.” 

Through support like government funding, connections to charity gardens and through guidance from their own professors in the Health Sciences program, the Home Food Community Kitchen club provides their activities and meal kits free of charge for students and their families.

Executive members of the Home Food Community Kitchen team // courtesy Home Food Community Kitchen.

Home Food Community Kitchen has also partnered with the U of C club Students for Direct Action (SDA) as well as the Leadership and Student Engagement Office on campus to share their knowledge and resources. 

“Obviously the COVID pandemic has strapped people for money and for other things that they wouldn’t normally require,” said Singh. “And I think that puts students in a hard position and one way we were able to actually work through that and create an event was in collaboration with SDA. That event involved packing meals that were available for students to come pick up — having an opportunity like that to even just provide a single meal can be very helpful at times when it’s needed.”

Another one of their main pillars is celebrating multiculturalism with the diverse dishes Home Food Community Kitchen helps others create. 

“I think with the pandemic, especially, it’s become difficult to interact with others just spontaneously on campus and to see others who have those diverse backgrounds in education and also in their cultural stories,” said Ye-Jean. “And so by bringing students together, like with the Leadership and Student Engagement Office, we are trying to promote that social activity and interaction.” 

Ye-Jean mentioned that through their online cooking classes, they usually start the session with a discussion among participants. They’re asked to describe what their favourite food is and a fun fact about their cultural background and a home recipe associated with that culture. 

“Those fun facts and tidbits help to allow for more mutual respect and appreciation of those differences,” she said. 

Something the club is hoping to introduce in the future is a multicultural fair to celebrate these dishes, but the pandemic has halted those plans, too.  

“It’s something we still hope to do,” said Singh. “The food items we’ve done so far have all been very well-received, people are always interested to try a recipe from a different culture. So to consolidate and amalgamate all that for a multicultural fair is something we are hoping to do.” 

Ye-Jean also mentioned that by collaborating with other organizations on campus — both student- and institution-led — it has broadened the outreach that Home Food Community Kitchen has with the campus community. 

“It’s been really nice to have that support,” she said. “We’ve been kind of a fledgling club in that we just started up and it’s been more difficult with the pandemic and having that outreach. By collaborating with these initiatives that already were set in place even before the pandemic, we have a student base to reach out to  — particularly first-year students or residence who might be more at-risk to food insecurity.” 

Home Food Community Kitchen is currently looking to expand their club to junior high and high school students and are also looking at expanding across other university campuses. 

“We want to encourage multiple student populations to get involved in our events,” said Ye-Sung. “Our [online cooking] classes also promote leadership skills and youth being able to self-sustain themselves after they leave their homes to go to university and beyond.”

For more information on upcoming events or how to get involved with Home Food Community Kitchen, check them out on their website, on Facebook and on Instagram, or email them at homefoodcommunitykitchenyyc@gmail.com

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