There is no doubt food culture has become a global phenomenon.
The term “foodie” is ingrained in popular culture as a way of describing aficionados of good food, whether they are partaking in restaurants or creating it themselves. Thanks to television and other media platforms, top chefs have become international celebrities. It seems you cannot host a dinner party without showing off your collection of artisanal sea salt.
The rise of foodie culture has not come with a corresponding decrease in the prevalence of hunger. Estimates vary, but in Canada, there are as many as four million people who do not get enough to eat each day. In a country of such tremendous wealth and opportunity, where folks worship at the altars of foodie culture, too many have been left behind.
That’s what makes movements such as Restaurants for Change so powerful. Marshalling the allure of foodie culture, top chefs from across Canada pick one day each year and donate all the proceeds from their restaurants to support Community Food Centres Canada, a national group supporting 90 individual organizations that promote food equity and access.
This year, Restaurants for Change takes place on Wednesday, with some 65 restaurants in 16 Canadian cities participating.
In Winnipeg, there are nine restaurants taking part, including some of the city’s most accomplished chefs, such as Scott Bagshaw of Enoteca and Mandel Hitzer of Deer + Almond.
Lila Knox, director of the NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre, says the marriage between top chefs and the food-security debate is key because food is such a focal point for family and community. The centre’s mandate is to not only help those who do not have enough food, but also educate people about gardening, cooking and eating healthier.
Although food banks can be part of the centre’s services, NorWest does more by trying to serve healthy meals every day.
“We are all about food well prepared and served to people in a dignified fashion,” says Knox. “Ours is a longer-term vision for the hunger debate. We’re looking at all aspects of the problem, and trying to educate people on nutrition and specifically how it relates to chronic disease.”
The Winnipeg effort was co-ordinated by chef Ben Kramer, one of the city’s highest-profile chefs and a participant in notable culinary events such as Raw: Almond, Table for 1200 and the Sunday Brunch Collective. Kramer says he spends much of his time in downtown Winnipeg cooking for special events, and he is always reminded of the disparity between the patrons lucky enough to enjoy his elaborate meals and the people who struggle to get one healthy meal each day.
Kramer says he and other successful chefs feel an obligation to not only support hungry people, but spread the word. On Wednesday, Kramer will host a five-course dinner for $65 at Kitchen Sync culinary events centre on Donald Street. (Tickets available at chefbenkramer.com) “I think the restaurant industry can really focus attention on a problem that, honestly, we should have done more to address,” Kramer says.
Nationally, Restaurants for Change has become a vibrant movement that has not only raised significant financial support for the network of food centres — last year’s campaign raised more than $200,000 — but also heightened the profile of Canada’s hunger and poverty debate.
Danielle Goldfinger, fundraising and events manager for Community Food Centres Canada, says the organization wants to be part of a public-policy debate on addressing the root cause of hunger, not just hand out baskets of food.
“We really want to utilize the chefs’ influence to generate a discussion about food equity and access,” she says.
Read more by Dan Lett.
Winnipeg restaurants participating in Restaurants for Change:
Chef Ben Kramer pop-up at Kitchen Sync (tickets available at chefbenkramer.com)
Promenade Café and Wine
Segovia Tapas Bar
The Merchant Kitchen
The Mitchell Block