OUR FIRST CHALLENGE WAS TO SUPPORT STUDENTS THROUGH HEALTHY FOOD PROGRAMMING DURING THE FIRST YEAR OF THE PANDEMIC.
What We've Done in Year 1
This year required that we find new ways to listen to students and to support them. We built a virtual space, facilitated access to food, and developed programming that guided students to create nourishing meals. Between December and March, over 250 students engaged in our programs using ingredients accessed through grocery gift cards or free local food boxes. We learned that even when it occurs in a virtual space, healthy food programming can make it easy for students to develop food literacy and participate in a community and a culture of care.
Joshna is a chef, author & activist who cares a lot about people’s relationship with food. She works to rebuild food systems in public institutions putting hospitality and sustainability as a top priority.
Favourite Kitchen Tool/Gadget:
My well-seasoned cast iron pan!
Seneca College Newnham Residence
Residence offers the opportunity to be a part of a welcoming community that embraces the unique experience of our students and fosters a culture of inclusivity. This is achieved through programming focused on wellness, academics, diversity, citizenship, and interpersonal development.
Humber College Residence
Living in Residence is a living and learning experience. It’s where new adventures are shared, lifelong relationships are formed, and big ideas are born.
The George Residence
In addition to developing life skills and becoming involved in campus life, students also have the opportunity to contribute to a unique and diverse community. The George houses students from across the globe, resulting in a truly unique setting, rich with different cultures, languages and stories.
100km Foods (Food Supplier)
100km Foods fosters genuine, authentic relationships between you and the 100+ Ontario farmers and producers in our network who grow your food. We source-identify every product that we sell by the farm that grew it or the producer who made it so you always know where your food is coming from.
Student-led IG Live Cooking Sessions
Epsiodes of Ask Joshna
Virtual Workshops & Cook Alongs
Take a look at our Year 1 events and workshops that helped university and college administrations across Canada support their students through food.
October 2020 – February 2021
23 posts and 10 episodes
The Learn section on the Communal Lunch Project website was built to support students by sharing cooking skills, shopping and kitchen tips, and recipes from Chef Joshna Maharaj and some of our student Project Assistants. “Ask Joshna” began as a weekly series. On Instagram @communallunch, we encouraged students to ask Chef Joshna their food and cooking questions and she created a video to answer their questions each week. Some of their questions would also become the foundation of subsequent Learn section posts.
The lunch hangouts were our initial attempt at transitioning our in-person program to a virtual setting. Project Assistants (PAs) hosted regularly scheduled Zoom meetings that students would sign up for. On the day of the event, students would hang out and discuss topics around campus food culture and eat lunch in the company of others if they felt like it. During one well-attended virtual hangout, a Culinary Arts student asked if anyone minded if he cooked while they chatted. As Aasreen Sood, the PA host for this event, described it, “It was a huge success – “everyone was mesmerized!” This was the seed for the next idea: virtual cook-alongs.
December 2020 – March 2021
We brought together the structured learning from the Ask Joshna series and the casual get-together vibe of the Virtual Lunch Hangout to create a Virtual Cook-along series. We hosted three cook-alongs that were open to any students, as well as two collaborative cook-alongs, one with Ryerson University students and another with Lakehead University students.
February – March 2021
Chef Bashir Munye is passionate about promoting the diverse food that represents Toronto’s multicultural communities, and he advocates for access to good quality food for everyone. These workshops focused on the experience of migration and finding a sense of belonging in food and cooking. Chef Bashir’s workshop built on his Nomadic Comfort Food projects which examine the intersectionality of Local and Diversity. Each event was centered around a cooking demo in his home kitchen, using ingredients which sparked engaging conversations around food and identity.
February – March 2021
For this series of events, we collaborated with three Culinary Arts students, Jose Marianne Proulx, Felipe Gombossy, and Rekha Jeyachandran, from George Brown College who co-hosted live cooking demos with the PAs on Instagram Live. They each let their unique interests and experiences guide the types of dishes they created. But they all had in common a general theme: affordable ways to cook with simple ingredients in ways that reduce waste. Each session was a unique opportunity for students to engage in the Instagram Live chat with other students, ask questions, and share knowledge.
This series was our first partnership with college administrations. We worked with the Residence Life teams at Humber College, Seneca College, and George Brown College to launch a virtual cook-along series that recognizes the constraints that students living in residence face when it comes to cooking for themselves.
It was also our first partnership with a local food supplier. 100km Foods is a local food distributor in Toronto connecting restaurants and consumers with some of the freshest, high-quality ingredients Ontario has to offer. They curated food boxes, which were paid for by the college administrations, so students had access to the ingredients they needed for each cook-along. The residence team members who we worked with said that their students loved cooking a meal in the virtual company of others!
My interest with food prior to joining the Communal Lunch Project stemmed primarily from a love of gardening. Planting a small vegetable patch every summer with family growing up were experiences of bonding that I cherish now. However, it was not until the project that I began to dig deeper into my relationship with food and cooking as a part of my Indian heritage. Shared experiences discussed with other students at cook-alongs has been part of my journey in understanding how food fits in with my cultural identity.
The cook-along sessions provide students with the opportunity to learn from an experienced, well-versed chef who has worked with students for many years and understands what they are looking for. To make a homemade meal does not mean it needs to be complicated and time-consuming. Instead, students can learn the tricks to make the entire process faster, easier, and less stressful. The project serves students in different parts of the country in a way that has not been accomplished until now. A simple homemade dish made by one’s hands can go a long way, mentally and physically, in a student’s life.
— Himani Deshpande, Carleton University '21
The Communal Lunch Project has been able to create spaces for post-secondary students to learn about and to connect through good food because of the contribution and support from the following individuals and organizations this year.
GBC Culinary students who helped build the IG Live “Students Teaching Students” series Jose Marianne Proulx, Felipe Gombossy, and Rekha Jeyachandran
Residence teams at Humber College, Seneca College and George Brown College; and George Brown College Student Life (Toronto)
100km Foods (Toronto)