In preparation for the launch of this year’s Joy of Feeding, Meeru Dhalwala of Vij’s Restaurant was kind enough to let us pick her brain about her vision in organizing last year’s inaugural fundraiser for the UBC Farm. She also gives us the lowdown on what attendees can look forward to at this year’s Joy of Feeding on Sunday, June 10th, 2012. Tickets go on sale Tuesday, May 1st!
What is Joy of Feeding, and where did your inspiration come from to organize it?
Joy of Feeding is an international food fair that celebrates the importance of (happily) carrying on the cooking traditions of all cultures within our increasingly mixed culture society in North America. Joy of Feeding takes this celebration and, rather than just showcasing the foods from various heritages, encourages people of all backgrounds to cook foods from all backgrounds. Much in the same way that inter-racial relationships are on the rise, Joy of Feeding encourages inter-racial home cooking.
I had the idea for Joy of Feeding in the middle of the night in November 2010. I was involved in many events related to local food and farming but felt frustrated that increasingly I was seeing the same basic group of people at each event. We weren’t tapping into a larger community. It clicked in my head that there was a disconnect between intellectually talking about local food and emotionally cooking with it. People are eating out more and more, watching more cooking shows on TV and NOT actually cooking at home. I knew that many immigrant families still cooked at home on a regular basis and I knew that Vancouverites as a whole enjoy many ethnic cuisines. So I decided to hold an event that connected those who wished to cook and loved to eat various types of cuisines to those who actually did cook. I wanted to hold this in a farm setting where sustainably farmed food is grown to make an emotional, triangular connection between whole foods, cultures and cooking. Unless we know what to do with local, unprocessed foods, we will never be able to support and appreciate local farming in any large scale, meaningful way.
I’m curious to hear more about your thoughts on the connection between the importance of home cooking, family and food system sustainability.
With regard to family and health, the actual term “Joy of Feeding” comes from the belief that, while cooking is work, it is important work. Joy doesn’t necessarily have to come from the actual cooking, but it does come from feeding family and friends. The most affordable and healthy way to enjoy local and organic produce is to cook it at home. Feeding your family a home cooked, healthy meal and gathering in one place to eat together is the best way to nourish your loved ones bodies and emotional well being. When a person takes the time to cook an actual meal, then that person wishes for everyone to gather around the meal, rather than gather around the TV. Or, today people tend not even to gather but to separate and eat alone at one’s computers. This isn’t healthy at many levels, and we, as one big umbrella culture, can’t allow this to overtake our family lives.
What were some of your favourite moments from this past year’s event?
My best highlight from the 2011 Joy of Feeding was the look of pride and happiness on all the faces of the participant moms and their families who were helping them serve hundreds of guests. The moms’ families and friends had gathered around them. In particular, Peggy August, our participant representing the Ahousat First Nation, called me over to tell me, with a big smile, that she had one of the longest lines throughout the afternoon. She was so pleased at the popularity of a simple salmon cake recipe that she often made for her children as a working, single mom. Joy of Feeding is NOT about fancy, complicated, five-star meals. It’s about our family comfort foods. And Peggy chose to share the comfort recipe that she inherited from her parents and gave to her children.
What would you like people to know about this year’s Joy of Feeding?
Cooks are men and women. Most importantly, I decided to take the connection of food and emotions of “breaking bread together” to another level. We have been hearing about Egypt, Syria, Pakistan and Mexico quite a bit in the news. So much so that we hear big stories and then forget about them. If we actually meet someone from these countries and have this person welcome us and give us tastes of their foods, the next time we hear about events in these countries, we will feel a more personal connection. What we do with this connection is own to decide. But at a minimum, it is a new and deeper connection.
But I don’t mean to say that the four countries above are more important than the 12 other heritages that will be part of 2012 Joy of Feeding. The 12 other participants have their own, proud heritage, and people can connect at many different levels to all 16 heritages – from the international news, to “Oh, I didn’t know that!” to past or future vacation, to meeting a person in the future from that country and being able to start a conversation about food.
What cultural dishes will cooks at this year’s event be sharing?
The heritages this year are: Mexico, Chile, Maya (Guatemala), Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Sweden, UK, Vancouver, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Goa (India), Hakka Chinese from Tanzania, Vietnam, Tsimshian Nation (Prince George) and Southern Italy. Many of these cultures are underrepresented in the Vancouver food scene, which makes the event even more delicious and unique.
This year’s Joy of Feeding is on Sunday, June 10th, 2012. We look forward to having you join us!