Powerful Ideas From GNH’S First ‘Community Conversation’ on Food

Getting people together to share ideas can be exhilarating and productive, especially when the topic is so central to our lives as food.  That was the topic of a Community Conversation held at Gordon Neighbourhood House on January 14, 2014, which I had the pleasure of co-facilitating along with GNH Community Food Advocate Andrew Christie.  We thank the roughly 40+ neighbours who attended and shared their experiences in trying to access good food and eat in ways that are healthy both for individuals and for community.  Thank you as well to UBC Bachelor of Social Work practicum students Emily Melzer, Fibby Pan, and Markayla Benstead, who helped record participants’ ideas.

And there were a lot of ideas on the table.  Reflecting on the experience later, Andrew Christie summarized what he saw as the main themes – and he did this so clearly and articulately that I’m going to quote him directly.


“The first key theme I saw was the idea of affordability of healthy food. A couple of folks mentioned that the concepts of “Healthy” and “Organic” have become conflated, leading to a perception that a healthy diet necessitates paying higher prices for food.  The reverse also seems to hold — that a perception exists that eating products branded “organic” is necessarily a healthy choice.  We spoke briefly about the idea that “conventional” produce has the same nutritional value as its organic counterparts, and the importance of understanding, when shopping for food, that nutritional balance and diversity are more important than the word “Organic” on a label.


“The second key concept I identified was the idea of a “Local” food system.  Local, in the sense that the food participants wanted to consume is grown somewhere near here, but also local in the sense that they don’t want to have to travel a great distance to obtain it, and local in the sense that they want to purchase it from businesses based here in our community, rather than larger companies based in Arkansas or California.


“The third theme was the idea of “Time”–and this is a strong one for me, because I’ve heard this in a number of discussions I’ve been part of, and I think it needs more consideration when we frame policy and projects.

Planning meals, shopping for ingredients, preparing food, and eating food all take time, which is at a great premium for many people.  Coupled with the need for all of these activities to take place in a social context, it creates an impossible task.  Yes, we all can see the health and environmental benefits of preparing meals from scratch ourselves and sharing them with our friends and families, but when exactly can we do that? I know I’m lucky if I get the chance to prepare a meal for a friend once over the course of a week–and that’s not because people are unwilling to let me cook for them. And I don’t have kids, or work long hours, like many people.


“Finally, I want to touch on the idea of skills and education.  The participants in the discussion identified a knowledge and skils gap which prevented folks from accessing healthy food, and though I can see the validity of the argument, I think we need to be very careful not to paint with too broad a brush here.  It’s a common misconception that people who experience poverty do so because they are undereducated, or somehow lack knowledge or skills, and if only we could train people, their problems would be solved.  This runs contrary to the realities many people experience.  Though a skills gap exists with respect to cooking and nutrition, I have trouble correlating that gap with poverty, and believe that this gap affects people regardless of their economic status.”

Thank you, Andrew, for those powerful ideas.   We plan to hold more Community Conversations in the near future, and welcome your comments

A special to the Gordon Neighbourhood House Blog by writer and educator Eleanor Boyle, www.eleanorboyle.com






Seniors Community Planning Table: Spotlight on Housing

Once a month, the Seniors Community Planning Table-West End gathers at Gordon Neighbourhood House (GNH) to exchange information and discuss issues critical to West End seniors. The 2013 sessions wrapped up at a meeting on December 6, which had over 35 attendees representing a cross-section of local residents, and seniors’ services and advocacy groups.

After an overview of fall activities, an open discussion followed on seniors’ priorities for 2014. Sharon Isaak, Seniors Planning Table and Housing Outreach Coordinator, reported on preliminary results from a seniors’ needs assessment survey, which had over 200 responses. Many concerns were highlighted regarding seniors’ housing security in the face of potential economic evictions and displacement of seniors who rent.

The high cost of rent is affecting many West End seniors. Over 68% of seniors rent their homes in this neighbourhood, compared with a citywide average of about 34%. There are increasing worries about seniors being driven out of the West End because of unaffordability. It isn’t hard to image the huge distress such displacement would have on a senior’s health and wellbeing.

Lorraine Copas, Executive Director at BC’s Social Planning and Research Council (SPARC), also spoke about SPARC’s new initiative, the Digital Stories project. In partnership between SPARC BC, GNH, and the West End Seniors Network, with funding support from the United Way, this project’s aim is to gather seniors’ voices on pressing housing matters. According to Lorraine, “Policy makers need to hear these stories.” Statistics are indicating many concerns about seniors housing insecurity. By also hearing seniors’ stories, it’s hoped this data will come alive and raise awareness about the impact on seniors if decision-makers don’t pay attention to what is really important.

When I contacted Lorraine in January for an update, she was eager to remind everyone about the Digital Stories project and its goals: “to create a digital story that helps to draw attention to some of the specific challenges that seniors face in finding and keeping housing that they can afford.”

As Lorraine explained, if you are a senior or know of seniors experiencing housing stress, worrying about paying your rent, or facing the challenges of moving from the West End due to unaffordable rent increases, you are invited to get involved in the Digital Stories project. You can help to raise awareness about the types of housing stress West End seniors are facing. If you want to be part of the Digital Stories project and have a story to share, please let us know.  You can call Lorraine Copas at (604) 718-7736 or send an email lcopas@sparc.bc.ca.  You can also let Sharon Isaak or Ana Maria Bustamente at GNH know that you are interested in participating. You can help us work together to make change happen!

The next Seniors Community Planning Table-West End meeting will be at Gordon Neighbourhood House on Friday, January 31, from 10:00am – 12noon. Please join us!

For more information please contact:

Sharon Isaak, Seniors Planning Table and Housing Outreach Coordinator

Ana Maria Bustamente, GNH Community Developer

Written by Anita Miettunen, GNH Community Journalist/Blogger, with input from Lorraine Copas.




The slogan of our schools is “bring your money”: How about teaching our children to care for others through the power of democracy

My twins started kindergarten last September. By the end of the year, they had taken part in two food bank drives and multiple bake sales to raise money for all sorts of good causes. I am glad that the school is fostering a sense of social responsibility and that my children are thinking about others. However, I am concerned that the only solution they are learning to address issues of poverty and hunger is to donate. The slogan of our schools has become “bring your money.”

Where are the lessons about the structural causes of these societal problems and what our political institutions can do about them?

Almost 1 in 5 children live in poverty in BC, according to the 2013 Child Poverty Report Card released in November by First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. That’s 153,000 children, an increase from last year that puts us back in the number one position with the worst child poverty rate in Canada. Not a great title to hold!

The rate is worse for children under 6, which is especially worrying because of the damaging impact of poverty on children’s early physical, social and cognitive development.

The statistics are dismal but the overwhelming response provides hope. Clearly, people are concerned about child poverty in our province and want to take action to address it. However, just like in our schools, our response is often to donate. In fact, BC is one of the most generous provinces in Canada in terms of giving to charity. And yet, BC’s child poverty rate has been the worst in Canada for nine of the last ten years.

Don’t get me wrong; giving to charity is necessary in this time of great need in order to address the immediate needs of people living in poverty. However, charities can only provide short-term relief that addresses the “downstream” symptoms and we need long-term solutions that go “upstream” to fix the root causes.

Food banks themselves are saying the same thing. In the 2013 HungerCount report, Food Banks Canada highlights that “the root of the need is low income.” Their recommendations look “upstream” and include government commitments to provide affordable housing, education and training, support for low-wage workers and increased “social assistance so that people can build self-sufficiency instead of being trapped in poverty.”

Food banks were, in fact, initially meant to be a temporary measure but they have now been around for over 30 years. They have become such a normal part of society that we never question their role and the extent to which they can address these big issues. We give year after year without wondering why children are still going hungry in BC.

Now the holiday season’s over, perhaps we should start asking that question and look to our government for answers.

When I talk to my children about these issues, I tell them that the government is a group of people that has the power and responsibility to make the “big rules” or “policies” that could really help children in poverty. I tell them that we vote for them to represent our concerns and they are (or should be) always interested in listening and making change for the good of all.

So let’s match our donations with an action. Here’s an idea to take to our provincial government. Most other places in Canada have a poverty reduction plan and they are already saving lives and money. BC needs a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with legislated targets and timelines to really make a difference for families, communities and our province.

The government’s response to poverty continues to be a reliance on the BC Jobs Plan. However, most people in poverty already have a job, and almost 1 in 3 poor children live in families with at least one adult working full-time full-year.

Poverty is a heavy issue and we need everyone to share the weight. Giving to charity is the community stepping up and now we need to ask government to share the weight with us.

We are teaching our children to be charitable givers, and fostering social service from a very young age. Let’s also teach them to be democratic citizens and think about social justice by engaging with their government. At the same time, let’s learn that ourselves.


This is a special to the GNH blog by Trish Garner (Organizer, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition). Gordon Neighbourhood House has endorsed the work of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and supports the call for a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy for British Columbia.  BC remains one of only two Canadian provinces that lack a poverty reduction strategy.



Breaking Bread and Barriers

This January Gordon Neighborhood House (GNH) is set to launch a pilot program for young adults entitled “Consuming Conversations.”  It’s a unique free youth community kitchen with a big helping of political food activism, around the issue of enough food as every Canadian’s right.

Why a separate program for young people?

“Our studies showed that young adults were less likely to access charitable food that was available to them,” says Paul Michael Taylor, Executive Director of GNH.  “We want to provide a mechanism for fostering leadership and building relationships, while addressing the root causes of food insecurity.”

Andrew Christie, community food advocate at GNH, defines food security as “generally, the stage where every individual has the ability to consume a healthy, nutritious, sustaining meal that is culturally appropriate for them at all times.”  Food insecurity is the absence of any of those conditions.  He adds, “The young adult population is at the highest risk of developing food insecurity.”

In the West End, nearly 50 percent of people are between the ages of 20 and 39.  Yet research done by GNH in partnership with students from the University of British Columbia Immigrant Vancouver Ethnographic Field School found that this demographic was not represented in virtually any of the programs in operation over the summer in the West End.

“One of the things that contributes to food insecurity in Canada is that a lot of people just don’t have the knowledge or the skills that they need to prepare healthy food,” says Christie.

In the weekly program, participants will be learning basic cooking skills, led by students from local culinary schools, including how to keep a kitchen sanitary.  In addition to preparing and consuming nutritious meals from scratch, a key component of the program will be focused  mealtime conversation.  “We’ll be talking about ideas of food justice and food access, and identifying some major barriers that participants are facing towards accessing healthy food on a regular basis,” says Christie.  “Then we’ll be looking at what steps we can take to change that.”

GNH recognizes that, in addition to the high cost of rent, which in the West End averages $100 more per month than in the rest of the city,  many young adults are also challenged by student debt, low-wage jobs, and raising young children.  “We need to create safe spaces for people to talk about poverty with their peer group,” says Taylor, “in a respectful and dignified way.”

Meal plans will be decided by the participants, based on their food and recipe preferences, with an awareness of the budgets and time constraints of young adults who may be working, going to school, and raising a family at the same time.  Each week the group will make large enough batches of food so each participant can take some home.

As participants identify their barriers to food security, GNH staff and volunteers will work with them to find tools to surmount those barriers.

“Food is a wonderful means to bring young adults in the West End together to build community” says Taylor. “By creating a mechanism for them to be learning and working together, we’ll be breaking bread and breaking barriers,” he sums up neatly.

The free “Consuming Conversations” program, funded by the Vancouver Foundation, will be launched in January, 2014, with room for up to 12 participants in Gordon House’s kitchen.

Written by Linda Lawson


Activist outside CBC station.

Trashtalk Project Turning to Trash Busting

January 2014

Trashtalk is a project that seeks to engage resident local recycling champions in Multi-unit Residential Buildings (MURBs) to lead food scraps recycling programs in specific condos, apartments and co-ops.

In 2015, Metro Vancouver will ban all organic material from the garbage stream and landfill. That means everyone across all sectors (residential, commercial, institutional) will be required to recycle their organic material rather than throw it in the garbage. The City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan tags Zero Waste as one of its ten primary goals with food scraps recycling a key strategy to meet this goal.

Approximately 40-50% of household waste (by weight) is made up of food scraps.

According to Murray Mollard and Cheryn Wong, Co-Directors of Trashtalk, the biggest challenge in food scraps recycling is persuading individuals to shift their behaviour to separating their organic food scraps out of the garbage stream and into a recycling bin.

“There’s a yuck, smell, fruit fly factor that will make some people reluctant to recycle their food scraps. But our approach at Trashtalk is to identify local resident leaders to teach and mentor their neighbours about why and how to do food scraps recycling through deeper engagement. We know that putting a green tote in the garbage room and handing out a flyer alone isn’t going to move the critical mass needed to make a difference.”

“We are working with highly motivated teams of residents who will help their neighbours learn about food scraps recycling and engage with them in a personal way. Impersonal, marketing campaigns from Metro Vancouver and the City of Vancouver will not be enough to shift residents’ behaviour. Just look at the level of blue tote recycling in MURBs.”

Currently, approximately only 15% of glass, paper, metal and plastics are being recycled in condos, apartments and co-ops.

Trashtalk is a partnership between Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, Gordon Neighbourhood House and the Recycling Council of British Columbia with funding from the Greenest City Fund, Vancity and TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.

For more information on the Trashtalk project, visit:  vancouvertrashtalk.wordpress.com  or email: trashtalk@telus.net



The Neighbourhood Brunch: A Delicious Fundraiser!

The idea for a neighbourhood-style brunch as a fundraising event for Gordon Neighbourhood House (GNH) first took hold last summer. In conversations between Paul Taylor, Executive Director at GNH, and Michel Nadeau, co-owner, along with Tod Berezowski, of MN events, Paul asked Michel if he would be interested in helping with a fundraising event. Specifically, there was a need to raise funds to replace the aging GNH school bus.

While Michel’s company had extensive experience organizing late-night men’s events, fundraising for a neighbourhood house was a new concept. However, Michel quickly embraced the idea and suggested organizing a neighbourhood-style brunch. GNH seemed like an ideal venue to test the idea, thanks to its convivial meeting space, kitchen facilities, and dedicated volunteers. As plans were set in motion, there was just one lingering question on everyone’s mind: Would people come?

The answer was clear on Sunday, November 24, when GNH enjoyed a fantastic sold out Neighbourhood Brunch. Hosted by the sparkling Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Alma B. Itches and Tora, this fundraising event had over 60 attendees and was generously supported by over 25 community sponsors and several community volunteers.

Before noon, as diners sipped on refreshing Mimosa cocktails, the talented musicians Javier Rodriguez (vocals) and Mark Petrunia (keyboard) captivated everyone with live performances of “opera through Broadway and beyond.”

Then, at noon, the volunteer chefs and crew, who had been busy cooking a gourmet brunch in the GNH kitchen, were ready. Diners lined up and were served with a mouth-watering medley of frittata, bacon, sausages, hash browns, fresh fruit, and French toast. There was even real maple syrup brought in from Michel’s hometown of St.-Pierre-Baptiste, Quebec.

After enjoying the raffle and door prizes, which were donated by an amazing group of community sponsors, the crowd cheered as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence presented Paul Taylor with a cheque for GNH.

“This event speaks to what a community can do,” Paul said, thanking the Sisters and noting the funds raised would help replace the old GNH school bus. Michel Nadeau was also clearly pleased at the Sunday morning turnout of support for GNH. As he smiled amongst the attendees, he talked about how great it was to gather people together to help out.

As the meal wound down, the brunch goers enjoyed hot beverages with chocolate treats, and then sat back to hear the catchy Broadway tunes sung live by Colin Marcus Jackson. The music was buoyant, as if to celebrate the great success of this new community event.

The Neighbourhood Brunch fundraiser raised a total of $2100 for GNH. Thanks to everyone who provided sponsorship and contributions, volunteered, and attended!


Written by Anita Miettunen

Paul & Sisters


Photos courtesy of Sean Gregor.