Food for Thought: Highlights from the West End Food Festival

The West End Food Festival recently marked an important milestone on Vancouver’s community calendar. Over four days in early October, this inaugural event celebrated and explored sustainable food culture in the West End. And at its heart was the partnership developed between Gordon Neighbourhood House (GNH) and the West End Neighbourhood Food Network.

The Festival kicked off on Friday, October 4th at dinnertime, as an enthusiastic crowd gathered in the park in front of Gordon Neighbourhood House. The area quickly buzzed with activity. Amidst the display tables and Judy Kenzie’s colourful Strathcona 1890 Truck Farm (a pick-up truck with a mini vegetable garden flourishing in its back!), friends and neighbours mingled while passersby stopped to chat. Everyone eagerly lined up to try the mouth-watering treats generously contributed by local food vendors.

Food samples included savoury pulled-pork pretzels from Shamrock Alley; creamy squash curry from Whole Foods; and tasty appetizers from Seventeen89. Visitors could also check out displays from Strathcona 1890 Urban Seed Collection and Costco. And in the background, Drew Sexsmith’s blend of folksy mandolin warmed the crowd.

With the goal of building awareness about local food issues, a rich variety of activities continued throughout the weekend. Head chef and food security coordinator at GNH, Andrew Christie, spoke passionately about the success of Saturday’s Community Kitchen event:

“We had a fantastic turn-out of diverse participants from our community, ranging in age from their 20s to 70s. About half didn’t speak English. At times the kitchen was a tight squeeze but it was all a huge success.”

It was truly a highlight when these community cooks sat down together to share the delicious meal they had learned to cook from scratch: nutritious vegetarian and meat-based chili and home-made corn bread. And as planned, they had also made enough to serve the public later that day at the Tin Pan Chef Competition.

On Saturday night, the community room at GNH steamed and sizzled in friendly competition. Over 40 attendees dropped by to watch the Tin Pan Chef cook-off between two community teams, made up of chefs Dixie Pidgeon and Monica Ghosh, and their assistants Devon Gregoire and Ewa Gersin. Their challenge was to create an appealing and tasty meal in just one hour from the unknown contents of a sealed box donated by the Vancouver Food Bank.

It was humbling to watch what came out of the Food Bank box; and what these talented teams created. As the minutes ticked off, excitement mounted while the chefs sweated and coped with the unexpected (including a brief power outage for one team!). Finally, community volunteers on the judging panel had their own challenge of declaring a winner. It was almost too close to call as both teams cooked up amazing creations that included tuna burgers, vegetable soup, coleslaw, veggie cakes, latkes and fritters.

Events continued through Sunday, October 6th and included a Community Potluck. On Monday evening, the Festival wrapped up with an insightful Community Panel Discussion on Food Insecurity. Speakers on the diverse panel included Dr. Graham Riches, Professor Emeritus of UBC School of Social Work; Jean Swanson, author and social justice activist; Pardeep Khrod, Marketing Manager of Quest food exchange; Fraser Stuart, welfare recipient; and Jennifer Allan, founder of Jen’s Kitchen.

With the importance of community and food issues high on his list of priorities, Gordon Neighbourhood House’s Executive Director, Paul Taylor, neatly summarized the Festival’s concluding event:

“Gordon Neighbourhood House is pleased to bring our friends and neighbours in the community together to participate in discussions around barriers to accessing food and nutritional vulnerability. The evening’s discussion also focused on the roles individuals, groups/organizations and the government can play in challenging food insecurity.”

Reflecting on the success of the first annual West End Food Festival, community members can celebrate knowing how much was achieved in just a short time. The Festival was a great opportunity for fostering broader neighbourhood participation and dialogue on important food security and sustainability issues.  It’s inspiring to know that here in the West End, by working together, those community discussions are already starting to happen.

Written by Anita Miettunen 

Tin Pan Chef participants Monica Ghosh and Dixie Pidgeon are all smiles after an hour of hard work.

Photos courtesy of Florence Hwang 

West End Food Festival – Building Community Through Food

With colder weather approaching, access to fresh and healthy food will be an increasing concern for many of our neighbours. In order to raise awareness around the importance of food on the social fabric of our community, Gordon Neighbourhood House and the West End Neighbourhood Food Network have teamed up to present Vancouver’s inaugural West End Food Festival.

This four-day event runs from October 4th to 7th and will feature food samples from local vendors and restaurants, a potluck dinner, a competition to create nutritious meals from Food Bank offerings, as well as other events and activities. The events will take place either at Gordon Neighbourhood House or local venues.

While many Canadians consider food a necessity and a right, the ability to afford and obtain nutritious and sufficient food is not equally available to everyone. Many of society’s most vulnerable—including our children and elders—don’t get enough to eat and suffer from poor nutrition. Although many are looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving on October 14th, for others it is just another day of scrounging for a way to fill their stomachs.

Monday’s concluding discussion, “Is Food a Right? A Panel on Issues Around Access to Food,” will feature a cross-section of varying perspectives on food security. The panel will include Dr. Graham Riches, Professor Emeritus of UBC School of Social Work; Jean Swanson, author and social justice activist; Pardeep Khrod, Marketing Manager of Quest food exchange; Fraser Stuart, welfare recipient; and Jennifer Allan, founder of Jen’s Kitchen.

Gordon Neighbourhood house is committed to sharing foods that reflect the diversity of our community, city, country, and world and believes that food brings us together and can act as a vehicle for community-building. Read more about our food philosophy at

For more information please visit the festival Facebook event page at and follow Gordon Neighbourhood House on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates.


Contact: Paul Taylor, Executive Director,
Gordon Neighbourhood House
604-683-2554, ext. 202
1019 Broughton Street (at Nelson)

Hungry for a Welfare Raise

Raise the Rates is inviting the people of British Columbia to spend a week living only on the food they can buy for $26. This is the amount of money a single, able-bodied person on welfare has for food.

Victoria Bull acknowledged that we were on Coast Salish Territory. She explained how, as grandmother on disability raising her granddaughter, “it is always hard to manage; there is no extra money so that the slightest emergency becomes a disaster. Schools are forced to run meal programs so that the kids have enough food to be able to learn. This is a cost of poverty that our children and our schools pay.”

“Last year I took the Welfare Food Challenge and ran out of food”, said Paul Taylor, the ED of Gordon Neighbourhood House, as he welcomed everyone to the announcement of this year’s Challenge. “Charity is needed now as people are hungry, but what we really need is systematic change so that people have enough healthy food. It is fitting that the Challenge starts on October 16th, which is World Food Day.”

“I have researched poverty and the inadequacies of welfare; I have advocated for better welfare rates but I have never lived on welfare. So this one week of eating on $26 will shine a light on the reality,” stated Seth Klein, Director of Centre for Policy Alternatives BC. He pointed out that “there hasn’t been a raise since 2007, so people on welfare have suffered a 10% cut in their living standards. The increases in Hydro charges will add to fuel poverty.”

“I live on $610 a month and it is impossible. The money runs out in less than 2 weeks. Even prices in the Dollar Store are now $1.25, so they have gone up,” stated Fraser Stuart a community activist. “There are 4 months a year that have 5 weeks between payments which are even worse. The system is insanity. We are forced to spend hours looking for free food and standing in line-ups, just to survive.”

Sarah Carten, a dietitian, stated, “I know many people grow up facing hunger; I was fortune not to. I know one week is not the same as for many months or years, but already I am worrying about how will I survive. I am thinking of everything that I will go with out. I hope it will help me and other people to better understand the shame that in BC so many people live with food scarcity.”

“Both my daughter and I have special dietary needs and being on welfare we are not always able to get what we need which makes us ill,” said Colleen Boudreau, a single mother on disability. “In Alberta a person on disability gets $1,588, which is nearly twice the $910 we get in BC. Even my daughter knows no one can eat on $26 a week. I’m appalled that the government doesn’t know that.”

“I love food and I’m aware how hard this will be. I know I will lack energy and focus to do what I need to do,” stated Sam Mickelson, who works at Gordon Neighbourhood House. “This is only for one week; many people have to live week after week with a lack of food and no choice about what they eat. There is a huge social injustice in forcing people to live like this.”

Laura Hill, on the board of Gordon House explained that “When I told people about this they were shocked that welfare rates are so low. Most people do not know that welfare is only $610 a month. When they find out, they are disgusted that this exists in such a rich province. Welfare rates are totally out of touch with the reality of what it cost to live.”

“We know that most people in BC want an end to poverty and real increase in welfare. In an opinion poll 75% said that welfare should be raised to cover the real cost of food and shelter,” said Bill Hopwood of Raise the Rates. “BC can afford to end poverty. We can give $3 billion a year to the rich in tax cuts or to build a new bridge; about what it would cost to end poverty. But there is not the political will to tackle poverty which harms many people’s lives and actually costs the people of BC at least $4 billion a year not to fix it.”

At least 11% of the population, and over 15% of children, in BC are food insecure. (Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2011)

Contact Raise the Rates:
• Bill Hopwood: 604 738-1653, 778 686-5293 (cell)
• Websites:;;
• Facebook:

Where Welfare Money Goes
The BC government provides $610 a month in welfare to an able bodied single person who has to prove they are looking for work.
Total Welfare 610
Rent (Realistic cost of an SRO) – 425 = 185
Damage deposit – 20 = 165
Book of 10 bus tickets (Need to look for work) – 21 = 144
Cheap Cell phone (Need to look for work) – 25 = 119
Personal hygiene, laundry, etc – 10 = 109
Left for food 109
$109/m * 12 months = $1308 a year
$1308/a year / 365 days = $3.58 a day
$3.58 a day * 7 days = $25.09, rounded up to $26
No money for clothes, a coffee, haircuts, or any social life or treats.