By Colin McGregor
Food insecurity is a growing phenomenon. With the growing inflation of food prices in supermarkets, many have taken an interest in collective kitchens.
The principle behind the more than 1,200 collective kitchens in Quebec is simple: participants share the cost of food and the work of preparing meals in order to take advantage of cost reductions. An excellent way to regain power over your diet with dignity, mutual aid and kindness.
The movement was born in 1982 in Quebec in the district of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, founded by the Ouellet sisters. The Carrefour familial Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and La Marie-Debout merged to become La Cuisine Collective Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (CCHM), which would become the largest in the province. The project snowballed. In 1990, with more than a hundred collective kitchen groups, the Regroupement des cuisines collectives du Québec was created.
Benoist de Peyrelongue, Director-General of the CCHM, explains the impact that the pandemic has had on his organization: “It’s nothing new, it’s as if the start of the pandemic had awakened the collective consciousness of food security.”
Benoist sees three “red flags” in our current situation: rising prices; the labor shortage and the underfunding of community organizations. A very bad cocktail, he believes.
How It Works
His organization hosts 40 groups – 20 made up of citizens and 20 of organizational representatives. There are 8 to 12 people per group – who prepare their own meals on site with the help of CCHM staff. Many are in training as caterers or cooks. This learning leads to jobs in the community: “Participants need to be in a real workplace,” says Benoist. Every six months, CCHM trains 41 people and places them at the end of their course in companies and organizations. They are followed for two years after insertion. “If there is a hiccup, we support them again for two years,” he said.
The cooking of the groups is made according to the needs of each person. “Some members of the groups are all alone at home, others have five or six people at home to feed. Some are vegetarians. There is a big debate. We prepare the dishes, then we distribute the cost of the recipe. And everyone leaves with their meals,” adds Benoist.
The average cost of meals ranges from $0.70 to $1.10. A few groups spend up to three or four hours at the CCHM. Some come once a week, others fortnightly, and others once a month. The CCHM is still in a position to be able to provide a few free ingredients each week for each group.
The CCHM has access to quality products, often local products. The CCHM buys in bulk. It also benefits from the charitable generosity of organizations such as Moisson Montréal. It also forms partnerships with producers in order to obtain food. Between donations, wholesalers, members of the community who donate, they are able to manage.
A collective kitchen serves those who are in difficulty, but also anyone who wants to participate. “It’s for everyone,” says Benoist. “It’s a social mix. It is wealth. Everyone comes for different reasons. There are those who suffer from mental health problems, single mothers, students… It becomes a moment that belongs to them, it becomes a sharing. We talk about everything…”
Benoist’s CCHM is overflowing with new projects, such as a rooftop vegetable garden. This makes it possible to produce vegetables, and which makes it possible to accommodate students, pre-employability groups, mental health groups. This creates opportunities for children to learn cooking and gardening, as well as having a small store where families can get food at a good price, or for free.
Roof gardens and soups can be found elsewhere in the metropolis, as well as the management of a cafeteria, thanks to donors such as the CSN and the SAQ, who have offered land and other forms of assistance. Today, it has allowed the CCHM to hire five horticulturists during the summer, create catering services, provide seasonal baskets and open an online grocery store to finance their other activities.
24 Tons of Food
“COVID has taught us the place we have in the community,” says Benoist. They closed all their services at the start of the pandemic, but very quickly learned that they are an essential service. They called their staff back to the kitchens, and for two years, they delivered food security to people’s doorsteps all the way to Tétraultville. “We delivered 200,000 meals, 24 tons of food.”
About forty bicycles from Cyclistes Solidaires helped them with the deliveries. During COVID, they weren’t spending more than five minutes at each door, but handing out mini bags “gave people access,” he says. This way they could determine if there was a medical need, a case of domestic violence, etc.
“My dream,” says Benoist, “is that kids from neighborhood schools can eat neighborhood vegetables.”
Collective kitchens are defined as “a privileged environment for popular education.”
The shared values are: solidarity; democracy; equity; social justice; autonomy; management; respect for the person; dignity…
The collective kitchens of Quebec are doing their best to help Quebecers in our common era of inflation.