Cooking up a connection

By Emily Macphail

University students are often too busy to cook a simple homemade meal and are unknowledgeable about the food they eat. The Communal Table Project at the University of Calgary, which began this fall, is an initiative to educate students about community and the importance of healthy eating. The project will host monthly cooking sessions where students can cook together.

On October 2, the Communal Table Project’s inaugural meal was held at the Red and White Club. Twenty-five participants cooked a simple meal of salad, tomato sauce and gnocchi under the guidance of U of C communications and culture professor Lisa Stowe and other university staff. The produce for the meal was locally obtained in accordance with the goal of increasing students’ consideration of issues surrounding local food, sustainability and nutrition.

The Communal Table Project is a partnership between multiple university services, including the Students’ Union, the department of communication and culture, the Centre for Community Engaged Learning, the Faith and Spirituality Centre and Residence and Ancillary Services. The Communal Table Project advisory committee, comprised of students, staff and faculty, started meeting in spring 2012 to develop the mandate, which aims to empower students to cook and foster a sense of community.

Faith and Spirituality Centre chaplain Paul Verhoef has been organizing and preparing weekly meals for U of C students for the past eight years. In May 2012, the CCEL and FSC had the idea for a community kitchen. Together with interested members of the university, the group took the idea further.

“After pursuing a few different kitchens [on campus] and being told that they would not be able to work for us, we wondered if we would find a place. We had to reshape our hopes a bit, from a kitchen space that could be used by multiple communities, to a once-a-month communal meal,” said Verhoef. The group was thrilled when RAS agreed to donate the Red and White Club to the project.

Co-owner of Leaf and Lyle 
Urban Farms Rod Olson was in attendance at the dinner and provided some of the ingredients from his farm for the meal. Olson said sharing meals and speaking about locally-grown food is important. 

“There can be a connection in eating together and sharing local food via conversation and accountability. It is easier to buy cheap industrial food when we are students on a budget. To eat together means we help each other commit to a cleaner way of eating, but also makes it possible to buy local food in bulk and save,” said Olson.

Fourth-year communications student Rachel Feddema attended the event and said some of the participants helped harvest the potatoes that were used in the meal.

“It added a really special connection to the meal — something you don’t get when buying food at a supermarket,” said Fedemma. She called cooking the meal together “a really rewarding 

The Communal Table Project has had several supporters, including local food producers and grocery stores that have provided supplies to keep costs down. Attending a dinner is free of charge, however, registration is required.