By Randy Hyman
I felt and tasted the love in the room at the Neighbourhood Small Grants (NSG) Gathering on May 25, 2018, held at the Polish Friendship ZGODA Society in Vancouver. It was palpable and palatable.
In this reflection I focus on the power of food at NSG events. At this gathering everyone present seemed to have some insatiable desires or hunger for things beyond the delicious meals or snacks we thoroughly enjoy at most NSG events. I chatted with many enthusiastic individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds at this gathering and they were all hungry for things like community, unity, peace, love, harmony, family, land, art, music, and food for the soul. I travelled from quite far to attend this early morning gathering because my soul was hungry too. The gathering started at 9:00 AM and flowed effortlessly. Immediately as I entered the Hall I was delighted by the smell and sight of the elaborate spread of tasty food and beverages. There was nothing that did not taste good to me! Many highlights throughout the day started with satisfying this primal human desire. The Friendship Catering Services served this delicious continental breakfast feast!
Delicious free food is commonly available at nearly all NSG events. Probably from the beginning of NSG events, family gatherings, block parties etc., certainly among the ones I’ve attended, free food was always more than a token gesture or incidental add on. Food is an effective way to nurture conversation, and encourage participation and relationships. When we invite people into our home it is customary to offer them something to either drink or eat. Offering food is a way to bring people together to learn, discuss and celebrate. People feel appreciated and comforted when food is available. Are people more engaged and willing to participate when the food is free?
As a Neighbourhood Grant Committee (NGC) member, the NSG applications I reviewed all included a robust food experience. Food is often a vital aspect and big budget expense at these events. As an artist myself with over two decades of professional experience in hospitality and culinary arts I appreciate this aspect of the NSG program. The power of food at this Vancouver Foundation gathering was a real testimony of that. It is related to the importance of how people nurture other people and community through food experiences.
Hypothetically, in the future, suppose food is no longer an eligible NSG budget expense, would this program continue to be a great success? Because food is a real big deal, in many instances food serves as the magnet and glue at these events. Offering free food can increase participation and improve outcomes. And when the food is not so good or insufficient in quality and/or quantity the event could turn out disastrous.
There is an intrinsic and important relationship around food that NSG gatherings and events satisfy. We are not only “What” we eat, we are also “How” we eat. The HOW in this context is pointing to the intrinsic power of food in our efforts to nurture community, family, unity, and belonging. Following the many wonderful presentations and breakout sessions was lunch; the vegetarian feast catered by Tayybeh, a food company that supports Syrian women newcomer chefs. This catering company,Tayybeh, demonstrated the power of food when it’s prepared and served intentionally. Perhaps this was the first taste of homestyle Syrian cuisine for some participants. Many new flavours became more exquisite after I learned how Tayybeh is supporting women to become gainfully employed and connect with community.
The most valuable lesson I learned is Neighbourhood Small Grant events are helping British Columbia residents to reach the sustainable development goals (SDGs). At the next NSG gathering I wouldn’t mind learning more about how other small grant events are turning into diverse, inclusive, and sustainable businesses.