Every Wednesday, a group of young people from the Forest Lawn neighbourhood of Calgary meet up at The Alex Community Food Centre to cook, garden, work on art projects, and talk about how to make their community a healthier place for everyone. It’s not a typical scene— apron-clad teenagers discussing the big issues with Canada’s food system while peeling carrots or plucking ripe tomatoes from the garden—but it’s a magical one.
It was here in the kitchen that these youth, who together make up The Alex’s Cooking Up Justice club, came up with a big idea. They wanted to host an event where the community could come together to talk about the power of food to build solidarity and create social change. With a municipal election looming, they saw an opportunity to engage the candidates in a timely conversation.
“If you want to build a movement, you need young people involved. Teenagers are like bridges—kids look up to them, and adults want to support them. When youth are taking action on something, everybody wants to be part of it,” said Syma Habib, Community Action Coordinator at The Alex CFC.
With support from Syma, 15 youth spent the summer planning the event—from creating a theme, to inviting the candidates, to designing the menu with help from Chef Matt Batey, to spreading the word to the community with a social media campaign, to hosting and moderating the evening’s panel discussion.
In September 2017, this passionate group of youth hosted #HungryforChange, bringing all the Calgary mayoral candidates together to press them on their food policies and have dinner with community members, many of whom were struggling with food insecurity. As everyone dug into the “hyper local” menu—roasted corn soup with savory donut fritters, chickpea croquette with beets, lentils and salsa verde, and apple pie—people who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice at the table had the opportunity to have open conversations with policy-makers. Conversations about the kinds of solutions that could make an honest difference in their ability to feed themselves and their families with dignity.
By all accounts, the event was a big hit. Many of the candidates gave the youth props during their remarks, congratulating them on an impressive night. Paul Hughes, mayoral candidate and founder of Grow Calgary, even commented that he could now “pass on his food advocacy torch” to them.
Syma’s most memorable moment? Looking around the room and noticing the warm atmosphere at every table. People were there to listen to each other and focus on solutions. “Youth bring a sense of fun to these big, challenging issues. They bring a hopeful energy and a positive attitude that can change the mood, and, ultimately, the conversation in a room.”