“Everyone’s got a connection to food—everybody eats. And food also connects us together too, because when we’re talking about food, or eating it, it can really break down some of the barriers that can otherwise separate us."
Food Coordinator, Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House, Vancouver, BC
Barb Wong has had a long and varied career in food. A registered dietitian, she worked with pregnant and parenting women affected by substance abuse in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. After starting a family of her own, she switched direction somewhat, co-developing an all-natural cookie dough company and working at a cookbook store. Then, when a position at the Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House came up in 2012, she jumped on it because, as she puts it, “it was an opportunity to help build the very community I live in.”
The Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House has served East Vancouver for over fifty years, bringing together the community through childcare programs, senior wellness workshops, yoga classes and much more. Food has always been part of its programming and it became even more so after Barb became the Food Coordinator. She’s worked to unify all its food programs – from community kitchens and supper clubs – and create new programs to meet community needs.
One of those programs is the youth leadership program EAT (Eat! Act! Think!). EAT is an eight-week program that teaches students in grades 9 to 11 about food security and food literacy. They then pass their new knowledge on, developing an eight-week curriculum that they themselves teach in programs for elementary school-aged children in the area. “With the EAT program, it’s an opportunity for kids to volunteer in the community,” Barb says. “But when they make the realization that, ‘Whoa, this is how the food system works,’ then translate that into something that kids might understand, and then those kids take that home to their families, it’s amazing.”
Barb calls the Neighbourhood House a “kind of community living room,” and she’s delighted to see the number of kids that now spend time hanging out in it. “Young people are our future policy makers,” she says, “so if we can make an impact on them now, we’ll see some big changes in the future.”