Feeding social inclusion

Participants come together to enjoy a meal at Surrey food dialogue event. | Photo courtesy of Surrey Welcoming Communities Project

Participants come together to enjoy a meal at Surrey food dialogue event. | Photo courtesy of Surrey Welcoming Communities Project

A series of six events hosted by the Surrey Welcoming Communities Project hopes to use food to foster dialogue and help make newcomers feel at home in the community. The series, entitled Dialogues Inspired by Cooking and Food, is a collaboration between the city of Surrey and six community agencies. Held at Guilford Park Secondary School, four events have already taken place and two more are still to come, one on Jan. 28 and one Feb. 12.

The first project of its kind in Surrey, the event series features interactive cooking demonstrations led by culinary experts. Each event features a particular cuisine and engages attendees in a facilitated discussion on how to make the community more welcoming for newcomers.

Partner groups create dishes from Korean, Indian, Filipino, Chinese, African and Middle Eastern menus, enabling Surrey residents to sample cuisine and culture at the same time.

Welcome at the table

The Jan. 28 session, will be hosted by the Umoja Society and will feature African food. Jamie Kopp, programs manager for the Umoja Society, says at each event the presentation includes an appetizer, a main course and dessert. Before the meal, a facilitator moderates a dialogue, including questions about what it means to be welcoming and inclusive and what actions should happen to make these concepts a reality.

Participants bring examples from their own lives and workplaces about what they have found are successful ways to reach out to others in a diverse workplace and a diverse society.

“Are people being welcoming and inclusive and what else can be done? Hopefully this kind of dialogue will help to create positive change,” says Kopp.

During the session, participants learn about the origins of different ingredients and recipes and how the dishes are prepared.

Kopp says the chef for the Umoja event on Jan. 28 is originally from Nigeria and will be preparing a menu that includes such treats as spicy chicken with jollof rice, beans cake and puff-puff, a fried doughnut.

Participation is limited to 30 people per session. Registration is online and previous sessions have been full. Attendees receive a recipe booklet, and recipes are also available on the Surrey Welcoming Communities website.

Cultural and dietary richness

From a dietary standpoint, sampling different cultural cuisines can be beneficial, says Jessica Tong, a Vancouver dietitian. She says foreign foods can influence our diet by helping to foster a deeper realization and understanding of culture. Exposure to ethnic flavours and ingredients helps sophisticate our palettes in appreciating unique foods and flavour combinations that are native to a specific culture.

Tong says foreign foods can also influence our diet by altering the dominant nutrients that we consume on a regular basis. The nutrient profiles, such as sodium, fat, and fiber content, of ethnic cuisines often differ from Canadian dietary staples. To avoid a major flux in nutrient intake, it is important to balance the consumption of foreign foods with more familiar foods, she says.

Tong says it is valuable to try and broaden one’s knowledge and see what is out there in the way of food.

“I have clients from different backgrounds and it’s important to understand their individual and cultural perspectives,” she says.

At the dialogue events, in addition to the food and conversation, participants write down what they expect to gain from the session and organizers send this back to them later to help them follow through. This gets people thinking about the dialogue and holding themselves accountable, Kopp says.

Kopp says food naturally creates dialogue because it draws people in.

“It is an attractive feature that creates a focus and way to display different cultures,” she says.

Following the Jan. 28 dialogue, the Pacific Community Resources Society will round out the cooking series with a feature on Middle Eastern cuisine on Feb. 12.


Surrey Welcoming Communities Dialogues Inspired by Cooking and Food

Guildford Park Secondary, 10707 146 St., Surrey.

6–9 p.m., free

Tues., Jan. 28

African cooking with
Umoja Newcomers
Family Service Centre

Wed., Feb. 12

Middle Eastern cooking
with Pacific Community Resources Society