PE Ledger

They didn’t require a lentil shepherd’s pie recipe. What I learnt in cooking class about overcoming poverty


According to the educator, our response must take into account income.

When I first started working in nutrition, I was certain that by teaching people how to cook a chicken to the appropriate internal temperature or how to read a nutrition label, they would be able to overcome their food insecurity.

I can see how much I was off the mark. We are taught that low-income people lack skills and resiliency, yet I immediately discovered that the folks I was “training” were far from lacking.

I recall one of the first food skill classes I ever taught. It was a chilly February morning in Calgary. The topic of the day’s lecture was healthy recipe modification, namely how to eliminate meat and replace it with a more cheap protein. We were preparing a lentil shepherd’s pie with potatoes and cauliflower on top.

Participants began to arrive as the oven was preheating and the windows were beginning to freeze up. They flung their parkas and mittens on the ancient leather couch, unbundled their kids, and the quiet room immediately became a hub of laughing and greetings.

cooking class about overcoming poverty

A dozen classmates who had taken public transportation chatted about their chilly trips and the family recipes they planned to teach the following week. Best introduced the party to injera (a great Ethiopian bread), and Ade shared her groundnut (peanut) stew recipe, which she said would be perfect for a cold day like today.

The gathering oohed and aahed, expressing their delight.

I was awestruck as I looked around the room, awestruck by these inspirational people who braved the cold to form friendships and share skills. Was my shepherd’s pie truly necessary?

These women already had incredible culinary abilities and were budgetary masters. They lacked money and equitable economic prospects.

We talk a lot about alternative approaches to tackle food insecurity in the emergency food aid industry. We wrestle with the conflict between meeting immediate needs and addressing core issues. But these aren’t binary choices. Both are necessary.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Nick Saul’s wise words and call to action as the head of Community Food Centres Canada: “If you define the problem like hunger, you’ll naturally lean toward a food-based approach, which leads to charity. When you talk about poverty, you start talking about public policy, and then you start talking about the basic human right to food, so it’s crucial to distinguish between the two.”

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