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Food studies comes to life at UTSC Farmers’ Market

The Culinaria Research Centre partnership with community centre allows students and community members to learn from each other. (Photo by Raquel A. Russell)

The delicious aroma of jerk chicken, plantain and sweet fried dumplings emanates from the Culinaria table at the U of T Scarborough Farmers’ Market.

Caterers Sabrina Sookansingh and Patricia Brown recently worked alongside student and family volunteers led by third-year student and Culinaria research assistant Fateha Hossain to sell Caribbean dishes in UTSC’s meeting place.

Culinaria (officially known as Culinaria Research Centre) works with micro-entrepreneurs through the Malvern Family Resource Centre to give both caterers and students hands-on food studies experience in a community setting. Culinaria launched the Malvern Caterers Project last June at the summer university farmers’ market.

Raafia Siddiqui, program assistant with the Malvern Centre and Action for Neighborhood Change, is encouraged by this partnership. “Oftentimes there’s a huge disconnect between academic spaces and community spaces, so what UTSC and Culinaria have done, in partnering with Malvern Family Resource Centre, has been great in bridging that gap,” Raafia Siddiqui says.

Professor Jayeeta Sharma, associate professor of History and Global Asian Studies, describes Culinaria as an academic program that examines food, its place in the world and its place in people's lives through direct interaction.

“There’s such an immense engagement with food as an issue for citizenship and community involvement in terms of all kinds of economic, political social conditions that students can relate to the world around them,” Sharma says.

Student volunteers from Global Asian Studies such as Jacobo Matta-Gallego and April An helped to put finishing touches on treats like Jamaican festivals, a sweet cornmeal fried dough, in the new Culinaria kitchen lab, SW313.

Sharma says events like the UTSC Farmers’ Market allow food studies students to see Global Asia in live action.

“I teach about indentured labourers from India who entered the Caribbean and African slaves, and those are the foods that Sabrina and Pat are cooking,” she says

Caterers Sabrina and Pat, Trinidadian and Jamaican respectively, make foods that originate from both the Asian and African diasporas, Sharma says.

“The cooks know the histories they showcase in their food and it’s really wonderful for them to know that the young people they are serving here or the UTSC staff members have these histories because these are the histories of all of us here in Canada,” she says.

Katie Konstantopoulos, a fifth-year student and food studies volunteer, knows that students appreciate what food studies have brought to the campus.

“The Culinaria and the Food Studies department has been really passionate to provide a space for students to learn food studies with an experiential approach, by having students interact with and support the food community while gaining practical skills,” Konstantopoulos says.  “The ability to volunteer and even organize this event with Malvern is just one of many opportunities that we've been working with."

While Culinaria’s January Farmers’ Market featured West Indian food and caterers from the Malvern neighbourhood, Sharma hopes more community groups will get involved.

“(January was) Indigenous History Month. We would love to showcase Indigenous foods. And not just Indigenous foods from Canada, Indigenous foods from other parts of the world,” Prof. Sharma says.

The Malvern Caterers Project with Culinaria will be part of the next UTSC Farmers’ Market on March 29.


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