Why I started working with Summerlunch+ by Parul Verma

As a student in Nutrition, I have been taught that Toronto is one of the most food insecure cities in Canada. However, as someone who usually does not have to put much thought into eating, it is easy to forget what fails to meet the eye. Sadly, the truth remains that 1 in 4 families in Toronto are food insecure. This could mean that they do not know what their next meal will be or where it will come from or even if they are going to have one. It can also mean that the food available to them is nutritionally inadequate or is culturally inappropriate. On the other end of the spectrum, 31 billion dollars worth of the food produced in Canada goes to waste. This is an extremely heartbreaking statistic especially since, there are children who come from families who are not guaranteed three meals a day. Fortunately, there are a number of lunch programs that work to combat this problem throughout the school year, however, come summer when the schools are out, no programs are setup to continue providing the guaranteed nutritious lunch. Nonetheless, need fosters opportunity and hence, Summerlunch+ was founded.

Summerlunch+ is a charity that was established in 2016 and has been growing since. It ensures that young people have access to healthy meals over the summer. At its foundation are 3 pillars – Nutrient dense meals, food literacy and minimal food wastage. We provide mouth-watering, nutritious, accessible and acceptable food to children at various summer camp locations. We work hard and prepare all our meals from scratch to show children that healthy eating can be fun and easy. Most of the members of the organization are either students or new graduates who are motivated to make a change in the community. Some of the students come from the neighbourhood themselves, where the summer camps are held and get the opportunity to give back to their community. This way, Summerlunch+ helps to create jobs in the different communities and contribute to their development.

In the spirit of “It takes a village,” Summerlunch+ partners with over a dozen local community agencies and organizations to deliver lunches and food literacy. We have various partners and other charities which share our goals and work with us to make it possible to achieve them. Additionally, we use rescued food, graciously provided by Second Harvest to enhance our snacks and meals. This prevents food from going to waste and also is an incredible teaching moment for the campers on how to repurpose food.

I once read an article that the one human discovery which differentiates humans from animals is fire. Fire allows us to cook our food - a trait that animals are deprived of and is also a sign of civilization and light. So I found myself asking, if cooking is a defining ability to be human, then why do so many of us and until recently myself included, not know how to cook? The answer is that we live in a time-constraint world and we either do not know how to cook because we do not know what ingredients to buy? How much to buy? What to do with the ingredients once we do buy them? Or believe that cooking requires time and effort which we may not be willing to spend. These are all components of food illiteracy which build onto food insecurity.

At Summerlunch+, time is devoted to food literacy where Community Food Leaders speak with children and youth and explain how their food was made and what makes it healthier than a burger at a fast food restaurant and why healthy eating is important. Give a man a fish and he will eat for the day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. This is why the food literacy component is central to the organization and is important to bridge the gap between food literacy and food security. Additionally, teaching children the importance of cooking instils in them the foundation of a healthy lifestyle; and with this hope, Summerlunch+ embarks on its project every summer to make a healthy difference in someone’s life.

Susan Wright