A group of four young chef students work together to prepare and plate side dishes during the Get Fed Up 2023 event. Joe Fernandes

‘Fed Up’ with food insecurity

  • May 29, 2024

Fed up with the growing food insecurity they see each day, chefs are teaming up with young cooking students to tackle the issue in Toronto with “Get Fed Up 2024.”  

The June 1 event is part of an ongoing collaboration between The Chef Upstairs, a unique company offering various cooking lessons and experiences, and the Daily Bread Food Bank. Together, kids who participate will enhance their cooking skills while the food bank’s member agencies benefit from the fresh meals provided. 

“I got into being a chef to feed people so I identify strongly with this,” said Julian Pancer, chef and co-owner of The Chef Upstairs. “When we were deciding in 2020 what to do, a main concern in the news was food insecurity. We had just entered a pandemic, people had been losing their jobs and people were cooking a lot more at home. We just sort of fell into this but it made total sense to all of us.” 

The first Get Fed Up event took place virtually in February of 2021. Over 1,600 households from 10 countries joined the online cooking class to raise money for Daily Bread and other local food banks. 

Last year, teams comprised of adult professionals and kid sous chefs cooked 1,101 meals to be donated to Daily Bread’s 132 member agencies, and raised $17,000 to support the food bank’s operations. The team at The Chef Upstairs is looking to up the ante this year, hoping the event hosted by John Cantucci of Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here will net 1,500 meals for Daily Bread clients. 

“We’re looking to do at least 1,000 meat meals and at least 500 vegetarian options, both of which are going to be a nice Moroccan-style meal,” Pancer said.

While teaching kids the practical elements of cooking is beneficial in its own right, being able to provide an opportunity that positively impacts locals relying on food banks is what invigorates The Chef Upstairs’ team to continue running Get Fed Up. 

“It is about teaching them skills and building a sense of community while they also see the tangible results of something great that they did,” Pancer said. “The opportunity we can give these kids is that once they have learned how to cook with us, now they can use those skills for something great and I think that is the ultimate achievement of yourself.”

The Daily Bread Food Bank was founded by Sr. Marie Tremblay of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto.The religious order is inspired by its work to this day. 

“We are forever heartened by how Daily Bread Food Bank has continued what Sr. Marie Tremblay and others began in 1983: serving unmet needs in Toronto with the belief that no one should go hungry,” a statement sent by the Sisters read. “We are always inspired by the creativity of Daily Bread Food Bank: art projects with canned goods, cleverly conceived events to raise funds and awareness, heartfelt collaborations with other organizations and other forms of passionate advocacy for the right to food and ‘daily bread.’ ” 

It’s a necessity as the nation continues to deal with skyrocketing food bank usage. In Toronto, one in 10 people currently rely on food banks, which is up from one in 20 last year, Daily Bread reports. In 2023, there were close to three million food bank visits in Toronto, a 50-per-cent increase compared to the year prior. 

Nationally, Food Bank Canada’s 2024 Poverty Report Card showed that 25 per cent of Canadians are experiencing some form of food insecurity. And one-quarter of children in Ontario have lived in a food-insecure household — a painful dichotomy that organizers hope to both educate on and address. 

“Last year we stood at this huge walk-in fridge at Daily Bread with all the kids and we were showing them the rolling carts saying, ‘This is what 1,101 meals look like,’ ” Pancer recalled. “While we did say what a great job they did and how proud we were, it is not nearly enough, the need is so vast that this is almost a drop in the pond. Teaching them to give back is something we are hoping to achieve and for them to know how fortunate they are to have food on the table as well.” 

For more, see dailybread.ca.

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