Catalyst Cafe brings food justice, community engagement, and equity to the table

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This is a photo of the community gardens. The attendees of Catalyst Cafe are in the gardens looking at the growing food.
PHOTO: Alyna De Guzman and Alice Pinheiro

By: Olivia Sherman, News Writer

Embark Sustainability Society is a student-led, nonprofit organization encouraging SFU students to “explore climate and food systems through the lens of justice and equity” with community events and education. One of their latest community-building events was the Catalyst Cafe on September 14, where students learned how to be more mindful and involved in how their food is grown and consumed. The Peak sat down with Jamie Hill, the community development manager of Embark, to learn more. 

Hill explained the intersections of equity and food justice. She noted food “exists within all the systems of our society, and that many of these have created injustices” for both consumers and labourers of food. “It’s sort of taking a look at all of those systems and finding ways we can advocate, and take action for change.” Many underprivileged communities are in severe lack of healthy foods, while the same members of those communities are relied upon for manual labour in harvesting that food. In order for food justice to be reached, Embark aims to direct students to be more cognizant of “intersecting and structural inequities” involved with food systems and recognize Indigenous sovereignty and knowledge of food systems. 

Embark aims “to start you off on a journey” in food justice and equity, Hill explained. “We see ourselves as a means to exploration, a means to move forward. We’re here as a learning organization, a place for skill-building.” 

Because of their priority of accessibility for newcomers, a crucial focus of Embark is “meaning-making,” or finding personal angles to climate justice. “It can be really hard to find meaning without community. It can be really hard to find meaning without being able to be connected to our personal lives, or to our heritage, or to our cultural connections,” Hill said. By “giving people different touchpoints to connect with the land, to connect with each other,” people can be more mindful about how “they walk through the world and experience climate and food systems themselves. 

“A big part of what we do is experiential learning. We really find that tying people’s personal and cultural experiences to their learnings is a great way to motivate yourself to take action or to learn more,” said Hill.

In order to achieve this, Embark hosts many community-oriented events and actions, one of which is a community kitchen, a communal space for people to gather and prepare a meal together. In these spaces, people “typically talk through a topic related to food justice or related to the cultural meal someone is preparing with us that day.” Another is a food rescue initiative, where Embark will “collect perfectly edible, but unsalable, produce from Nesters Market and redistribute that back to students on campus.”

The Catalyst Cafe is another example of Embark’s ongoing initiative to bring community and food justice together. The event was “a place to connect with others in the community.” They are “hoping it’s going to be a bit of a get-together, a get-to-know-you for everyone.”

Hill outlined the itinerary for the event: “We’re starting off in the learning gardens to talk a little bit about our connections to land, our connections to food-growing, and then we’ll be doing a bit of reflections on ourselves and our goals and social movements, where we think our skills or our interests are best aligned, and how we can sort of apply what we already know and like into this kind of work. 

“And then we’re going to be connecting over a meal, and chatting, and laughing, and having a great time together.” 

For more information on Embark Sustainability Society’s upcoming events and ways to get involved, check out their website at www.embarksustainability.org

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