This Hillsburgh, Ont., chef is cooking up change with a new world food market: Andrew Coppolino
With local food as a touchstone, people can sample different dishes, experience different cultures each week
For Pam Fanjoy, the distance between social work and a professional restaurant kitchen is relatively small but still represents a big opportunity to address issues of diversity, equality and inclusiveness.
Fanjoy has recently launched Fanjoy Cooking Up Change — a not-for-profit organization designed to provide support and opportunities for a range of stakeholders, including women and non-binary food entrepreneurs especially in rural areas.
Part of the project includes a new Foods of the World market that running Saturdays in Hillsburgh, Ont, from now until Oct.1.
"It's our first not-for-profit initiative for those interested in starting or growing their own food business using local food," said Fanjoy.
Fanjoy Cooking Up Change is a multifaceted organization that seeks to address what she calls the intersectionality of food insecurity, employment, mental health and homelessness. It's funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.
It also focuses on youth and young adults age 14 to 22 and is designed to fill gaps in social services that have become pronounced since COVID-19.
Fanjoy said she draws on both of her careers "to create spaces" for people in the food industry: as a social worker before she started cooking, her interest in working with the LGBTQ community had always been there.
"The gender challenges and the experiences that women, non-binary and trans people faced were glaringly apparent to me. As a gay business owner and chef, being in the community has really helped me to create safe space and safer conversations with people who are in the industry but don't know how to approach these issues."
Youth is also a focus for the non-profit evolving out of her social work experience helping kids with autism; Fanjoy said that rural communities struggle with support systems — a fact laid bare by the pandemic.
As a chef-owner of her Hillsburgh restaurant for five years, Fanjoy witnessed the challenges facing rural businesses, including transportation difficulties and poor access to the internet, but she also saw people living alone without social contact.
"People living in rural communities, farmers and youth, experience more mental health issues that we can directly link to that social isolation," said Fanjoy.
The not-for-profit's projects, like the market, seek to help people connect. The variety of programs offered will use food and food education, interactive cooking classes, junior chef programs, supper clubs and employment training programs that focus on building life skills for youth, and especially youth with autism.
"When any community or person is marginalized, their odds of having additional mental health concerns alongside of a disability increases substantially," Fanjoy said.
Hands-on cooking programs, she added, are therapeutic and at the same time address some of the systemic issues people face. In the pandemic, many programs for mental health services and day programs for youth with autism were severely reduced.
With local food as a touchstone, the general public can sample different dishes and experience different cultures each week at the market, according to Fanjoy, a recent example being a visit from a chef with Metis background.
"The market project is designed to educate people about the customs and rituals of food from around the world in order to build community," Fanjoy said.
The Foods of the World market runs Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 100 Trafalgar Road, Hillsburgh, Ont.. It's the former location of Fan/Joy Restaurant. Applications are still being accepted.