Cooking classes a delicious step towards food security in Nunavut, health department says

The Nunavut government has started a pilot program that will teach Nunavummiut basic cooking skills with easy and inexpensive recipes.

Territorial government pilots cooking lessons in six communities

Emily Murray, with the Nunavut Health Department, stirs beans in preparation for a chilli cooking lesson in Iqaluit. (Travis Burke/CBC)

It's pretty quiet at the Iqaluit Food Centre Friday afternoon, just before the Nunavut government and the Qayuqtuvik Society host a free chilli-cooking lesson.

Not much prep work is happening and that's the point, according to organizers. They want participants to learn basic cooking skills.

It is a new approach to food security, following an initiative by the health department a few years ago to develop recipes that are cheap and easy to cook. 

Iqaluit is just one of six communities that's hosted similar classes within the past month.

"What we've heard through our core recipe implementation from last year was that not all Nunavummiut are comfortable with some of these store-bought food skills; so how to cook rice, how to cook pasta," says Emily Murray, a community nutrition specialist with the department of health.

Qayuqtuvik Society board member Blake Wilson chops onions before a free chilli cooking lesson Iqaluit. The lessons are meant to teach basic cooking skills with easy, inexpensive recipes. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

"We really wanted to take a step back and create a resource that focuses on these skills."

Each recipe focuses on a different set of skills.

Murray says making chilli teaches skills like chopping onions, cooking dried beans and food handling safety by learning how to thaw ground beef.

Plus, the class finishes with delicious homework — students get to take any leftovers home.

"People within certain communities went into this class, not really liking vegetables and they learned how to make a stir fry and how to chop up carrots," said Murray.

"They decided they really liked what they made and they went home and made it for their family the next night."

Blake Wilson is on the board of the Qayuqtuvik Society, which runs the Iqaluit Food Centre and soup kitchen.

He says he has wanted to do something like this for awhile.

"We're looking to get involved in improving food literacy. It's important to me to teach people how to read recipes for example," he said.