Iqaluit's Qajuqturvik Food Centre aims to break 'soup kitchen' stereotype

Qajuqturvik means "place to eat soup" in Inuktitut, but the food centre also provides training in cooking and hospitality, as well as cooking classes for young people.
Volunteers and staff dishing out lunch at the Qajuqturvik Food Centre in Iqaluit, Nunavut. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Sky Aurora writes down the day's menu at the Qajuqturvik Food Centre in Iqaluit, Nunavut. She's a part of the training program at the food centre — and having once used the services provided here herself, she's thrilled to have the chance to give back.

"I think it's really important to make sure that everybody in our community eats," Aurora said. "I've gone through it myself a long, long time ago and so I know what the struggles are, living in shelters."

Qajuqturvik means "place to eat soup" in Inuktitut, but the food centre offer so much more than just a bowl of soup. On top of providing meals for around 80 people seven days a week, the centre also provides training in cooking and hospitality to people like Aurora, as well as cooking classes for young people.

The day's menu at the Qajuqturvik Food Centre. The syllabics are important, Aurora says, to make elders who only speak Inuktitut feel welcome. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Wade Thorhaug, the executive director of the centre, said they are working to eliminate the stigma around people using their services to help combat the growing concerns of food insecurity.

"We've really worked hard to get people to try to stop calling us a soup kitchen, even though that's what everybody knows us as," Thorhaug said, adding that it's "a term that's laden with a lot of negativity."

For a population that's heavily affected by food insecurity, eliminating that stigma is vital to ensure they can help more people in Iqaluit keep their stomachs full.

A 2017 report from the Conference Board of Canada said a quarter of people in Nunavut reported themselves as moderately to severely food insecure.

More than half of Inuit in Nunavut at least occasionally go hungry.

Thorhaug said the problem isn't the lack of places like the Qajuqturvik Food Centre, but rather issues around income and housing.

The food centre feeds around 80 people daily, seven days a week. They figure they're just scratching the surface on the need in Iqaluit. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

"We need to make sure that people have a minimum income here, because that's the single greatest contributor to food insecurity," he said.

Thorhaug hopes legislators can do more to improve income and housing situations — then, they can focus on creating a sustainable Nunavut food industry. "[Our food industry] receives no support from anywhere," he said.

"In the South, you have farmers that, for generations, have received subsidies for what they do, just to make it sustainable.

Staff and volunteers prepare for the lunch rush. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

"Here, hunters receive nothing of the sort."

If hunters received a subsidy for what they provide, Thorhaug figures there would be more choice available, even to serve those who attend the food centre.

"There's not shortage of ring seals out in the bay," he said. "It's just a shortage of capacity to be able to harvest them."

This day's menu is a sandwich, soup, salad and a cookie. But some days, the menu is Arctic char, seal, or other country food.

Aurora serving up salad for lunch. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Bringing in more food off the land that's nutritious is just one of the ways Thorhaug hopes to draw more people to the food centre.

"We want to make this space as welcoming as possible and not make it seem like it's a place of poverty," he said.

"It's just a place … to just be nourished and learn about food and be happy."

Aurora agreed. "It can be very, very stressful like hunger on the mind, and the body," she said.

"So if we could help people, that just really makes my day."