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New book ‘The Stop,’ about empowerment, transformation of food banks

Recipe Swap: Oatmeal Risotto with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil, and Parsnip, Sage, Rosemary 
in no-time Risotto

People putting food in a donation box

As we head toward Christmas, many of us give generously to charitable causes.

Food banks are one of them and they definitely need our help. Goodness knows what would happen if we suddenly closed our wallets on them.

Over 60,000 Manitobans turned to one in the month of March, according to the Hunger Count 2014 released early last month by Food Banks Canada.

But as any food bank manager will also tell you, they want to close their doors eventually. The charitable model of food assistance is unsustainable, and so they persist to find a better way of ensuring all Canadians have equal access to healthy food.

This fall Taste Canada, a non-profit organization which annually recognizes Canadians’ best food writing, has given a top award to two authors writing about how they did indeed transform a food bank into something more empowering for those who need help putting food on the table.

The Stop — How the Fight For Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement is about how Nick Saul, executive director of a Toronto-based inner-city food bank, after taking the post in the late 1990s and seeing a dreary, dilapidated space giving out poor-quality, unhealthy food decided there had to be another way.

The Stop (the name of the food bank) is, or rather, was, typical — starting out in a church basement in the Kensington Market area of the city as a temporary stop-gap measure, but then grinding along in perpetuity year after year after that because it was so desperately needed.

As Saul and co-author Andrea Curtis point out in The Stop, food banking across our entire country has become entrenched, no longer an emergency measure as it was intended, but wholly part of our social fabric and political landscape.

But that’s much like seeing sandbags as a permanent way to hold back water.

The Stop is the story of how Saul and others radically transformed the food bank into a thriving community food centre instead, with associated community gardens, kitchens where families learn how to cook, a greenhouse, farmers’ markets, and a place with a much bigger vision for responding to the complex issues of poverty, food access and the rising rates of diet-related disease.

Saul is now president and CEO of Community Food Centres Canada, an organization starting to bring the innovations of The Stop to other communities across Canada. Suffice it to say, these are places that hold the potential to be a far more effective and long-lasting intervention for household food insecurity than any one-time hamper of canned goods will ever be.

It’s an idea worth sharing. Taste Canada, awarding The Stop the 2014 top prize for best writing raising awareness about social and political issues around food, thought so too.

Oatmeal Risotto with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

I love any kind of risotto and would like to share these two recipes with you this week. Risotto is a traditional Italian dish and made with rice, but this recipe found on The Whole Grains Council’s website (whole uses oatmeal instead. It’s made with quick oats cooked in broth.

  • 3 c. vegetable broth
  • 1 c. quick oats
  • 1/4 c. grapeseed oil
  • 1 to 2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 5 basil leaves, torn
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp. grated Parmesan or shredded mozzarella (optional)

In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Add the oats, return to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Let cool completely, then refrigerate for four hours so the oatmeal firms up nicely. Heat the grapeseed oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until golden brown. Add the cherry tomatoes, sauté quickly, then add the basil and cook another 30 seconds or so. Fold in the oatmeal, season with salt and pepper, and mix to incorporate ingredients and warm the oatmeal. Distribute on plates, garnish with fresh basil and cheese.

Recipe courtesy of The Whole Grains Council and German Lam.

Serves 4.

Parsnip, Sage, Rosemary in no-time Risotto

This is my version of another recipe I adapted in order to use abundant sage and rosemary from the garden this fall. The continuous stirring risotto making requires can put some cooks off because it sounds time consuming. But this dish really doesn’t take much time to cook, and I think you’ll be growing parsnips next year just to be stocked up to make it. It is really delicious. — Lorraine

  • 8 c. chicken broth
  • 5 tbsp. butter, divided
  • 1-1/2 c. chopped onion
  • About eight parsnips, peeled trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 10 tsp. chopped rosemary and sage
  • 1-1/2 c. arborio rice
  • 3/4 c. Parmesan cheese
  • Balsamic vinegar

Boil broth then reduce heat and keep warm. Melt four tbsp. butter in another saucepan and sauté onion about 10 minutes. Stir in parsnips and half the herbs and cook until parsnips soften. Add rice and stir about two minutes, then add warm broth enough to cover the mixture and let simmer until broth is almost absorbed, stirring occasionally and adding more broth until parsnips are tender. Remove from heat and add remaining herbs and remaining one tbsp. of butter (melted) and cheese. Add salt and pepper or additional herbs if you like something really savoury. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve.

Serves 6.

About the author


Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.



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