Hello and welcome to Righting Our Relations with Food, a podcast series where we meet with guests from across the country to discuss food security and food sovereignty, and how we can make changes to our food system with a focus on Canada. Righting Relations is a national network of adult educators and community organizers working for radical social change, and this series is part of a larger project on food sovereignty and the Sustainable Development Goals, so if you're interested in learning more, please check out our YouTube channel and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Today, my guest is Nadia Zewari. Nadia is a peer leader at the Women's Wellness Cafe in Toronto, and a co-founder of the Women's Cycling Network. She's also the founder of the Global Women's Network and a former UN Women International Human Rights worker and leader of the Afghan Women's Network. She's a longtime member of the Righting Relations National Network and the Toronto circle, and sits on the Righting Relations Central Hub Advisory Board. Najia, I'm so glad to have you here today! Can you start us off by telling us a little bit more about the work you've been doing and the Gull Khanum kitchen project?
Hi Miriam, my name is Najia Zewari, and I'm living in Toronto, and since I'm here I am engaged with community initiatives and activities. I try to transfer my international experience here to Canada believing that when people are moving from one location to another location, they are carrying all the life experiences, challenges, and also the issues that they have, with a lot of also the strength, and certain skills that they gained in the current country of the origin. My background is I did my Law, and also I have my Masters in Business Management, and in addition I worked for the civil society for so many years, as well as I worked for United Nation and worked in different parts of the world. So, I have a sort of a mixed experience of working with people. I, when I was here in Canada, part of my activities one was that I founded the Global Woman's Network, and the Global Women's Network connected with some other projects that I was also involved with, the Women's Wellness Cafe and Women's Cycling Network. So the cooking project was like, it evolved out of our circle, like the circle we had during the pandemic, we had a virtual circle. We decided - we had our group in person, and we had our circles regularly, but when our situation, the challenging situation that we all faced during the COVID, we thought that let's have our healing circle virtually. When we had our meetings some of them they said, okay, why we should not do a cooking, transferring our cooking skills? All of us, we are sitting at home, we have little to do but all of us we are cooking! You know, as a woman we are cooking every day like three meals we are making and offering to our family members, and we all have expertise in certain type of dishes that we could teach others who have no chance to learn it. And at the same time in the circle we interact and we could communicate and we will be aware of each other and also we could talk and release the COVID pressure that we have. So, this was decided in the group, it was a group decision and then we tried to approach some of the organizations if we could secure funds for, for instance the type of food materials that they are cooking, what they call it, the ingredients they are cooking. They have to cook it but at the same time, they need some honorarium or compensation for the time they are investing as a instructor, a very naturalist instructor they are or not trained chefs, etc, etc, but normal woman with the knowledge of cooking. Also they show their adult education and very, like, natural and organic skills to others. So it was not very trained, formal training, etc., and the most beautiful part was that they use their own kitchen, they were not in a studio, they were not with all these cameras on them, etc., but they use their mobiles. They recorded it on their mobiles and transferred it in the Zooms session, in a one hour session. We got a, had a very interesting group from different parts of the world, including different parts of Ontario and also even in Ottawa and other places; so many places people joined us by zoom and attended our cooking sessions.
So, like how did that transition with the Zoom, how was that received?
You know, that was a piece of empowerment for the woman, most of them they had never stood in front of camera and talked publicly, or virtually. You know, this is was considered a luxury and most of the people in our cultural backgrounds, they are shy, they are not public speakers. So that, this cooking session was an empowerment of using their organic teaching skills as women, as mothers, in addition to talking to strangers who never they never meet them, and then answering their questions, offering their kitchen, you know, their own kitchen, sharing their own kitchen to them and see, allow them to see how they are cooking, etc. So it was very, very, very... Like to be honest, it was a big, big thing. For, for me, I will never do this personally, because I'm not, maybe, I'm not a good chef. But the work, the work I did was facilitating this desire among women, mobilizing them, and they did it all willingly. So we told them that we need your kitchen, we informed them, the ones who offered to cook for the group, we said we need your kitchen. And these are the things that you have to, set your camera, your mobile camera in the direction that everybody could see the the ingredients you are putting in the pot, and you have to describe what you're doing. So I did, there was a bit of instruction, but the rest was all who they were and how - and they discuss about the beneficial health benefits of the foods you're cooking. And that background, like the history of certain foods, even the ingredients: for instance, rice. How, where are rice grown and from, what is popular in which country. Of course, there was other type of foods that was present, people were cooking. And then the the history in the culture, in which countries first this whole foods was pork, and then how it transferred to the rest of the world. So it was a sort of, a type of university that allowed women to do research, you know, from very, very grassroots, very individual kitchens, to find out more about what they are, intaking everyday and made them think more about how eating and food is important in the life of them. And even a different way of cooking was shared to the women, the rest of the women.
Wow, that sounds amazing. So has there been, like, any interest from the women who were involved, to continue doing this?
Yeah, definitely, you know, because I had a discussion with them. And I said, I mean, during the, our cooking session, a number of these women, they said let's continue. But we need a break! You know, because I'm using my own computer at home, and I have to, like manage manage my own life, but facilitating these things. Or it is - if this done by a nonprofit organization, it was a big project of almost a couple of $1000s, etc, or hundreds. But we did it this project with 18 sessions from our own home. At the beginning, we thought we should do it voluntarily. And then when I approached Righting Relations and they, uh, accepted that budget of $2,000, so at least, I said, it - in a way - compensates the time of the people and the materials, the items that you're cooking. But to be honest, cost wise we did it in a very cheap way. But with a big impact.
Wow, yeah. Then, like, what does food sovereignty look like in practice?
You know, I very much love this, food sovereignty. You know? It is, looks normal, but for me, it is very political. You know, because most of the time you are not deciding what to eat. What is in the market are dictating our tables, you know, what will be on our tables, and the propaganda of the media that, they are producing many unhealthy foods for the people and encouraging them to eat, and then there are a certain group of people only eating organic and the rest of the people should eat all this junk. So I consider this is a bit of good words to make people to think about it, you know? "What makes myself healthy" you know? And, sometimes I also see that most of the cultures, they are sort of not appreciating the different foods people are eating. "Oh, this is what how you eat this?" etc, etc. But when you go back, you will find that most of these nations exist for hundreds of years, because of their good food, their healthy and organic food they are eating, you know? They don't have the life luxuries, but still they are surviving because of the way of your eating and now they decide what to eat and what not to eat. Food security is very important, like if my land is safe and will grow good crops, and I have healthy animals, then I have good eating. For me, I have to decide what to eat is food security and I'm not dictated to by the system.
So, what innovative ideas and approaches to address food sovereignty do you have or have you heard of?
This is this is very interesting question, you know, this looks like just a question, but it needs a very, very thorough thought and thorough analysis, finding the problems coming with different solution in different areas. So, maybe in a different area there there are people who have this food sovereignty and security, but maybe in some other people areas, this is not ther. And how those people want it is another another rights that people have, to make that decision, and it should not come in another systematic, dictated way. So, I have, I will tell you that this should come from the people and there should be more circles of discussion and giving awareness to the people. The word of "food sovereignty" should be more dictated to the minds of the people - dictated, not dictated but informed, awareness. Food sovereignty and security should be one of the terms that should be promoted widely. And maybe most of the people will never thought, think about that; they take it as a normal routine. And then at the end, a lot of health issues arising, and it will be another scientific research and another investment on those things. But if we, from, from from the scratch, there will be a group of people, an initiative like you that you thought of this. This should be replicated in different areas and have more discussion, consultation and people should decide.
And I just have thought of a question like, what challenges do you face, like in your community, woman that you work with, regarding, like, food sovereignty?
Most of the people who I have an interaction, they lived in different parts, it was not only one locality. So, all of them they had issues with finding the ingredients they look for, and it was tough for them to search for it, finding those shops that is around. Maybe it is far from their home, that look, have the ingredients that they're used to in their food. This was one of the issues, and sometimes they, when they are going in some areas, and there is ready-made food, so they have to be very alert and aware that, of what types of food they should eat.
Alright, so the last question that we have, how do you think that we should approach righting our relationship with food?
Yeah, ha ha. We have so many righting our relations, righting our relations in so many things. Righting our relations is, you know, food is very important, like we are surviving by intake, the food you're taking and righting relations is - with food - is to find a common ground with the food that is here and the food that we used to eat, as an immigrant community or newcomer community. So, and most of the time people know the ingredient is there but they don't know the name of that in this - my one thing is that, and my language has one, like bread in my language is "naan" and in English it's "bread". So, even, I know that this is naan, and so I will not go and find it, and see the naan, I will think that there is no naan. So from coming to this country, there is no naan. So, this is an example, we have to be more open and do more research and also find commonality to do our righting, righting our relation with the foods that is available, available in this new life setting.
That's it for the questions, I just want to thank you for your time and really thank you for also sharing the work that you've been doing. And I also just want to encourage you to keep on the work that you're doing.
Thank you for listening to this month's episode of Righting Our Relations with Food. We'd like to thank our wonderful guests for sharing their knowledge and their insights with us. And from everyone here at Righting Relations Canada, we would like to thank our partner, the John Humphrey Center for Peace and Human Rights, and of course, our funders, the Catherine Donnelly Foundation and Employment and Social Development Canada, for making this project possible. And we hope you'll join us again next month!