Over the past two decades, collective kitchens—gatherings of individuals who pool resources to cook together as a group—have formed across Canada in the hundreds. Despite certain common aspects, each collective kitchen is unique in its structure, purpose, and format. Given such differences and variations, Rachel Engler-Stringer’s report, Collective Kitchens in Three Canadian Cities: Impacts on the Lives of Participants, seeks to understand, from the perspective of its members, what values these diverse groups place on belonging to the kitchens.
Research for this study was conducted by observing several collective kitchens in Saskatoon, Toronto, and Montreal, and conducting interviews with kitchen members and leaders. Interviews were also held with key informants to grasp the context and history of these kitchens in each community. This information was later processed and sorted to reveal meaningful patterns and themes. In terms of personal impact, most (but not all) participants said that their involvement resulted in positive changes in self-esteem and self-confidence. Most participants similarly reported that the quality and quantity of their diet had improved, and also positively affected their monthly household budget. Finally, many said that they learned a great deal of nutritional information that could lead to overall improved diet and health.
Collective kitchen involvement was also cited as beneficial for its community impact. Primarily, many participants cited social support as the most important aspect of their involvement in a collective kitchen. Members reported that the key benefits included spending time with each other, eating meals together, and making new friends . A common theme to this was reducing one’s own isolation. This was particularly prominent in single mothers, seniors, and recent immigrants. Not insignificantly, these relationships were regularly cultivated outside the kitchens, sharing both the good and bad in each other’s lives as in any other friendship.
Group leaders from all three cities cited collective kitchens as a vehicle for bringing communities together. For example, involvement was regarded as useful in changing negative stereotypes about immigrants, as well as providing valuable acculturating experiences for those same newcomers. Joining a collective kitchen was also regarded as a potential springboard for further community involvement and volunteering. Despite the great possibilities inherent in collective kitchens, however, many group leaders and key informants believed that the organizations were not reaching their potential for effecting social change. Developing this potential was an area that key informants emphasized.
Collective kitchens are undeniably successful organizations that enrich the lives of their membership, from meeting nutrition needs to fulfilling social well-being. Nevertheless, Engler-Stringer cautions that they should not be seen as a curative for poverty. Collective kitchens relieve some of its effects, but only a more equitable distribution of wealth can truly eliminate poverty. Until such an occurrence, however, collective kitchens play a valuable role in their communities.