New initiative by Spectrum and YWCA Hamilton helps newcomers connect with the community

C/O Calum Lewis

There is something incredibly special about cooking with someone. Many of us have happy memories associated with a certain kitchen or certain meals. For newcomers, cooking can not only be a way to stay connected to culture and something familiar in a foreign place, but it can also be the foundation for building a new community.

While building community in a new place is never easy, the pandemic has made it much harder. Noura Afify, the 2SLGBTQIA+ newcomer youth support worker at Speqtrum and YWCA Hamilton, has created an innovative solution in the form of her Food Talks series. Her goal is to help foster a sense of community for newcomers in these difficult days.

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Prior to the lockdown, Afify had hoped to organize food tours to showcase businesses that carry important ingredients that many mainstream grocery stores may not and to help newcomers get oriented to Hamilton.

In its place, she has developed a wholesome series featuring conversations between herself and community members about their relationship to food.

“[Food Talks] is a space for us to talk about what food means to us as people — the emotions, the feelings, the memories, the ways that food connects us to those things and connects us to our cultures and to diasporic identities and stuff like that. But also, on the other hand, talking about how food can and has always been used to build community,” explained Afify.

“[Food Talks] is a space for us to talk about what food means to us as people — the emotions, the feelings, the memories, the ways that food connects us to those things and connects us to our cultures and to diasporic identities and stuff like that. But also, on the other hand, talking about how food can and has always been used to build community,” explained Afify.

The episodes serve as a way to introduce newcomers to members of the community and are also connected to the virtual community kitchen, Mother Tongue.

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Food Talks is catered towards elders and youth. The episodes of the series are posted on both Instagram and Facebook, which Afify hopes will allow both demographics to engage with it. 

So far, the series has been received warmly by both the viewers and the interviewees. 

“It's been really sweet. We've been having folks leave really sweet comments. And folks who did partake in the interview said they really enjoyed it and almost everybody wanted to come and co-facilitate a community kitchen with us. It was really lovely to see that because that is my goal, to have them meet newcomers in person or virtually, so that means a lot to me. And I'm sure it will mean a lot to the newcomers to be able to make those nice affirming connections and create support systems,” said Afify.

It's very important to Afify that Food Talks fosters a sense of community for 2SLGBTQIA+ newcomers, showing them that there is a space for them in Hamilton. She hopes Food Talks will help ease some of the worries newcomers have about finding connection and community in a new place during these times.

Afify also recognizes the importance of making long-term connections, especially for newcomer students. She hopes that Food Talks will give them an opportunity to create these kinds of connections with the larger Hamilton community. 

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“When I was a student, I was fairly isolated and it was hard getting support only from other students because exams and everybody was so busy all the time. Whereas if you want to connect with an elder in the queer and trans community that's off-campus, they will make time for you. So you're also building connections that are going to support you for the rest of your life. You are meeting mentors, you are learning from people. Most of my learning happened from people, not from classrooms,” explained Afify.

As of publication, only two episodes of Food Talks have been released but more are in the works. Going forward, Afify also hopes to film episodes in languages other than English to help overcome any language barriers.

“This whole project is to give a warm, virtual, community hug to newcomers who are super isolated right now and are really, really struggling. It's one thing to be a newcomer, it's another thing to be a newcomer has to go through all the struggles and barriers in the middle of COVID,” said Afify.

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