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Joshna Maharaj brings farm-fresh ideas to the table

Joshna Maharaj wants to change the way we perceive food. Not just what we eat, but how we source it, what we know about it and how we feel about it.

“My work with the food justice advocacy group Stop Community Food Centres has completely informed the kind of chef I am. I am not interested in working at restaurants creating expensive plates of food over and over again. I am interested in food from a community perspective. I want to address how we feed patients, students, even prisoners.’

Maharaj, who wants to “nurture rather than just fill the tank”, helped bring about major changes in the patients’ menus at Scarborough General Hospital and in cafeteria food at Sick Kids. She also helped change the campus food service at Ryerson University.

“Food issues are more political today than they have ever been before in human history. Paradoxically, our collective food-related knowledge is lower. Most people don’t even know where their food comes from.”

Born in South Africa into a family that moved four generations ago from Uttar Pradesh in India, she came to Canada as an 18-month-old. Her mother was a pharmacist, a profession much in demand in the late 70s, and her father’s brother was already in Canada. A bigger factor in the family’s decision to move to Canada was that her parents were die-hard fans of Pierre Trudeau.

The early years were very difficult, she says.

“I can smile now, but it wasn’t easy for me and my younger brother, navigating the differences, aware of the colour of your skin, your unpronounceable name. My mother would open windows and light agarbathis to get rid of the odours of cooking. But we learned to handle it. On a positive note, my home was always where the food was – nothing feeds a crowd like a big pot of curry!”

Her advice to newcomers and those who might wish to follow in her path?

“You have to have your sense of yourself firmly implanted. The only reason I’ve made it this far is because I can’t turn away. Be prepared to invest in yourself. Be prepared to do a lot of work, some of it for free. Volunteer. There are no shortcuts.”

Posted: Aug 31, 2018

June 2019

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

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