Anyone who has ever attended any one of our sushi courses knows that the first five minutes of the powerpoint presentation is allotted to the issues of food literacy, childhood poverty, and food injustice in the Greater Toronto Area. (It is a grave problem, which I have addressed in many public speaking engagements over the years, including at TEDx and SIPO and Passages Canada, to libraries and universities across this province and Mexico.) These issues are also highlighted at every corporate sushi workshop, and companies with greater moral purpose have openly embraced this. As an organization, we have been on this mission for almost eight years and over 17,000 participants later. Let’s roll sushi and also briefly talk about bigger issues of food insecurity- who gets to eat (and eat nutritionally) and who doesn’t, and why. We do this in both stable and affluent communities and those that are vulnerable to the whims of the slightest economic and social forces.
Those who know me well, know how important this issue of food insecurity and childhood hunger is to me. It is the WHY of what I do, as it speaks profoundly from my personal life journey, one that is documented in my upcoming book “Woody Allen Ate My Kimchi” (Exile Editions, 2018). Similar journeys have been taken- are being taken today- by millions all over the world. I am overwhelmed by a great feeling of allegiance.
Therefore, it fills my heart when we receive letters and emails of thanks from the students. It bolsters our organization’s sense of purpose. And occasionally, inspired students will write a piece about their experience. On February 16, 2017, I was invited to do a sushi workshop for a class of high school students at Greenwood College, a progressive and ambitious preparatory school in one of Toronto’s most affluent neighbourhoods. None of these students in the class recalled ever knowing a day of real hunger in their lives; and with the almost certain trajectory to success, they likely never will. But this did not stop them from wanting to understand, empathize. Over the years, we have learned that our workshops are much more effective when we are not preaching to the choir (i.e. children suffering from hunger and food insecurity). It works wonders when “non-congregants”, with the moral courage to venture with genuine curiosity over to the “other side of the tracks”, wish to do something about it, in part because they have the resources to do so. Conor Alexander is one such young man. He wrote this kind blog about his experience of the workshop and the school gave us permission to share it. You can read his essay here. I want to personally thank Conor for the wonderful write-up (keep inspiring, young man!), and to Greenwood College and its tight community of parents, administrators, and teachers for inculcating and engendering this most pressing of human values in their children/students: that a successful education is not merely measured by how well-fed the bank account is; it is also about nourishing the soul. There are other such schools who in recent years have asked us to come “talk-and-roll” with their students (too many to mention here) and they deserve kudos as well.
Finally, with immense gratitude I would like to personally thank all of you (individuals and companies alike) who have paid to attend one of our workshops over the years. Part of the proceeds (5%) goes toward subsidizing our sushi workshops with children in schools, libraries, community centres, church basements etc. across this province. Through your contribution, and our workshops, you have brought a smile to a child’s day and one less nutritious meal to worry about.