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The Community Cookbook Has Been Revived

Bringing us Together in a Time When We’re Forced to Be Apart

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reimagine what friendship and community look like when we can’t be together. How can we share a meal when we’re far apart? How can we emulate those feelings of warmth, love, and support when we can’t sit around the table together?

Enter the community cookbook: a collection of recipes put together by neighbours, colleagues, families, friends, and sometimes even strangers. Dating back to the mid-1800s, these cookbooks were used as a fundraising tool for initiatives like school sports teams, political campaigns, and even rallying for the women’s right to vote. They also embodied a lifeline between people, forging friendships and support that would grow alongside these easy-to-make recipes.

When global stay-at-home orders started this past March, some people began turning back to the community cookbook, resurrecting it from an era vastly different from our own and yet still somehow similar. Today, not only are many of these revived cookbooks recirculating and helping people re-connect, but the proceeds are also helping a number of causes, including domestic abuse shelters and laid-off restaurant workers.

The format of these cookbooks vary widely. Almost all of them are digital, and many are truly being built by a village. One of the cookbooks, “Bone Apple Tea: The People’s Cookbook,” is housed and assembled in an open-access folder on Google Drive, including recipes laid out as PowerPoint presentations, sprinkled with steps like “season from the heart.” The cookbook was started by Lauren Belak-Berger, Benjamin Davenport and Jack Redell for a group of about 10 friends scattered across the country. The Google Drive and its recipes became a hub for the friends to reconnect; “I can hear my friends’ voices. It feels as close as it can to us hanging out,” says Belak-Berger.

Photo from "Bone Apple Tea: The People's Cookbook"

Right here in Victoria, a group of Royal Roads students created “Taste of the Island: A Digital Quarantine Cookbook,” which features recipes from some of the authors’ favourite Vancouver Island restaurants. Created to uplift their communities’ spirits, all of the cookbook’s proceeds will also be donated to Our Place Society.

For the Nuu-chah-nulth community, creating a community cookbook was a way to honor the food and harvesting traditions of their Elders. “Camas” (pronounced “chum-us” in this context) is a collection of original community seafood recipes, traditional food preparation and preservation techniques, and oral history anecdotes. It marries the wisdom of the elders with the community’s culinary skill, exploring the art of how to butterfly a salmon, how to can fish, as well as recipes for marinated seaweed, steam pit cooking, Nuu-chah-nulth upskwee, and shellfish.

Photo of traditionally harvested herring eggs, courtesy of Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

Another example can be found at Okanagan College, where students, staff, and community members collaborated to create “What We Cooked: A Compilation of Recipes During COVID Times.” Roen Janyk, one of the librarians spearheading the project, hopes that “it will provide a reminder that our community is in this together, even if we can’t be in-person.”

Justine Mack, a chef in Baltimore who created the community cookbook, “How to Take Care,” echoes the Okanagan College’s emphasis on the importance of our everyday decisions right now. “We are at this powerful moment of living through an epic part of history,” said Ms. Mack, 34. The community cookbooks being created in this time are “time capsules, so we can look back and see how we chose to survive and come together collectively.”

There are truly so many ways to incorporate food into our daily lives that help connect us to each other and share a bit more about who we are. So the question is - what would your community cookbook look like?


Inspiration sourced from this wonderful article:

The Community Cookbook Is Reborn for a Time of Scarcity and Sharing.” by Priya Krishna, New York Times. April 28 2020.


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