In 2016, Mishma Mukith and Juanita Gnanapragasam were inspired to start Converse and Cook. In an interview, Gnanapragasam said Converse and Cook is “cooking socials where the emphasis is on community building and fostering connection through a shared interest in food.”
Gnanapragasam said that the idea came from feedback from international students at the University of Alberta. She said the students were concerned about “the importance and challenges of accessing culturally relevant and nutritious meals while living on campus.” In response, Mukith and Gnanapragasam started a group where students could share their ethnic dishes and cook them together.
Gnanapragasam and Mukith found that various programs already teach students how to cook, and the attendees of their events especially enjoyed the social aspect. With that, they decided to focus on the social experience of their events with Converse and Cook. Their events are cooking socials, not classes because, as Gnanapragasam said, “the term ‘class’ has the implicit connotation that there is a hierarchy, and an inherent power dynamic between ‘teacher’ and ‘student.’ Instead, by removing that term altogether, we fully embrace that our socials are just that — a social experience where everybody is welcome and equal.” Further, Converse and Cook operates out of spaces such as classrooms to keep the cooking socials free to ensure that cost is not a barrier to participation.
“The main focus of Converse and Cook is to create social spaces where individuals can explore connections to their own identity and the broader communities they are embedded in using food,” said Gnanapragasam. Right now, that is challenging due to COVID and not being able to run the cooking socials. To try and reduce the feelings of isolation many people are experiencing these days, Converse and Cook is putting together the Comfort Food cookbook. Ganapragasam said the cookbook will not only include recipes but also “tell the stories of how Edmontonians and local businesses are staying resilient and caring for each other.”
Converse and Cook has also been hosting creative workshops to stay connected with the community. These events include virtual game nights and a virtual tea party for which they sent out surprise tea packets to anyone who registered for the event. Gnanapragasam said that Converse and Cook has more exciting events planned for the summer, and will continue running these virtual events until they can safely return to in-person cooking socials.
Once it is safe to do so, Gnanapragasam said the goal of Converse and Cook is to “continue advocating for communal cooking spaces in the city for Edmontonians to cook together and build community.” She also said that Cook and Converse hopes to host cooking socials at MacEwan University.
While MacEwan University cannot play host to a cooking social just yet, there are ways to get involved now. Cook and Converse is still accepting submissions for the Comfort Food cookbook. Anyone who would like to be featured can visit the website for more information.
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