“Let food be thy medicine; and medicine be thy food.” ~Hippocrates

Food (or the lack thereof) has an immense capacity to bring people together. Communities revel in their ability to share and experience traditional food, it builds a sense of identity for them. This year I, and nine other beautiful souls had the opportunity to be lead by three more beautiful souls (and their plenty of contacts) into the east of this country and experience what it means to be a global citizen in the city of Toronto. Something that hit me halfway through the trip was this constant motif of food. Not just the availability, the type, the ingredients, if it’s cooked or not, whether it’s served on a plate or in a Styrofoam dish. The vast majority of the organizations we visited were related to the collection, distribution, or improving of food. Be it the Meal Exchange program – promoting healthy meals around university campuses worldwide, the Social Innovation Centre, which uses their tactfully-designed kitchen to encourage collaboration between users, or something as simple as the Church of the Redeemer – providing hot meals for those who need. It was odd, so many different institutions and programs all centered around feeding people. (And, as a hilarious story, the purchasing and moving of entire buildings over a disagreement as to whether someone was allowed to use a waffle iron or not)

Toronto is such a fascinating city, with grand skyscrapers, high-rises, and gold-plated windows that mask the class distinctions on the ground. The poorer sections of the city are altogether scary; smeared in graffiti, cigarette smoke permeating the air, and a variety of litter on the streets. It’s covered up from above, hard to see, difficult to notice. It’s as though some people don’t have a place to fit in in a city five million strong – and it leads to them being forced into these depressing areas to live in. And living is hard in those areas.

Given that my entire degree focuses on the functioning of the human body, I can say for absolute certain that a well fed person experiences more positive mental and physical functioning than a hungry counterpart. This is affected by the amount, quality, and enjoyment of the food someone is eating. Lack of a good diet compounds itself in decreased motivation, turning to other alternatives (alcohol, smoking, or drugs of some sort) to alleviate hunger, and overall depression. To feed someone is to enable them to see the light in a situation that seems otherwise hopeless. It’s these small actions that break one’s mental barrier between being able to wake up motivated or exhausted. Being well fed is the difference between someone riding an elevator or feeling able to take the stairs, compounding in other physical and mental benefits. It sounds ridiculous, I agree; however, to feed someone begins a positive feedback loop that breaks the cycle of alienation and depression someone feels in a city as large as Toronto.

And, of course, a city as large as Calgary.

This program was within the lens of teaching us to become better global citizens. I’ve realized that global citizenship doesn’t mean you forget about home. Calgary is also a massive city, and the issues faced in Toronto aren’t overwhelmingly different than the issues here. We have citizens here trapped in a cycle of helplessness. It’s almost insane to say that a single can of soup will change their life – however it’s a step in the right direction, a step toward motivating people, and a step to fixing the underlying issues we face around the world: homelessness, depression, and addictions. Global problems.

It begins with the satiation of bacteria in the stomach, the firing of neurons, the rush of enjoyment, the temporary happiness, the self-efficacy of ability, the hope, the actions, the smiles, the reciprocity of it all. It’s watching the users of a food bank turn around and work for that food bank. It’s watching ability and hope grow and fester within someone who would never have had it otherwise.

The solution begins with a donation by someone more fortunate. A donation is more than giving a meal, it’s giving hope.

In the wise words of one of my program leaders: Serve, learn, eat, repeat. I’ve had the honor to be able to experience this cycle firsthand – and thanks to those who came on this trip with me, it has changed me for the better. It’s given me hope.

And if there’s one thing we know about hope, it’s contagious.

It goes global.

– Areeb Qayyum


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