A volunteer group that aims to help racialized Londoners prevent and manage diabetes now has its own kitchen to prepare healthy meals and food boxes and offer educational cooking classes.
Type Diabeat-It moved into the commercial-grade kitchen in August, four years after founder Mystery Furtado started the organization by planting a few rows of vegetables in the London Food Bank’s community garden.
Located on Exeter Road, the kitchen will be a hub for processing harvest from the organization’s on-site greenhouse and teaching how to prepare healthy, Afrocentric and diabetes-friendly plant-based recipes that can feed a family for less than $20, Furtado said.
“This is huge,” said Furtado, a nurse and clinical educator who is originally from Belize.
“Our kitchen is going to help so many people.”
The kitchen is one of 26 new community projects in London, Elgin and Middlesex that United Way Elgin Middlesex allocated to receive funding from the Government of Canada’s Community Services Recovery Fund, which aims to help charities, nonprofits and Indigenous governing bodies address needs that have emerged or increased since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Type Diabeat-It is the only Black-led organization in Southwestern Ontario planting and preparing “cultural produce” with a focus on newcomers and BPOC (Black and people of colour) communities, Furtado said.
It’s an important focus. Along with Indigenous people, BPOC communities have much higher rates of type 2 diabetes compared to the general population.
Before moving into the kitchen, Furtado would hold her cooking demonstrations at community centres, agencies and churches across London.
“For so long, we’ve been bouncing all over the place and relying on community partners in order to do the work we do,” she said. “Now we have a home.”
‘The pandemic showed us we need a kitchen’
Before the pandemic, Furtado was running cooking demonstrations at London community centres and churches, and her team of volunteers were distributing 80 boxes monthly of locally grown afro-centric produce and cultural recipe cards to Londoners – specifically people living with diabetes and in public-housing communities.
But COVID-19 shutdowns disrupted the food box program by limiting Furtado’s ability to access community space where volunteers could package the food. While partner organizations offered to share spaces for food prep and cooking demos when possible, it became impossible to maintain the program after the first year of the pandemic. And social distancing restrictions meant Furtado needed to book spacious areas – and often use a hot plate to cook.
“The pandemic showed us we needed a kitchen.”
Diabetes Canada says healthy eating can help people manage all types of diabetes. But some newcomers to Canada say it’s a challenge to eat healthy meals after arriving, not only because of cost but because it’s difficult to find the nutritional foods they were used to back home.
When getting settled, it can be easy to turn to more affordable processed foods, leading to eating habits that can get passed down through generations.
Helping people manage and prevent diabetes by eating healthy has been a lifelong passion for Furtado, who lost grandparents on both her maternal and paternal sides to the disease, and who was only nine when she became responsible for administering her grandma’s insulin at their home in a remote area of Belize.
“Our goal is to address food insecurity and create food literacy for the African, Caribbean and Black communities,“ she said “We are targeting a specific demographic that might not relate to the food recipes that are recommended here in Canada.”
Furtado wants to help families find their way back to nutritional comfort food. It’s why her recipes include traditional favourites such as Ghanian Red Bean stew, green banana salad and cassava fries.
It’s also why, she and her team of volunteers will still continue bringing locally grown produce popular in African and Caribbean countries, such as okra, swiss chard and callaloo, along with recipe cards and cooking demonstrations to public-housing communities and churches in London’s Boullee, Limberlost and Glen Cairn neighbourhoods.
“I’ve been on welfare and I live in public housing,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be unable to access services because you can’t get to them – We’re going to keep bringing our services into communities.”
- Cardinal Fine Cabinetry provided the kitchen and has agreed to let Type Diabeat-It cultivate 1.5 acres of land on the property to grow produce.
- The kitchen project is a collaboration with London Food Bank, London Intercommunity Health Centre, Foundation for Black Communities and City of London.
- Type Diabeat-It works closely with other community groups including LUSO, BGC London, Northwest London Resource Centre and London Intercommunity Health Centre.