Notable Life | A Conversation with Food Bank Canada’s CEO, Neil Hetherington

Spring has arrived and Easter is coming fast! Whether Easter is a religious holiday for you, or just a chance to eat more chocolate and spend time with loved ones, it’s likely that food will be an important part of Easter weekend. However, with disparity in the access to food, putting together a celebratory family meal can be very challenging for some of us.

Food Banks Canada, with a network of over five hundred local food banks, has been fighting food insecurity for almost four decades. Prior the pandemic, there were over a million people per month visiting food banks across the country. Within the pandemic, usage has surged and made the need for support and awareness more urgent than ever.

We sat down with the CEO of FBC, Neil Hetherington, to discuss the work food banks do and what they need from those who can help, as well as their partnership with Egg Farmers of Canada.

The two organizations have partnered on various charitable food initiatives for over a decade, and this season enlisted a roster of top Canadian chefs to develop Easter holiday recipes, perfect for a casual brunch or a big dinner with friends and family. The recipes put a focus on affordable household ingredients and no-fuss substitutions, and are designed to make Easter entertaining, simple and delicious. We will share some recipes below!

But first, let’s say hi to Neil Hetherington.

Hi!
Hello!

On Food Bank Canada’s website it states, “Before the pandemic, food banks in Canada were visited more than 1 million times per month. They were already at capacity and struggling to meet their communities’ needs.” Can you speak about what ‘food insecurity’ is and how it is experienced in Canada?
Food insecurity is a symptom of people experiencing poverty. The reasons have always been there; they’ve just been intensified by the pandemic. Generally, there are three underlying reasons for food in security: a lack of affordable housing, decent employment, and income in security. For example, if you’re on income assistance (like CERB or disability) sometimes, no matter how frugal you are, it’s impossible to cover all your expenses with that amount, and people find themselves relying on food charities to make ends meet.

How have Food Banks experienced the Pandemic?
Usage levels at food banks have increased over the pandemic. Despite the economy opening up, this past March was our all-time highest number of client visits since the pandemic began. And that’s because inflation is hurting so many people whether it’s at the gas pump or at the grocery store.

Outside of donating food, what are some things Canadians can do to help reduce and end hunger in Canada?
Advocate to change systems through engagement. Engage with your elected officials (call, email, write) outlining the change you want to see. Each level of government has a plan for food security and poverty. Push to see action asking for a commitment from your elected officials – be active. We’d like to see an increased sense of agency and urgency. The need for urgency not just during the pandemic but as we move out of the pandemic, keeping up support and awareness to help lessen food insecurity.

What are the best foods and products to donate?
Foods that are high in protein like canned fish, beans, and peanut butter. Personal care products, items for babies and children, and feminine menstrual and hygiene products.

What are some things that we might not know about Food Banks?
We source and offer fresh food! We don’t only accept non-perishable food items. Monetary donations are a great resource and we use those funds to buy perishable food items directly from farmers and food producers. Farmers and fresh food producers around the country also donate to us.

Another lesser known fact is we’re set up like a grocery store! Our visitors are given points to shop and they choose items as they see fit. That way people can shop according to their preferences and personal needs.

What are the more popular items among users of Food Banks Canada?
They’re the same items that are popular outside of food banks as well – versatile whole-foods, high in protein.

Tell us about the partnership with Egg Farmers of Canada for Easter one-pot and one-pan dishes?
FBC and EFC share an alignment of values ​​– feeding individuals. Everyone has a right to food. How can everyone access that? That’s at the base of our partnership. We’ve been partnered with them for about 10 years and this year and we’ve created an enhanced partnership for Easter with great, low-cost, accessible recipes by top Canadian Chefs that give unique Canadian meal ideas with everyday food items.

Of the chef’s one pot/sheet dishes, which is your favorite?
Oh, that’s like asking me to choose a favorite child, haha. But I’ll be trying Chef Josh’s Creamy Pasta dish first.

Thanks, Neil, for taking the time out to talk with us.
Thank you!

Creamy Pasta with Ham, Peas and Poached Eggs
Chef Josh Gale
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Serves 4

A simple way to make use of common ingredients in your home, this rich and velvety dish is packed with flavor and can be made in one pot, making it the perfect dish to easily serve up to family and friends.

Ingredients:
2 tbsp (30 mL) margarine
1 cup (250 mL) ham, diced
½ cups (125 mL) cream
1 cup (250 mL) milk
8oz (250 g) dried

spaghetti, spaghettini or
linguini noodles
¾ cup (180 mL) green peas, thawed
1 ½ cups (375 mL) grated cheddar
¼ tsp (1 mL) sea salt
¼ tsp (1 mL) black pepper
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tbsp (15 mL) sliced ​​or dried chips
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped or dried parsley
2 tsp (10 mL) lemon juice
6 cups (1.4 L) of water
2 tbsp (30 mL) white vinegar
4 eggs

Instructions:
Step 1
Heat margarine in a large pot over medium heat.

Step 2
Add ham and sauté for 1-2 minutes.

Step 3
Add cream, milk and dried pasta, ensuring the liquid is covering the noodles.

Step 4
Place a lid on the pot, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 12-14 minutes, until noodles are cooked “al dente.”

Step 5
Add peas, cheddar cheese, salt and pepper, and stir until cheese has melted.

Step 6
Remove pot from heat and gently stir in ¼ cup parmesan cheese, herbs and lemon juice.

Step 7
Transfer the cooked pasta to a platter and rinse out the pot.

Step 8
Add 6 cups of hot water and bring to a boil. Add white vinegar and a big pinch of salt.

Step 9
Crack all 4 eggs into a bowl, ensuring the yolks stay intact.

Step 10
Use a slotted spoon to stir the water and carefully pour the eggs one at a time into the pot.

Step 11
Poach for 3-4 minutes until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny. Use the slotted spoon to transfer the eggs to a paper towel lined tray.

Step 12
Place poached eggs on top of the pasta. Finish with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and a ¼ cup remaining parmesan cheese, and enjoy!

Ham and Cheddar Croissant Bake
By Chef Lynn Crawford
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Serves 6-8

This comforting one-dish recipe will surely be a family favourite. Made in minutes, it’s perfect for Easter or anytime of the year, and easy to personalize with the ingredients you have at home!

Ingredients:
12 mini croissant
6 slices ham, cut in half
8 large eggs
1 cup (250 mL) whole milk
2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon or yellow mustard
1 tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh or dried chips
1 cup (250 mL) shredded cheddar
¼ cup (60 mL) grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:
Step 1
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Step 2
Spray a 9 x 13-inch (33 x 22.9 cm) baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Step 3
Slice open and stuff each croissant with a slice of ham then arrange them in one layer in the baking dish.

Step 4
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together with the milk, mustard, chives, and season with salt and pepper.

Step 5
Pour the mixture over the croissants. Gently press down on the croissants allowing them to absorb the egg mixture.

Step 6
Sprinkle the cheddar and parmesan cheeses evenly on top.

Step 7
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil, then continue baking for another 10 minutes or until the croissants are golden on top. Serve warm.

All Dressed Baked Eggs on Crispy Rice
By Chef Minh Phat
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1h15 minutes
Serves 4

Full of rich flavours, this delicious one-pan dish is easy to pull together for friends or family and helps keep you energized for an activity-filled day.

Ingredients:
2 cups (500 mL) rice (jasmine rice recommended)
4 garlic cloves
3 tbsp (45 mL) vegetable oil or roasted sesame seed oil
1 small Spanish onion, diced
1 cup (250 mL) diced bacon (optional)
1 small eggplant, minced
2 tsp (10 mL) fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
2 cups (500 mL) canned diced tomatoes
5 eggs
A pinch of salt and pepper

Instructions:
Step 1
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Step 2
While the oven is preheating, rinse the rice until the water is clear, and keep the rice in a sieve to drain the water.

Step 3
In a 10-12 inch (25-30 cm) cast iron pan at medium heat, sauté the minced garlic in vegetable oil. Once lightly browned, add the onion and bacon, and brown. Then, add the minced eggplant, thyme and bay leaves, and brown them with a pinch of salt. Add the 2 cups of canned diced tomatoes and cook until the sauce is thick.

Step 4
Turn off the heat. Add the rice and mix until combined. Add the 2 cups of water. Turn on the heat again, bringing everything to a simmer. Remove from heat.

Step 5
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and put in the oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and brush the vegetable or sesame oil on the top of the rice. Then, put the pan back in the oven to cook for another 30 minutes.

Step 6
After 30 minutes, a crust will form on the top of the rice. Crack the eggs on top and put the pan, uncovered, back in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the egg whites are set.

Step 7
Once ready, take out the pan and sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper over the top if desired.

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