Mardi Michels is a full-time French (and cooking) teacher at Royal St George’s College. She authors eatlivetravelwrite.com where she chronicles her culinary adventures, near and far, and is a Jamie Oliver Food Revolution “Super Ambassador” for Canada. She is currently working on her first cookbook (Appetite/Random House, 2018). In this blog, Mardi writes about her food hero, her Nana, and why she is supporting Community Food Centres Canada this holiday season.
1. Who's the food hero in your life?
It’s hard to choose just ONE food hero in my life and it’s also hard to not choose my own mother. My mum is the reason I cook and bake today. I grew up in the kitchen, watching her, sitting at the counter sometimes helping, sometimes just watching and, if I was good, I’d get to lick the bowl! Though mum’s been a kitchen inspiration for me since forever, some of my fondest memories around food involve her mother, my Nana Russell.
Though she’s not with us anymore, Nana loved to gather people around her table for a meal. I’m fairly sure she didn’t do this for the fun of feeding large crowds (though the gatherings were always fun!), but for the express purpose of feeding people. Nana’s was the generation who lived through the war. She was careful not just with food — never throwing away even the tiniest scrap of leftovers — but also with her spending, making every penny count. With four children to feed, Nana had to be smart about what she cooked and served, and even when her children grew up and left home, she continued to think like this.
2. How did she show she cared through food?
Even for the simplest meal, we would all sit at Nana’s table, which was set with cutlery and crockery even for breakfast. Meals were served with bread, butter, and a dessert of some sort. Nana was definitely no gourmet cook, but she knew how to feed her family. She also knew how to shop. During the summer holidays, my sister and I would spend a fair bit of time at her house and were tasked with reading supermarket leaflets and noting down the week’s bargains. I really loved loved doing this and, in fact, when I lived away from home during University (and later as a student in Paris), it taught me to take the time to look around and compare prices, something I don’t imagine comes naturally to a lot of young people, but which would serve them well. Perhaps in our quest to get people back into the kitchen cooking and eating real food, shopping is a skill that needs to be taught as well?
3. What's your fondest food memory of her?
Some of my earliest memories are of going to Nana’s home for morning or afternoon tea. Not “a coffee” but an actual sit down meal at the table with biscuits and cakes and all sorts of goodies. And yes, we drank out of cups with saucers. Some of the treats we enjoyed were store bought — I don’t remember many homemade baked goods at Nana’s (those were the days when store bought meant “fancy”) — but sometimes Nana would bake a cake. Forever etched in my memory is her famous plum cake. She had a plum tree in her beautiful garden and we spent many summer afternoons as kids picking (and eating) plums (“Don’t eat too many, you’ll get a sore tummy” she’d say!). Then if we were lucky she’d make a plum cake: a golden cake studded with rich plums and their sweet juice. Simple food. Real food.
4. Why is it important for you to support an organization that uses food as a tool to increase physical and mental health + community belonging? What about this approach resonates with you?
As we live in a faster-paced world, more and more people are reaching for convenience and processed foods, and this is contributing to poor health worldwide. We’re in the middle of a global health crisis with millions of children under five overweight and millions more too undernourished to grow properly. As a society, we’re failing not just this generation but also future generations by not giving them the right food, knowledge and food preparation skills they need to grow up healthy and happy. Food is community and I believe that if we can gather people together around food (not just meals but also growing and preparing the food), it’s a giant step towards a more positive future.
Thanks to Mardi for making a donation to the #myfoodhero campaign, which supports Community Food Centres Canada to offer empowering food programs that build better health, skills, and belonging in the communities that need it most. Join Mardi by making a donation today!
Celebrate the food hero in your life by making a donation to Community Food Centres Canada on their behalf
Have a food hero in your life? Scroll down to share this with them on social media and thank them for being your food hero! #myfoodhero