Take Back the Tray

Let’s change the way we eat.

Let’s change the way we live.

Let’s change the way we treat each other.


Joshna Maharaj is a chef that believes in changing the way we eat when we’re most vulnerable: the disenfranchised community, students, hospital patients – and everyone that believes a quick hamburger at the drive-thru is sufficient nutrition to keep us running in the proverbial rat race.  As we send off our youth into post-secondary settings, what are they eating?  The health industry has taken a beating over the past few years and have we understood that what patients eat affect their recovery?  What of students heading to the classroom this fall with limited access to food at home that provides the best brain development for better learning?  

I learned so much from Joshna providing statistics that will have you sit back and think about food in our society. For example, chronic disease is directly linked to the highly processed food we eat on a daily basis.  Or, one in five racialized families live in poverty (compared to 1 in 20 white families) affecting food choices based on personal budgets.  How about 1 in 8 Canadian households are food insecure.  “It says a lot about our collective priorities that we all walk around with mini computers in our pockets, yet people still go to bed hungry.” (pg 30) 

Community groups like The Stop https://www.thestop.org/ is featured by Joshna because she worked there to redefine how and what food was being provided to those most in need in downtown Toronto.  When sourcing food for any institution or community group, the overarching attitude is that a “tomato is just a tomato, and the only thing you need to know about it is how much it costs.” (pg 87) Was it grown locally utilizing the healthiest growing practices or shipped from a country where pesticide control would make you cringe? 

We’ve got a health care system that doesn’t care about food, and a food system that doesn’t care about health.” (Wendell Berry, farmer and author, pg 64).  Here’s a video featuring a Ted Talk by Joshna on the food in our hospitals.  Although it addresses health care in Ontario, it is true throughout Canada that budget cuts target the food being served in most hospitals across our country.

Joshna worked with one hospital in the GTA that started the reversal from frozen pre-made meals to in-house locally sourced fresh food.  Although it proved to be a huge success with both patients and staff, unfortunately new leadership reversed the decision and clawed back the budget (again!) to make these positive changes impossible.  Sad.  

This is not just about what’s on the plates. It’s the place of priority that food gets, and the culture of food that exists in the institution.

Food delivery in post-secondary institutions has drastically changed over the past 20 years.  Gone are the cafeteria style inhouse cooked meals.  Now it’s an array of fast-food outlets not unlike mall food courts.  One may be hard pressed to find some healthy options and what late teen is motivated to look for them?  There is one organization that has made its mission to change the trajectory of food accessibility within colleges and universities: Meal Exchange Student Network https://www.mealexchange.com/ 

The farm to table movement within restaurants has made the transition from processed food to locally sourced, responsible farming practices and the freshest food available served to their customers.  This mind shift needs to happen at all levels of food service…especially where it impacts health and learning.

I asked Joshna how the book has impacted her career path and where she was today.  This is her post-book update:   

I intentionally wrote the book to appeal to as many people as possible, and to not be a piece of policy that would sit on shelves after I’ve patted myself on the back. What I hoped was that this little book would move around and hopefully there would start to be some interest from institutions to start making some change to their food service. We’re just over a year out from the pub date of this book, and I am delighted to tell you that it’s happening! I have a few institutions who I’m working with now, and things are steadily growing. In fact, I think my next move is going to have to be building a team to manage the workload involved here and develop the ideas from the book into more of a curriculum for institutions ready to jump in. The pandemic has been rough, that’s for sure. But it has also highlighted the holes in our food system and our public institutions, and this book has now become more relevant than ever.”

 To learn more about Joshna and her work, go to


Joshna provides recipes at the back of her book and we tried the Egg Salad Sandwich – check it out in our Recipe section. And to win a copy of this eye-opening book, go to the Giveaway tab.

Content used with permission by ECW Press.  https://ecwpress.com/ 

Images used with permission by Melissa Yu Vanti.