Jonah Schein is an MPP for Davenport. He is a dedicated teacher, social worker, and community organizer. Below are his reflections on what his dad taught him about food, justice and the politics of sharing what tastes good. It is part of Fiesta Farms’ Apron Strings Project, a celebration of dads and food in honor of Father’s Day.
Some dads teach their sons to “bring home the bacon.” My dad taught me to bring it home, cook it, enjoy it, and share it with the people around me.
I am lucky. I grew up in a food-positive home, where food was abundant.
My parents shared parenting responsibilities for my siblings and me, but my dad was primarily in charge of food in our family. He was the one who shopped for groceries and cooked. He made us breakfast and packed our lunches, and he often made breakfast, packed lunches, and made dinner
for our friends too. My friends always felt welcome in our home. We could often find my dad in the kitchen preparing food, happy to talk to us and to feed us.And so I learned to like food. And to share it with my friends.
My dad has always loved food, but he was never a picky, or a precise cook. My parents are “crunchy granola” era hippies, so we ate pretty healthily – always whole foods and never from a can. We ate vegetables and salads, but my dad has always loved rich food. He believes in making food taste good, with lots of meat and eggs and vegetables and butter and sugar. He loves to make macaroni and cheese with lots of cheese and lots of butter. He loves ice cream. And he believes in making a lot of food. Both my parents believe that baking and cooking with kids is important. Baking with my dad always involved a lot of tasting and licking the bowl.
While I was growing up, my dad would often reflect with distaste that too many people and too many parents used food as a form of power and of social control. And so my dad never fussed about our food – in his mind, his job as a parent was to provide us with enough food. He knew that we would eat what we needed, and he was always willing to help eat anything we couldn’t finish on our plates. This thinking shaped my own values as they relate to both food and politics.
I was first politicized as a young adult working with kids in Toronto’s shelter system. I saw kids who simply did not have enough to eat, and I was stunned to hear the remarks of some co-workers who said that if we fed the kids more, their parents would “never learn to take responsibility” for feeding them. It became clear at this point that not everyone shared the values I learned from my dad.
My work with homeless people in Toronto and my first-hand encounters of the food inequality in this city have continued to politicize me. Denying people access to food – particularly in a rich province like ours — is clearly inhumane, and we have an obligation to ask questions about the political and economic systems that allow this to happen.
When I saw the health impacts of poverty in our city – both physical and emotional – and the cruel cuts to social assistance that limited so man people’s access to nutritious food, I felt compelled to get involved. I became an advocate for food justice, first through my work at Queen West Community Health Centre, then at The Stop Community Food Centre.
This led to me to the NDP and my current role as MPP for the riding of Davenport in Toronto. My dad rarely uses a recipe and does not consider himself to be a good cook. But in fact, my dad’s food always tastes good, because it meets the definition of “comfort food”: it is cooked with kindness and generosity.
My dad’s cooking taught me about love, about compassion and about sharing. In the end, it taught me to feel lucky, and inspired me to work to make it possible for all kids to grow up knowing they have enough food to share.
Recipe: “Ice Cream Log Cake”
Here’s the real recipe for JELLY ROLL from For the Love of Baking by
Lillian Kaplun. (We always called this “Ice Cream Log Cake” and it was a
favourite birthday cake in my family.)
- 1 cup plus 2 T. sifted cake flour
- 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 to ½ tsp. salt
- 6 egg whites
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 3 T. water
- Heat oven to 350. Grease jelly roll pan (15″ x 11″ x1″). Line with heavy waxed paper – grease paper. Fit the waxed paper into the pan so it is ½” to 1″ away from the edge on all sides. Then you won’t tear the cake.
- Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
- Beat egg whites until foamy, add 1 cup sugar gradually and beat until a meringue consistency. Remove from the machine and by hand fold in the yolks, one at a time, blending thoroughly. Add sifted dry ingredients .
- Fold in water and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Turn out on a linen towel sprinkled with sugar. Peel off waxed paper carefully. Cool to lukewarm. Trim off side crusts with a serrated knife.
- Roll cake with towel. Cool 5 min. Unroll.
- Remove roll and fill with favourite filling (lemon filling, any jam or jelly, ice cream, chocolate filling or whipped cream.)
In my family’s version, my mom usually baked the roll, but my dad enjoyed filling the roll and decorating the cake with us. We always used ice cream inside and whipped cream on the outside. It never rolled like a real jelly roll because my dad used so much ice-cream that the cake just wrapped around the ice cream. Several different flavours and colours of ice-cream in layers look nice when you slice the cake.
- After filling with ice cream, wrap in foil and freeze until the party.
- The next step is the whipped cream. My dad usually used twice as much as anyone else would. He whipped it just before serving.
- The final step is the decorations. We usually decorated with fruits (berries, kiwi slices, peaches) or with other toppings like chocolate shavings, cookie bits, or smarties.