We Are Meant To Eat Together is many things, but at it’s heart it is a joyful expression of what is possible when intentional learning and culinary play come together.
Hi! My name is Marla, and this project is my passion! I am a professionally certified teacher, and a fan of learning that looks like play and is lead by the magic of curiosity. Learning truly is everywhere, all the time!
I am so privileged to have been mentored in a variety of projects that are alternatives to conventional education – because they have built my understanding of learning as a natural expression of living, of being connected to our communities, and of being engaged with our curiosity. My dedication to participating fully in life and life-long-learning, has lead me to travel; work for several very inspiring alternative educational projects; to collaboratively cook for (many!) community dinners; work professionally as a chef; to learn Spanish; enjoy salsa dancing; be a published writer; complete a cheese making apprenticeship; and always enjoy the splendour of the natural environment.
Based on my interest in engaging in those places where food, learning, and community building come together I am excited to offer culinary learning workshops that build skills and knowledge in a variety of competency areas for the homeschooling and unschooling communities, as well as after-school programs for those attending conventional schools. The workshops are designed to be approximately 3 hours each, with the capacity to include up to 10 learners of mixed ages (between 4 and 17), and to fully accommodate the unique gifts and challenges that each participant brings.
A look through the variety of workshops that I offer will demonstrate that they are structured to use a food focus such as making pizza, as the opportunity to also learn about the science of gluten, or geography, or an introduction to fractions, for example. The goal is to have fun experiences making food together, and through that build knowledge, skills, and confidence related to culinary pursuits as well as many other spheres. My workshops are play-based, experimental, exploratory, fun, and they will build, deepen, and expand a number of social, communication, and academic skills in the participants.
Though I offer ongoing workshops in my home community of Kitchener, Ontario – I love to travel, so invite me out! I am happy to offer workshops throughout SW Ontario and beyond. I am able to cater workshops and workshop series for specific target groups, or to cover specific themes. Please connect with me so we can explore the options that fit your group.
As a certified B.C and Ontario teacher, I am required to maintain a vulnerable sector criminal records check which you are able to see by searching my name (Marla Renn) on the BC and Ontario Federation of Teachers websites. An accredited teacher in good standing is one who maintains a vulnerable sector criminal records check.
For more information or just to get in touch, please write me at:
A Little Bit of History…
WHERE THE “We Are Meant To Eat Together” PROJECT BEGAN
*This was originally written in the fall of 2014 when I first set out on my adventure in Mexico with the intention of learning both technique of Mexican cuisines but also the role that food plays in creating and sustaining community. Though the focus of my work has evolved, the central questions and ideas expressed here continue to root me.
The idea has been to take the time to learn and deepen my understanding of the connection between the community, the kitchen, and learning. I have these inclinations and ideas of how the kitchen, the making of food, can be a profound source of learning and community; a space that invites the building and expression of both. I’m also a little obsessed with making really good and really (or mostly) healthy food, so the idea of dedicating time to developing my own cooking ability was also attractive to say the least. I wanted to explore these inclinations, ideas, and obsessions. Rooted in a conviction that I didn’t need to have it all worked out before I set out – and that it was a worthy thing to do despite being a crazy thing to do – I have come to Mexico.
I’m not paid for this..nor is this project part of any institution, so I have chosen not to impose a structure that forced me to create a beyond the basics plan. Really this is just a disclaimer that this project is mostly just me bumping through everyday life with an idea; making friends, meeting people, and letting the project form and unfold as I adventure through it. Haphazard yes, but it is very important to me that through this project I bring value to women’s knowledge and work, and honour how their work includes sharing it (recognizing that sharing it is an anchor of community building). So, I have planned to learn from the experts, these are not the acclaimed few that do the fascinating and difficult job of working in a restaurant – but the multitude of loved and appreciated madres (moms), tías (aunties), and abuelitas (grandmothers) in their kitchens, in their homes. It is also very important to me that I act with reciprocity, this means many things but it includes that I understand that the sharing of knowledge bestows responsibility and therefore it must lead to something powerful and real and good.
If you ask anyone about cuisine in Mexico everyone will have something to say. Often incredibly fond memories of special women in their lives whom they describe with colourful words dripping with flavour and texture. Or they will describe their own memories of being in the kitchen – working, participating, learning, discussing community events and history. Everyone has a story and it is agreed, that in Mexico it is the mothers, aunts, and grandmothers that run “the kitchen”. These women and are easily regarded as the true holders of the cuisine’s sazón, and whose recipes are the real foundation of all good food to be eaten here. Sazón is described as the taste of love that each cocinera (cook) adds to the dish. It is what makes a dish identifiably from the hands of one person, you can feel them in the food and it rocks. It is also clear that recipes are not only a cultivated collection of ingredients and process, but also a collection of experiences, history, tradition, and wisdom. Providing and creating food is done for the sustenance of the everyday as well as being an expression of love and celebration. These women are the experts, and their skill sharing and mutual aid holds their communities together. For the everyday and special occasions alike, food in Mexico is about how people get shit done, together.
I came to develop technique and understanding of food and cooking, but also to spend time learning with women that are engaged in kitchen work as a site of resistance and of community building. Their kitchens are not just a place to cook, but reflect the multiple tasks and celebrations of every day life; they are also a place of homework lessons, of dancing, of long wanderings of the heart, of deep laughter and emotional strength, of clandestine conversations, philosophy, and throughout it all is woven the values of mutual aid, communal and shared work, equality, self-organization. I also believe that the best way to learn is to do it…what ever you want to learn, do it. Don’t go to school as the primary site of learning…this road is in the direction away from community and it is the wrong direction to be running, run towards community and learn there. So with righteous confidence I set out to meet amazing people who would share their experience and knowledge with me.
The background philosophy…
Perhaps it is intellectual laziness, but I’ve never been one for remembering the specifics in order to recreate it for someone else or as evidence, but I can feel it. There is a lot that has contributed to the development of my ideas about food, community, learning, and the potential of kitchens …Ivan Ilich, bell hooks, Pablo Frier, Agusto Boal, Matt Hern, just to name a few of the thinkers…but more powerful has been the multiple opportunities I have had to spend time inside of space where community and kitchens intersect. My earliest learning ground, where I cut my teeth as they say, was the commune that my aunt lived in and dedicated herself to for many years – where for vacations and ever other chance I had, I worked alongside others and learned mountains of skills while taking care of animals, harvesting greenhouse lettuce, doing seasonal food preservation, and cooking in a kitchen that provided 3 meals and a snack a day to 70 people on average. It was also in this community that I attended my first meetings, where decisions and discussions were conducted with the intention of consensus, equality, respect being the guiding anchors.
Many years later, I experienced further growth through participating in many radical education and community projects: the Purple Thistle Youth Arts and Activism Centre (an unschooling project); Windsor House School (a democratic free school project); cooking at the Purple Thistle Summer Learning Institute (more deschooling work) where I anchored the creation of a community learning space in the kitchen; and over several years, my efforts with groups of volunteers to create meals for community celebrations, protests, demonstrations, and meetings.
The community meals were an effort of love and I learned so much through them. For me, the intention of sharing food at these celebrations was always to create a meal that everyone could share together, and to create a kitchen space where folks could talk, meet, and build relationship. I was inspired to experiment in creating a space that contested the values and isolating effects of living in a society organized largely on the principals and values of capitalism, a space that contested a system which determines the healthiness of what and whether you actually eat or not based on an economically determined ability to purchase. Fuck. For me, those community meals were an important space to build community, to process experiences and build understanding, and sometimes to learn skills too.
Holding the ground that my insights and passions for community, kitchens, and learning are rooted in is my faith that we can indeed build a world anchored by friendship, mutuality, love, justice, and joy. I see that the simple work of the kitchen – how we organize it within our societies is in fact fundamental to building the kinds of relationships and values that are needed to support us having the revolutions we need, and the world that we are having the revolutions for. Because I see that – I want to do things that do just that 🙂 I want to participate in projects that build our capacity as people and infrastructure to live well together, and in the meantime engage in learning experiments…just like the commune was. Unending acknowledgement and thanks, because I am not here by accident nor without the many contributions of communities and mentors along the way.