Fringe Food

Everything Is Nourishment

Photos Stephen Cutler
Photos Stephen Cutler

As you walk west down de Maisonneuve Blvd., past Decarie St., following the ragged fence, you come across a slew of auto shops, the odd commuter train, several impatient drivers and a handful of hardy cyclists. But when you reach the corner of Oxford Ave., an unexpected oasis emerges: an otherwise nondescript building turned vibrant.

Its bright adjoining walls are adorned with buoyant graffiti, its main entrance nestled amidst overflowing vegetable planters, and its front patio bubbling with local school kids. Why the sudden outburst of life? Why here?

Mark Culligan helps explain. As the workshop coordinator at NDG Food Depot, which has long inhabited this space, Culligan is one of several committed staff members and volunteers who seem to have their fingers on the pulse of the NDG community… at least as far as its food needs are concerned.

“It goes so far beyond a traditional food bank. This place is, more accurately, a node of mobilization,” he said.

To understand exactly what Culligan means by this, one need only spend a few minutes at the Depot. When I visited, it was a ‘distribution day,’ and the Depot was buzzing with activity. One middle-aged volunteer stirred a freshly-made pumpkin soup simmering on the stove, while a younger helper cut up fresh apples and served them out to everyone in the room. A handful of local high school students packaged rice into portions for food boxes, while clients and volunteers of a diverse array of ages and ethnicities sat chatting on a set of comfy, mismatched couches.

I tried to absorb all that was going on around me. Having volunteered at Food Banks as a child and helped in all sorts of campaigns—from bake sales to food drives—this resembled nothing of the food banks I’d come to know. Returning to Culligan’s desk, my eye caught something written on the Depot’s website, which was up on a neighbouring screen.

“Everything is Nourishment.”

Suddenly I realized how food worked here. It was more than simple sustenance, more than brief relief, more than charity. Only ten minutes into my visit, the Depot’s core philosophy had already taken on a very vivid form all around me.

Forget what you know about food banks and handouts. The NDG Food Depot is less about charity and more about change: change from within.

Not only do clients have the opportunity to learn and even teach cooking skills—keep an eye out for next week’s Fringe Foodie for the full story on this innovative program!—but to volunteer themselves, and to help educate the community.

“Empowerment is the goal,” says Culligan, “and what we are mobilizing for is advocacy, food advocacy.”

How, you ask, can you get in on this nourishment? Well, as one of its wings of advocacy the Depot screens food-related films most Wednesdays. All are welcome, and lively discussions often follow.

This upcoming Wednesday brings an NFB co-production to the Depot’s screen. Au Chic Resto Pop, directed by Tahani Rached, offers a taste into urban poverty and hunger, dealing nominally with the trials of a community-run non-profit restaurant with the same name. The film, only two years old, is one of those fascinating local portraits—speaking to universal issues—that you should have seen, would have wanted to see, but probably never heard of amidst the onslaught of films entering the market.

So, go, I guarantee you, it’s worth it. If nothing else, it promises to bring together food advocates of all types for some much-needed dialogue: cooks, activists, social workers, and urban farmers alike.

Which brings us to a final observation: the Depot is all about cooperation. Visit their website to find out about all the local organizations—charities, urban agricultural organizations, and schools—that offer cooperating services for the community. You might just find a way to work with them yourself.

Au Chic Resto Pop screens for free Nov. 16 at 7:00 p.m. at the NDG Food Depot at 2121 Oxford St. For more information on the film, or on volunteering, visit