Great Food, Great Cause

Cacao restaurant and Blue House Organics have teamed up to help the serious crisis in Venezuela.

August 28, 2017

By Alexandra Gill / Photo: Calling Mountain Productions

A few weeks ago, Venezuelan expat Alejandro Sucre was at his farm, Blue House Organics in Pemberton, B.C., watching slightly wilted, unused radishes and mustard greens being tossed back into the ground for compost. “This is crazy,” he said. “We have all these beautiful vegetables and the people in my home country are starving.”

Now those fresh, local vegetables are being used to help feed hungry children at the Hospital JM de Los Ríos in strife-torn Caracas, Venezuela. In partnership with Vancouver’s Cacao Restaurant, Blue House Organics has launched a fundraising drive for Fundació Barriga Llena Corazón Contento (Full Belly, Happy Heart). The volunteer initiative, led by several renowned South American chefs including Carlos Garcia and Francisco Abenante, has been operating a daily soup kitchen for the hospital since June 2016.

“Right now, in Caracas, there are a lot of people eating from garbage bins in the streets,” Garcia, chef-owner of Alto, one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America, explained by phone from New York. “It’s very difficult to watch some rich guy paying a lot of money for dinner in a fine-dining restaurant when people are dying. We’re doing the best we can to help the kids in the hospital and the doctors who treat them, because they don’t have anything to eat either. We make 250 bowls of chicken soup each day. And every day we hope that the country is going to change.” Each bowl of soup costs $1 to make, he estimates.

Venezuela, as the world is very well aware, is in the grips of a colossal political, economic and humanitarian crisis. Once the richest country in Latin America, the protest-ravaged country now boasts the world’s highest rate of hyperinflation (on par with the Weimar Republic in the 1920s) and is headed for mass poverty. There are critical shortages of food and medicine. Shelves in government stores are bare and bread lines are common. There is a resurgent epidemic of malaria and children are dying of diphtheria, a disease not seen for two generations.

Sucre, an economist who writes a regular column for Venezuela’s El Universal newspaper, has been following the situation intently. But there was only so much he could do—or say—in a country where the press is closely monitored by the government. Recently, he has been forced to use baseball metaphors to discuss international trade. Looking for ways to donate to a charitable cause back home, Sucre realized it wasn’t that simple. The Maduro government refuses to acknowledge the existence of a crisis and has made only the most limited efforts to obtain international humanitarian assistance. Without government approval, there can be no emergency appeals that would authorize the shipment of food and medicine from organizations like the World Health Organization.

Enter Jefferson Alvarez, co-owner and executive chef of Cacao, which was recently nominated for Canada’s best new restaurants by enRoute magazine. Also Venezuelan, Alvarez wished to join New York chef Carlos Garcia for a fundraiser at Cosme restaurant for the Barriga Llena Corazón Foundation—without an emergency appeal, these sorts of small, citizen-led initiatives (for which donations are coordinated through a GoFundMe campaign by Venezuelans abroad) are one of few ways the international community can contribute—but instead decided to team up with Sucre (one of his restaurant suppliers) to launch a fundraising drive in Vancouver. Blue House Organics will donate $1 from every $20 harvest box of fresh vegetables sold from now until the end of the growing season in mid-October. Cacao, using produce from the farm, will donate full proceeds from its $10 Venezuelan Freedom Salad, also available until mid-October.

Blue House Organics harvest boxes are available to purchase online, at the farm-gate stand (8184 Pemberton Meadows Rd.) and the following farmers markets:

Downtown Vancouver (Queen Elizabeth Theatre), Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Riley Park, Vancouver (30th Ave. and Ontario St.), Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Pemberton (Pemberton Community Barn), Friday, 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Whistler (Blackcomb Mountain Base), Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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