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Flavours of Hope—helping women refugees become food entrepreneurs

Dream Cuisines, a program launched by Vancouver-based social enterprise Flavours of Hope in 2020, is helping women refugees become thriving food entrepreneurs.
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Angeles Canedo shows some of her "Mis Cazuelas" products at a farmers' market in Vancouver, B.C.

Angeles Canedo never planned to come to Canada. A former English  teacher, Canedo, together with her husband, an engineer, was the owner  of a thriving construction company in Mexico. In 2016, as Canedo and her  husband were starting to plan their retirement, violence related to the  Cartels war touched them personally, and they were forced to flee with  their three adult children. Canada would be the place they escaped to.

Today, Canedo is one of the first three alumni of Dream Cuisines, a  nine-month immersive program which helps refugee women build a food  business by providing access to educational workshops, mentorship, and  practical supports, such as access to space in a commissary kitchen.

Dream Cuisines, which started in 2021 and is currently running its second cohort, is the most recent project for Flavours of Hope,  a Vancouver-based non-profit social enterprise founded by Trixie Ling.  An experienced settlement worker and passionate advocate for immigrant  and refugee women, Ling wanted to empower refugee women by encouraging  them to use their cooking skills to prepare their traditional foods and  share them with their communities.

“My vision was to see newcomer women not just adapt, but  really flourish in all senses: socially, economically, culturally, and  to feel that place of belonging through cooking, storytelling, and  entrepreneurship,” Ling says.

Originally from Taiwan, Ling moved with her parents to Singapore, the  U.S., and then Canada when she was young. Her own lived experience as  an immigrant, as well as seeing the hardships her parents went through  as they settled in Canada, inspired her to create Flavours of Hope.

“A ghost here”

Canedo was deeply traumatized by the violence of the Mexican cartels when she arrived in Vancouver.

“I was 56 … and my first panicked thought was: How am I going to  survive at this age? What can I do here?” said Canedo in an interview  with NCM.

Her trauma compounded with the hardships all newcomer refugees face as they try to settle in Canada: language and employment barriers, a lack of community, and a sense of identity loss.

“When I first arrived, I used to say ‘I am a ghost here because I  don’t know anybody, nobody knows me,” says Canedo. “Nobody pronounces my  name because they don’t know that I am here.’ It was a terrible  feeling.”

Fighting feelings of anger and injustice over what they had  experienced, Canedo and her family got involved in their local church,  which initially provided the newcomers support with food, clothes, and  English lessons. As a gesture of thanks, Canedo and her husband offered  to cook dinner at one of the weekly meetings. This act of gratitude  would start a transformation in the former English teacher’s life.

Soon they were asked to cook again for the church’s dinner nights,  where Canedo met Ling, a coordinator for the community dinners. Little  did Ling and Canedo know that this first encounter would begin a  collaboration that would be integral to the foundation of Flavours of  Hope.

Empowerment through reciprocity

Initially, Ling hired Canedo on contract to do food demonstrations  and cooking pop-ups. Later, as Flavours of Hope took shape, Canedo was  involved as one of the first collaborators but also one of the first  beneficiaries of the program. Seeing that the mother of three was  struggling with her situation as a refugee, Ling asked Canedo to speak  about her experience during the food demonstrations. Canedo says that  work offered her a path to healing.

“People appreciated what I was offering them at the  farmer markers, not just a meal, but a time to talk. I really loved it  because people came up to me to talk about what they have seen in Mexico  when they visited,” she says. “All of that has helped me to integrate  here, and now I feel that I am no longer a stranger.”

For Ling, the idea of refugees giving back to the communities that welcomed them is central to the mission of Flavours of Hope.

“When you’re a newcomer, you get a lot of things, there’s a lot of  receiving, but you also want to be able to give. The power you have when  you are also in a position of giving and sharing, it’s very dignified,”  she explains.

“Food has the power to give women a voice in sharing who they are,  where they’re from, what they love to do, and for them to really show  care and love and hospitality through feeding their friends, feeding  their neighbors, and feeding their community.”

Watch Angeles Canedo-Founder & Chef of “Mis Cazuelas,” talking about her vegan green pozole.

Removing barriers 

Through Flavours of Hope, Ling also wanted to increase access to the  food industry by providing immigrant and refugee women with tools to  bring their traditional products to the mainstream.

For Ling, this also means supporting the women as they navigate the  many steps required to launch a new business, such as completing  multiple forms and applying for permits. By providing this support, she  hopes to create more “equity in the system.”

Ultimately, the Dream Cuisines program seeks to create leaders in the  participants’ own communities. “The three women who graduated during  the first cohort are going to be mentors this year,” Ling said. “So, the  cycle of giving continues.”

After completing the program, Canedo launched “Mis Cazuelas Mexican  Food,” a company offering traditional Mexican dishes such as ceviche, flautas, and pozole. The word cazuela  means “cooking pot”—usually an earthen pot — in Spanish. Her products  can be found at Vancouver farmer markets throughout the year but also  online through the “Mis Cazuelas” website.

The dishes Canedo offers through “Mis Cazuelas” are the product of a  long process of research, kitchen tests, and trial and error. Her green  pozole, a soup-based dish that is usually made with pork or chicken, has  been transformed into a vegan version — something Canedo did to adapt  the recipe to the tastes of many of her Canadian customers. Like Canedo,  the dish is a testament to the transformational power of a model of  integration that fosters refugees’ voices and their ability to give as  well as to receive.