Sharing Food Builds Community

We, at InterChange, are collecting and sharing experiences about how food and drink are used to build peace in our communities. Food is universal, and every culture has stories of the symbolic value of food in peacebuilding. Thank-you to Jody Pilon for contributing stories about both a family tradition and her international advocacy work.

Pumpkin Party

Jody Pilon's Family

For the past 9 years my husband and I have hosted a party on the last Saturday in October. We call it our Pumpkin Party. We invite as many as 50 guests and everyone who comes must bring something to eat that is either made out of pumpkin or is orange in colour. This is a pot luck supper meal.

The first year was a little disappointing because the majority of people brought muffins and loaf cakes! Over the years our guests have become more adventurous and we have had great menu items, such as pumpkin risotto, pumpkin stew, pumpkin baked beans and the usual crowd pleaser: my mother’s pumpkin nog. When September rolls around I have people stop me in the grocery store or at other community events to tell me about the latest pumpkin recipe they have discovered to bring to the party! Each year we try to vary the guest list in order to increase the community of friends within our town of Espanola, Ontario.

One of my favourite foods at the last party was the pumpkin lasagna.  The recipe follows:

Pumpkin Lasagna


  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

    Pretty Pumpkin

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1/3 cup olive oil X 2
  • 3 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated X 2
  • 3 tbsp butter X 2
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 2 cups milk
  • 8-10 Lasagna noodles
  • 1 lb mozzarella cheese, grated


Pumpkin Sauce: Sautee garlic and onion in oil. Cook until soft. Add pumpkin and cook until thickened.

Pesto: Place pine nuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and butter in food processor and puree.

Béchamel Sauce: Melt butter and add flour and nutmeg. Stir for a few minutes and add milk. Stir constantly until thickened.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Ladle 1/3 of the béchamel sauce into the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Then layer pasta, pumpkin sauce, mozzarella cheese and pesto. Repeat layers and finish with parmesan cheese. Bake at F 350 for 40 minutes.

Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Makes 12 Portions


The  Children in Kyrgystan

Winter Vegetables

Last fall I and a good friend went to help out at an orphanage in a small village in Kyrgyzstan. The orphanage is operated by a concerned citizen of the community and she receives no support from the government. While we were there, approximately 45 children lived in the orphanage along with women who had left dangerous abusive relationships. We had the privilege to buy food for these beautiful children with money that was raised in our community of Espanola, Ontario. We purchased over 800 kg of winter vegetables.

Children Eating Carrots


When the vegetables were delivered each child was ecstatic to receive their own fresh carrot. A table was set up outside in the yard with a variety of knives and peelers and even the smallest child helped to ‘put the vegetables by’. The vegetables were then mixed with salt and placed in old washing tubs lined with plastic. These vegetables were served to the children during these past winter months (2007/2008) in the form of salads, soups and stews.

The cost of food in this country is staggering and the average family spends about 50% of their household income on food. A significant number of families live below the poverty line and, as a direct result, suffer from a variety of nutrition related maladies. Several of the children in the orphanage in fact have parents. However, for one reason or another, the parents are not able to care for their children.

Children Eating Plov

The workers in the orphanage were so relieved to know that they would not have to worry about feeding the children in the months to come. They were overwhelmed that people would come from half way around the world to care for those less fortunate. We developed some very special connections with the women who work in the orphanage.  They are remarkable human beings with stamina, the gift of endurance and hope.

One of the popular food dishes in this culture is a rice dish known as plov. We ate plov with the children at the local market in a tiny cafe and also in the orphanage. Although the recipe that is included here has meat in it, when we ate plov with meat in it, we didn’t see it (meat is very expensive in Kyrgyzstan). The following recipe was sourced from the Friends of Kyrgyzstan web page.


Plov (Osh-style)


  • 5 tbsp oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 cups rice
  • 1 kg beef or mutton, cut into cubes
  • 2-3 fresh peppers, chopped
  • 5-10 cloves of garlic, whole
  • 2-3 large onions, chopped
  • 5-6 carrots, chopped


Wash and soak the rice.  Heat the oil in a kazan (large heavy pot) until hot; add the meat, cooking until brown on all sides.  Add the carrots, onions and peppers and cook until tender.  Add 5 cups of water and then all the rice so that the water covers the rice completely.  Push the cloves of garlic under the surface of the rice.  Cover and lower the heat a little.  Cook until rice is done – about 30 minutes.


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