Sugarcane in the Cold


MC40_sugarcaneIt was on a particularly cold Canadian winter evening that an unexpected skid of sugarcane brought a food bank to life.

The Seva Food Bank in Mississauga had just received our weekly shipment of food from our central distribution center. Among the expected boxes of soup, cereal, pasta and produce was a full skid of long yellowish bamboo-like sticks. Most of our young volunteers had no idea what these wooden sticks were and why we would be receiving them. Amongst the confusion, one of our well-traveled volunteers took one look at the skid and suggested that it might be sugarcane.

Knowing what it was still didn’t answer the question of “how do you eat it?” Running short on time before the shift began, our volunteers left out some the sugarcane sticks in our sorting area where our clients could help themselves to whatever they wanted. We opened our doors and the initial rush of families soon filled our reception area. As they made their way to the sorting area to collect their orders, most of our clients looked at the sugarcane, shrugged and moved on. About half an hour into our shift, not a single client had taken any of the sugarcane.

Just then, an elderly Carribean-Canadian lady slowly walked into the sorting area. She looked casually over at the pile of sticks, stopped, and immediately yelled “Shugaacane!” Rushing over to the pile, she picked up a sugarcane stick and instinctively snapped it in half over her knee. She took one end of the half-stick, put it in her mouth and proceeded to strip off the bark and suck out the sugary juice. Several bites in, she soon realized that all activity around her had ceased and all eyes were on her as she devoured the sugarcane. “What?” she remarked to the family next to her, “haven’t any of you ever had sugarcane?”

Recognizing that none of the families around her had ever seen sugarcane never mind actually chewing it, she proudly started giving impromptu lessons. Especially valuable was the tip to use your back molars to strip off the barks as you might lose your front teeth if you tried.

Within 15 minutes everyone in the food bank was walking around chewing on a chunk of sugarcane in their mouths and piles of chewed bark started piling up in the garbage bins. Regardless of whether they originally came from the tropics or grew up in cold-climate countries, a warehouse full of Canadians came together over a random shipment of sugarcane.

- Kulvir in Mississauga, Ontario