Written by Andrew Seale

If what we choose to eat can affect change in the world, how we choose to prepare food can also be a part of the solution. The cook is at the heart of this sentiment – amateur or professional, celebrated or secretive, it matters, those that feed matter. 

Seema Sanghavi, founder of handcrafted apron startup Cooks who Feed has always cooked. Well, cooked and explored. But a trip to India three years ago rerouted the course of her life. A friend had started an NGO hiring marginalized women in the north of Delhi and training them to be seamstresses. Having travelled through Africa and India, Sanghavi had seen poverty and food insecurity. But being around these women and the way they thought, pushed her to want to do more, to look for a solution.

“When I left there I said to myself, I'm not going to go back to Canada and forget what I've seen, I am going to do something about this,” says Sanghavi. It took some time, but eventually, a plan came into focus in the form of Cooks who Feed. 

At first, the idea was to hire these women – who were expert seamstresses – to make canvas aprons. “But the ladies wanted do more, they're used to receive receiving charity, so they wanted to see what else can they could do to actually help other people.”

Sanghavi reached out to Second Harvest in Canada, which recovers and redirects surplus food to those in need, as a partner. This was about two and a half years ago. The conversation about food insecurity and the colossal amount of food waste generated, especially in cities like Toronto with booming restaurant scenes, had been on the rise. Combining those two ideas – supporting the women in India and using funds from the aprons to support Second Harvest and comparable not-for-profits in the US and India – helped to create a circular effect. 

“It is really two problems that solve each other,” says Sanghavi. She cemented the concept for the aprons (which retail for around US$60 online). For the women creating the aprons, Cooks who Feed would make sure they were provided with safe and fair work. And for every apron sold the company would ensure 100 people in need get a meal through one of the partner organizations. The aprons have sustainability imbued right into them, the packaging is made from scraps and some of the aprons are made from recycled materials.    

This past March, she launched a Kickstarter. “We raised around $14,000 from the Kickstarter and had about 168 customers,” she says. It validated the concept. “That was a tipping point for me where I said, okay, if this works, then I'll leave my job and put in 100 per cent.”

She’s since expanded to seven aprons in the collection, several designed in collaboration with some of Toronto’s most well-known chefs including Chef “Dev” Devan Rajkumar of the Food Dudes and Chef Romain Avril. 

“I'd like to keep doing this and have 70 to 80 per cent of the aprons on the site be representations of different chefs,” says Sanghavi. Currently, a lot of sales are coming from the US so she hopes to enlist some major American chefs to support the cause as well. 

But she says Toronto’s well-known restaurant scene definitely fits into her vision. 

“I'm trying to capitalize on Toronto being such a food hub,” she says. We live in a foodie culture. “People are spending money on these higher-end kitchen items, right, so it seems like an ideal time to take advantage of that and (create) real impact – any textile in the kitchen… we want to own the kitchen.”

Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)