In a small hamlet called the Ecovillage in the Currumbin Valley on Queensland's Gold Coast, during the last Saturday of every month, a small group gathers for Kirtan chanting, followed by freshly cooked curry. It's an uplifting night of song, followed by beautifully cooked and presented curry, with many ingredients grown locally within the village and its surrounds. While the chanting is relaxing, and the curry delicious, these socials are also doing long-term good for the attendees’ emotional, mental and physical health.
Studies have found that a community that cooks together, works well together: helping to prevent isolation, improving food and cooking skills, and empowering participants. A study by the Victorian Department of Health on community kitchens found that 58 per cent of participants reported an improved sense of confidence, happiness and health since taking part in regular cooking get-togethers. We know that eating together as a family has many benefits for all members, and extending our family to friends and neighbours is also a great way to beat loneliness and isolation.
“Humans are social animals and we've been cooking and eating together since the beginning of time,” Peter Streker, community psychologist and director of Community Stars, an organisation that helps not-for-profits and other organisations develop and grow community projects, tells SBS. “Apart from experiencing more laughter and fun; building stronger relationships that reduce our stress and loneliness; exploring new food, tastes and methods of cooking; and helping our kids learn how to use their manners and communicate with others, when people cook together they can also save a substantial amount of money and calories compared to times when they source their food from take away outlets or restaurants.”
Cooking to share
Carol D'Anvers, one of the Ecovillage's approximately 200 residents, is the chef and chief organiser behind the curry nights, which she cooks at the community's kitchen. “I really enjoy cooking and this is one way that I can cook for a crowd,” she tells SBS. “It is such a beautiful hour of gathering together for the Kirtan chanting, then it's food time! Some people come to chant and then eat, and others come to just eat and connect. I get energised by community gatherings, especially when we're sharing a meal or plate or a drink. The positivity is infectious.”
“When we stop singing there's initially a pause, a stillness and space,” says Kirtan singer and leader Alissa Nathanial, who has been leading the group for two years. “Then we get to sit around tables and chat, eat and connect. It's beautiful.”
At the most recent gathering around 25 people, from babies to 80-year-olds, gathered for the singing, before tucking into a curry lentil dahl, plus salads, tacos and more.
If you're going to cook for a number of people, then a curry can be a great healthy choice. “Curries use lots of spices like turmeric powder which is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant,” Accredited Practising Dietitian Anika Rouf, from the University of Sydney, tells SBS. “Recent research has showed that turmeric powder may potentially have lots of benefits including reducing your risk of cancer, combating inflammatory diseases and reducing the risk of heart attack and strokes. The rates of dementia in South Asians are also considerably lower compared to Australasians and Western Europeans.”
Rouf recommends using lots of colourful vegetables in your curry, as they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to protect our cells. “Veggies are also packed with fibre and help us keep full for longer,” she says. “And reduce the amount of cooking oil and coconut milk as it can increase the energy and fat content of the meal.”
Create your own community dining
“Food is an integral part of building communities and connecting together,” says Streker. He recommends trying the following with your friends, neighbours and greater community:
- Establish progressive dinners, where you have a different course in each house,
- Plant community gardens to celebrate the joy of being with like-minded people and benefit of the harvesting of the food they grow together,
- Share details with your social media friends
If you don't have the space, you could try public barbecues, or find gatherings through organisations such as Neighbourhood Houses, local environmental groups, sports clubs, or school networks.
Charmaine Yabsley lives in the Ecovillage. Her favourite activities are relaxing and eating, so she thoroughly enjoys these community get-togethers. Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @Cyabsley; @Pstreker; @DAA_feed; @anika_rouf
This simple curry turns an excellent deep yellow colour from the turmeric. The shallots and green chilli are added near the end, giving you a lovely, sweet crunchiness from the onions and a fresh heat from the chilli.
This easy, one-pot dish is flavoured with ginger, cumin and turmeric and mildly spiced with Kashmiri chilli.
Pumpkin curry is a popular dish in Sri Lanka with as many different versions as there are types of pumpkins. This recipe uses traditional ingredients with the addition of fresh peanuts, giving an extra nutty dimension, while the mustard powder enhances the sharp, hot flavours.
A good cauliflower curry is a work of art. Use this recipe as a starting point to make up your own version.
A Parsi delicacy which is easy to make, this fragrant daal and vegetable curry comes from Gujarat province and is served with caramelised rice.
In 1672 Dutchman Philip Baldaeus wrote, "The Helen of this Isle is the finest and purest cinnamon." It is the spice that drew the attention of colonial powers to the island, becoming the main article of trade for the Dutch East India Company. Sri Lanka has long been associated with this spice and not surprisingly, it features heavily in its cuisine. Generally served as part of a larger shared meal, there are as many variations of this dish (known as paripoo) thoughout the country as there are people who make it. The use of coconut milk, dried Maldive fish, fresh curry leaves and of course, cinnamon, lend a distinctively Sri Lankan flavour to this recipe.