The universal language of food

If there were such a thing as a basic universal language it would surely be based on food, the most common of human experiences.

And in that impossible language the one word most of us would know, no matter where we come from, would be…wait for it… ‘pizza.’

“All the volunteers are surprised to find that pizza is a favourite in almost all parts of the world,” says Lynda Miller, leader of a group of volunteers from Leaside United Church who are teaching English to immigrants in neighbouring Thorncliffe Park.

“We now have about a dozen volunteers who teach basic conversational English and interest is rising. They are all members of our congregation,” she adds.


The classes are held at Thorncliffe Park on a drop-in basis on Monday and Tuesday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. There are 15 to 25 participants each night.

“Many of the students bring their home-made pizza to share — all delicious and all just a bit different but starting with flat bread that is served in so many countries.

“Salma is from Pakistan and she brought a delicious warm chickpea salad, familiar to all of us, with just a bit of a ‘different’ spice in it,” she continues.

Bringing food is a way for the students to share their skills and culture — and show their gratitude.

The students come from around the world — Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Cameroon, Iran, and Eritrea, to name a few. And so do the treats they bring to class.

“We also receive foods not as familiar — pakoras, sweet vermicelli, and lichees, among others.

“It is a happy mix of generations and cultures as many of the younger women have left mothers and grandmothers behind and they enjoy the interaction.”

The students are of all ages, from young mothers (child care is provided) to older women, some from the seniors’ building at Thorncliffe.

“We help with English, and they help us understand that similarities ‘trump’ differences,” says Miller.

Tehreem Nathaniel-Niamat, the LINC teacher who leads the program, says: “It has provided a safe place to explore Canadian culture and to break down the barriers of language, ethnicity and religion.”

“We have been doing this work for over four years and find it very rewarding,” Ms. Miller adds.

“These are our neighbours and we are all learning from one another.”

Want to help?

Contact Marwa Ibrahim at .

About Ken Mallett 40 Articles
Ken Mallett has spent his entire working career of 30 + years as a newspaper reporter and television news writer/producer. He worked for ten years as a foreign correspondent in London England for the Sydney (Australia) Morning herald and Toronto Star before moving into television news as a writer/producer for the CBC and later Director of News and Current Affairs for Global Television. He is a regular contributor to Leaside Life.