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On Today’s Menu: Compassion

On Today’s Menu: Compassion

A group of HIV-positive gourmets use food and humor to dispel myths and stigma around the condition.

“Kiss the HIV+ cook” said one cook’s apron at pop-up restaurant June’s in Toronto, Canada, this week. “I got HIV from pasta. Said no one ever,” read another. This lighthearted yet unapologetic approach to addressing the topic of HIV and food service proved to be very effective at the two-day sold-out event, reports The Telegraph.

The pop-up was planned by Casey House (a nonprofit that provides health care for people living with HIV/AIDS) in response to a recent survey they conducted which found that half of Canadians would not eat food prepared by someone who was HIV-positive. This is despite the fact that all major world health organizations agree — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — that HIV cannot be transmitted by the handling or sharing of food.

Chef Matt Basile, of Toronto’s Fidel Gastro restaurant, trained 14 HIV-positive individuals to be instant-chefs and together, they developed the menu for June’s and prepared and served meals to patrons.

“The stigma around HIV and AIDS is still very real, isolating many patients across the city, the country and the globe,” said Kenneth Poon, a Casey House client. “I stand proud to be part of this powerful group of 14 HIV-positive chefs to boldly break barriers and end the isolation that I have felt and others continue to feel. Through the compassionate care that I received at Casey House, I made it through those darkest days and I am here today, helping others who are living with HIV/AIDS.”

Bringing in nearly $20,000 in two days, June’s method of combining fun, facts and fabulous food (the menu features such items as northern Thai potato leek soup and ginger-bread tiramisu) proved to be a successful one.

“We'd love to be able to do it in places like New York and San Francisco and London,” said Joanne Simons, head director of Casey House, of planning future similar pop-ups.

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