On Jan. 25, the third floor of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) building bustled with hungry students leaning over plates of food at the International Food Festival. The festival, hosted annually since 2012 by the McGill-based organization Borderless World Volunteers (BWV), raises funds for student volunteer trips with non-governmental organizations each summer.
Emillee Hernandez, Co-President of BWV and U3 Arts and Science student, one of the many organizers of the festival, described the organization’s reasoning behind the creation of the event.
“BWV was founded in 2003,” Hernandez said. “From there this event was [created] to celebrate Montreal’s cultural diversity. We wanted to figure out some sort of medium that was both entertaining but also made enough money to support these trips.”
In addition to on-campus events, BWV also focuses on what they can do to support those in need in Montreal.
“We have affiliations with local organizations,” Hernandez said. “We don’t give money to them but we supply [them with] volunteers. A lot of times we’ll partner with organizations that are oriented towards helping the homeless. We also do our own sandwich distributions.”
For the first time in the six years that the festival has been running, student societies and cultural groups on campus were invited to join local restaurants in sharing their traditional cuisines. The diversity in food options from table to table at the event was remarkable–from Italian food, to Japanese, to Middle-Eastern.
For Dounia Bennis, U3 Arts and president of the McGill Moroccan Students’ Association, the festival was an opportunity to share her culture while also becoming familiar with other cultures.
“We really try to be present in as many cultural food events as possible, to really get people to learn about Morocco, its culture, and its food,” Bennis said.
A lot of the food at the event, however, was brought in from local sponsor restaurants. David King-Hope, vice-president of the International Food Festival Committee and U4 Engineering student, described the sponsor-student relationship was as advantageous for both parties.
“We’re always looking for ways to make it more beneficial for the sponsors,” King-Hope said. “In doing things like printing individual banners for each restaurant [which] enhances their advertising.”
One of the restaurants present was Student Tasty Biryani, whose co-owner Salman Syed believes it’s important for restaurants to support charitable events for reasons beyond being good advertising.
“We are participating [to serve] the community,” Syed said. “We feel this is not just for business, it’s for a good cause.”
In a community as diverse as McGill, events such as the International Food Festival serve to bring people together to celebrate differences while simultaneously commemorating one’s own culture. What better way to do this than through an activity everyone enjoys—Eating.