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A new Toronto pop-up restaurant named June’s offers delicious gourmet meals like northern Thai potato leek soup and Arctic char pappardelle, made with broad, flat noodles. But the restaurant is different from your usual eatery in one significant way — its HIV-positive kitchen crew. All 14 members of its kitchen staff, who planned the menu and prepare the food each day, are HIV-positive.
June’s was started by Casey House, Canada’s first and only standalone hospital for people living with HIV, as part of its “Break Bread Smash Stigma” campaign. A study conducted by Casey House earlier this year found that only 50% of Canadians would knowingly share or eat food prepared by someone who is HIV-positive, despite the fact you cannot transmit the disease through food preparation.
“We really wanted to be able to challenge the stigma that still exists around HIV,” says Joanne Simons, CEO of Casey House. “I think that there’s still this lingering notion that if I have regular human contact with somebody with HIV, I may contract it — and it is still a death sentence.”
But, she says, “There’s absolutely no risk that somebody can contract HIV from sharing a meal. HIV doesn’t live well out of the body for any length of time and through the cooking the virus dies.”
June’s was named after June Callwood, a Canadian journalist and activist who founded Casey House. The 14-member kitchen staff worked with Chef Matt Basile of Fidel Gastro to develop the menu and perfect their food preparation skills.
The restaurant is meant to help fundraise for Casey House while raising awareness about HIV and the stigma against people living with it. Tickets to the restaurant have been completely sold out, but you can still get a limited-edition chef’s apron with a $150 donation (though they only deliver to Canada, sadly).
Simons adds, “There were a lot of questions about what happens if somebody cuts themselves in the kitchen and they’re HIV-positive. We manage that like anybody would in a kitchen: you make sure you provide first aid, you clean up the area, you throw away whatever has been touched by the blood and you clean the surfaces. We would do that regardless of whether you have HIV or not — that’s just common sense.”
Featured image courtesy of Casey House