ELISE HU, HOST:
This month, diners in Toronto were treated to a four-course meal at a pop-up restaurant called June's. In addition to the food, the chefs at June's also served a message which they wore on their shirts - break bread, smash stigma. The two-day event was a fundraiser put on by Casey House, Canada's only HIV/AIDS treatment hospital, and everyone in the kitchen was HIV-positive. The hospital's CEO, Joanne Simons, says the point of the project was to get people talking about the stigma that still surrounds HIV.
JOANNE SIMONS: We ran a Smash Stigma survey that polled Canadians, and 50 percent of Canadians said that they wouldn't knowingly eat a meal prepared by somebody with HIV. So hence the concept of the pop-up restaurants and June's HIV-positive eatery.
HU: What about the people who work there at the restaurant? What was it like for the staff to wear their HIV-positive status on their shirts, on their aprons?
SIMONS: There were 14 people who are HIV-positive. They were led by head chef Matt Basile, who is very popular in Toronto, owns a restaurant, has food trucks. And he worked with the chefs to co-create the menu. I think that they felt very empowered to be able to speak up and to be able to offer a meal that was absolutely divine.
HU: Did they have to have any conversations with customers who might have not - who might have needed education?
SIMONS: Yes, we were receiving many questions about, well, can I get HIV through food? What happens if a chef cuts their finger in the kitchen? I mean, the answer is absolutely not. There is no way to contract HIV through the preparation of food. And if a chef did cut themselves during the preparation of a meal we would treat it just like we would anybody whether they were HIV-positive or not. You know, you obviously apply first aid, you sanitize the area, you throw out any food that may have had blood on it. And also, the virus has a very limited lifespan outside of the body, and with the heat and the light within a kitchen environment the virus would not survive.
HU: Joanne, worldwide there are still more than 30 million people living with HIV/AIDS, including more than a million here in the U.S. How have things changed when it comes to stigmas and understanding of the disease since it first came to light in the 1980s?
SIMONS: Well, because the treatment and medication support over the past decade has become a lot more effective, people can live well with this disease and live into, you know, very ripe old age. But I think that there is - there's still a lot of myth, and education is required. So unfortunately for our clients, who are some of the most vulnerable in the community, they experience stigma on a day-to-day basis from their friends, family, co-workers, their health care professionals. So it's still a very real issue.
HU: Because you believe that there is so much myth-busting and stigma-busting that's still needed, will you expand this pop-up concept?
SIMONS: So certainly we will make sure it happens again in Toronto. But because we've had interest globally, we are starting to work on a plan to roll it out elsewhere. So fingers crossed, you'll be able to taste our food soon.
HU: So finally, tell us about the food. What did you serve that stood out?
SIMONS: It was absolutely brilliant. So the first course was northern Thai leek and potato soup with a hint of curry. It was just delicious. The second course that I really enjoyed as well was a pasta with smoked arctic char followed by garlic rapini and flank steak, and then a boozy tiramisu to finish off. So I don't know that I could pick my favorite of the four dishes. It was all quite delicious.
HU: It sure sounds like it. That's Joanne Simons. She's the CEO of Casey House, a hospital for people with HIV/AIDS in Toronto. Joanne, thanks for joining us.
SIMONS: Thank you very much.
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