Chew on This! is a bi-weekly mini speaker series hosted at the South Osborne Farmers’ Market that aims to bring market-goers and local food champions together with the idea that a market should be a meeting place and a place of critical ideas as well as commerce.
Written by Claire Heidenreich
Last week at Chew on This! we had the pleasure of welcoming Cora Wiens, owner of the West End sourdough bakery Eadha Bread. Cora spoke to us about creating spaces for queer and other marginalized people in the food industry, and how she is working to achieve this by prioritizing human connection and social transformation in her business model.
To begin, Cora stressed that we cannot talk about homophobia and queer oppression without first understanding systems of oppression, which can be defined as such:
"Systems of oppression are discriminatory institutions, structures, norms, to name a few, that are embedded in the fabric of our society. All the “-isms” are forms of oppression. In the context of social justice, oppression is discrimination against a social group that is backed by institutional power.” (Source: sfpirg.ca)
These systems are especially embedded in the food industry, and having worked in this industry for over 10 years, Cora has witnessed them first-hand. The food industry is a place of hard work, low wages, and lots of human labour. This often leads to high turnover, creating a culture of casual work, low social regulation, and in the majority of cases, no official anti-discrimination policies or human resources department. Social norms are easily reproduced in this unrestricted environment, making workplaces in the food industry fertile ground for behaviours that reinforce systems of oppression. This includes racist, sexist or homophobic jokes, and discriminatory hiring practices. Complicating the matter, Cora highlights that many people fail to realize this is a common problem, and simply assume that society is too progressive to allow this to happen.
Within the context of these experiences, Cora has intentionally established her business, Eadha, as an alternative model to resist systems of oppression. “Eadha” is an old Celtic word meaning “endurance”, a core value of the business, achieved through human connection and social transformation. Further, as their website states, Eadha aims to “do business through a queer, anti-racist, de-colonial lens and loves to collaborate with and support other businesses and community groups also engaged in this work.” The bakery works to be a safe space for people of marginalized groups, and welcomes everyone that is committed to the active, conscious, and ongoing work to fight oppression. Queerness is a vital aspect of this, as Cora finds queerness to be a source of joy, connection, and opportunity for growth.
But creating this kind of space doesn’t happen overnight, Cora stresses; it takes time and hard work, and ongoing critical self-reflection on her own part. Now that she has a brick and mortar bakery in the West End community, and three full-time employees, the ability to resist oppression is becoming amplified. Recognizing that amplified impact comes with the potential for that impact to unwittingly be harmful, Cora regularly finds herself having to carefully evaluate what it means to create a healthy workplace and spaces/events that resist oppression.
Cora sees all her business decisions as tools for resistance and allyship. For example, Canada Day is usually a time when businesses profit off a holiday that celebrates violence and colonialism, but recognizing her place as a white, middle-class settler on this land, Cora instead used that day as an opportunity to amplify Indigenous voices. This was done through Eadha’s social media, as well as closing the bakery for the day with a sign on the door explaining Canada’s colonial history. While these kinds of actions are certainly unorthodox for business, and in some cases have angered and caused her to lose certain customers, profit is not the be-all and end-all for Eadha’s business. What is most important is using the tools at their disposal to resist systems of oppression.
One of the things that allows for the creation and recreation of systems of oppression is capitalism-- the ability to extract and accumulate wealth beyond your own work-- and Cora makes efforts toward reducing capitalism’s impacts at Eadha. Though they are a sole proprietorship business that sells a luxury, high-end product for largely people with disposable income, Cora tries to run Eadha with socialist principles. Below are a few of the principles she has prioritized:
Community Fundraisers: Eadha regularly organizes fundraisers in the form of pizza parties for various community causes. This provides people who have money with opportunities to effectively spread wealth from the privileged to the marginalized.
Living Wages: Cora works to resist capitalism by paying her workers liveable wages above the minimum level, reinvesting in her business’ infrastructure, and then uses any leftover profits to raise wages or donate to social causes, effectively running her for-profit business like a non-profit. However, she jokingly mentions that up until now, “profit hasn’t been an issue yet!”
Co-operative Values: In addition to providing livable wages and a caring, understanding work environment, Eadha works to become a socially responsible business by breaking up traditional structures and hierarchies. In the bakery, every employee (including herself) must share the work in every aspect of the business-- from baking and selling to cleaning. Every aspect of the work is equally valued, so everyone is paid the same. Conversations are encouraged in the kitchen to spread new ideas, provide different context and viewpoints, and foster empathy. All of this contributes to making the workplace a safe, comfortable, and rewarding community. Eadha Bread is located on 577 Ellice. Projects they have supported include: the Mosaic Family Resource Center, Camp Aurora for queer and trans youth, a 2SQTBIPOC library, and Uzoma Asagwrara, a local politician and founder of QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color) Winnipeg, a collective dedicated to providing safer spaces for QTPOC and centering their voices and experiences. Eadha provides workshops where you can learn to make your own sourdough bread! A special queers-only sourdough workshop is provided on Valentine’s Day, to allow queers to come together on a day normally focused on cis and straight narratives, with the money going towards Sunshine House, a queer resource community centre.