Margaret Dickenson, Mac '68
Alumna of Honour 2011
Photo credit: Michelle Valberg
How has your job been impacted by COVID-19?
Certainly, COVID-19 has had an impact on us all and not always in entirely the same way. Fortunately, the majority of us have diligently respected health authority guidelines and are striving to deal with daily life as it is now, in a realistic and positive manner.Some may know me for my multi-award winning cookbooks and for having my own cooking and lifestyle TV show. However, since my husband (Larry OAC '68) past away 2 years ago, I no longer pursue those much loved activities primarily because he and I were a team and worked on these exciting projects together. My main focus remains developing recipes and photographing those dishes. For the last 20 years, I have had a 4 page feature article including recipes and photographs, in the well respected magazine "Diplomat and International Canada". Although this magazine has been available both in print and online (http://www.diplomatoline.com), for at least in the near future, it will only be issued in a digital format where my article will be the anchor for the lifestyle section. Despite the fact that new episodes of "Margaret's Table" are not under production, "encore" showings on Rogers ignite TV or on my website (www:margaretstable.ca), continue to keep me involved. Due to the pandemic, all my classes on "Business Protocol and Social and Dining Etiquette" at Carleton University (NPSIA program), have been postponed, as have my "Mind Your Manners" courses for young people. The numerous local and national culinary competitions where I enjoyed being a judge, are taking a pause until large social gathering may safely be resumed.
How has your industry been affected?
Regrettably, the culinary, restaurant and food industries have been hit hard due to mandatory closure, very strict hygiene requirements, social distancing, "stay at home" advice, closure of borders, lack of tourism and the list goes on! The challenges have been and continue to be great. Many businesses (particularly restaurants) have been forced to close. Farmer markets if allowed to open, have drastically reduced clientele; engaging farm labor has become complex; demand for agricultural products have seen cut backs with the lack of robust restaurant and hotel requirements. Fortunately, many are meeting their new challenges with a positive attitude and determined creativity (notably with curb side pick ups and more home deliveries) in an effort not only to survive and hopefully thrive, but do resume the delivery of their products and services which we are longing for in an effort to convey a sense of pre-COVID-19 lifestyle. On the other hand, let's not forget a significant portion of our population are enjoying more home cooked meals. I am truly thrilled to see "baking needs" shelves in supermarkets, requiring constant restocking. While despite initial challenges, grocery stores have thrived through this all as clearly indicated by their remarkable increase in profits.
How do you stay busy or connected with family and friends?
Staying busy has certainly not been a challenge during COVID-19. In late March, my elder daughter, Tonya, took on the Canada lead for the Army of Masks (armyofmasasks.com). It is a "not for profit" organization with the objective to connect sewers and volunteers with people, groups, institutions, etc. needing non-medical face masks - all free of charge. She and her team of 4 have developed a website and app to assist in managing this ambitious project. Certainly, I put aside my recipe development and virtually all other tasks to make dozens and dozens of masks and to spread the word through personal contacts, media, various associations and so on. This continued until mid-May when my garden desperately required my attention. As of July 1st,, the Army of Masks had delivered 40,000 masks to homeless shelters, hospitals, food banks, long term care homes, refugee and aboriginal centres to mention a few, as well as neighbours, family, friends and others in need. This commitment has indeed kept me in contact with my local community through personally dropping off masks, helping with wider local distribution plus accepting requests for print and TV interviews. My daily masked walks and long hours working in my (Larry's) rather large garden, have given me the extra benefit of getting to know people, children and dogs well beyond my immediate neighbourhood. Telephone conversations and Face Book no doubt keep me up to date with family and friends extending far beyond Canada. Messenger video chats are limited to family, Zoom to media interviews and special events (i.e., the wedding ceremony of a dear friend in Cairo). Of course, my previous busy schedule of entertaining has been ruthlessly reduced to a few immediately family members and a couple of very best friends, always respecting physical distancing and never with more than 3 guests. I continue to be one of two primary caregivers for a bed ridden stroke victim; sadly however, my contribution has been reduced to a daily evening telephone chat and regular drop offs of treats at her long term care residence.
What has inspired you the most in your community?
Without hesitation, most inspiring has been the ongoing commitment of front line workers despite the potential risks to themselves and their families! Add to that, the effectiveness of the "stay at home" advice, and how the public has adjusted to working from home, often balancing profession responsibilities with caring for children, dealing with e-learning and physical activity. Many are thoughtfully checking in and reaching out particularly to seniors and those living alone, offering to bring nourishing treats, shop, run errands, assist in tasks such as gardening. Bravo to the businesses determined to reopen, respecting guidelines and often modifying their operations to keep afloat during uncertain times. How wonder to see neighbours now getting to truly know one another as well as people passing by smile, say hello, often warmly exchanging a sentence or two. Yes, although art galleries may be slow to fully reopen, we may still enjoy an explosion of creative and often fun face masks parading by us. More appreciated than inspiring, has to be the sound leadership coming from our chief medical officers of health and politicians, in guiding us successfully (for the most part) through this dreadful and potentially deadly pandemic.