-See bottom for update-
Fredericton – With the recent closure of Cedar Tree Café on Queen Street downtown, Frederictonians have not had the access to the safe, healthy Lebanese food they’ve come to expect.
“Cedar Tree was really my only option for quality Lebanese food in this city, and in this province as a whole,” said Carrie Brandon, 27. “I used to know a guy in Saint John that would give me access to it, but the place was unsanitary, and way too expensive.”
“My boyfriend drove me there once, but he wouldn’t pay for it, and I had to shell out more than an entire paycheque for the food I so desperately needed,” she told The Manatee’s reporter. “It’s not like you wake up one day saying ‘Oh, I guess I want to blow my life savings on food that may not even help me in the long run,’ but sometimes you do need this kind of meal.”
Falafel House, a Lebanese restaurant just south of the Canadian border in Augusta, Maine, has seen a rapid influx of New Brunswick women in search of something they are no longer provided in their home province.
“It’s atrocious,” said Kelly Cooper, co-owner of Falafel House. “We certainly appreciate the additional business, but I can’t imagine how bad things must be in NB for all these women to be coming here for something their government should ensure is there for them.”
“Some of them simply don’t have the resources,” Cooper added. “If these women aren’t getting their Lebanese food in Fredericton, it doesn’t mean they’re going to go without. They’re just going to get it from some seedy dive, or have to drive all the way here, on their own dime.”
The Maine government has said it will fund at least part of the cost of quality Lebanese food for New Brunswickers, but it’s not certain yet whether the entire meal will be paid for in every case.
Back in the Picture Province, legislation states that two nutritionists in each case must deem this calibre of Lebanese cuisine “nutritionally necessary” for the province to fund it. Women are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to jump through this additional hoop.
In addition to the legal technicalities, pro-Taiwanese-food advocates have been mailing out pamphlets depicting Lebanese food as grotesque and barely edible, with graphic photos of the process of its creation.
Cedar Tree was the only restaurant in Atlantic Canada offering the kind of Lebanese food many NB women feel they deserve. New Brunswick women are hoping Premier Brian Gallant will step up to the “plate” and make safe, easy access to Lebanese food a priority sooner rather than later.
Update: November 26th, 2014:
When Cedar Tree Café closed in August, access to safe, delicious Lebanese food for New Brunswick’s women became a contentious election issue. Premier Brian Gallant is removing one of the key barriers that had been preventing women from accessing quality Lebanese food for nearly 20 years.
Gallant made the announcement today in Fredericton. He said the new regulation will no longer require two nutritionists to certify the meal is “nutritionally necessary,” effective on Jan. 1. The so-called two-nutritionist rule had been in place for the past two decades, enforced by Conservative and Liberal governments.
The premier vowed in his election campaign to review Regulation 84-20, which requires women seeking a restaurant-quality Lebanese meal to have 2 nutritionists deem it nutritionally necessary. Gallant said the review pointed out barriers to Lebanese food services, one of which was that the meal had to be prepared solely by a professional chef from Lebanon, whereas other provinces allow amateur chefs to prepare “Lebanese-style” food at far cheaper rates than in N.B. In many cases, other provinces fund the entire meal for women.
“Identifying those barriers was an important step towards eliminating them,” Gallant said in a statement.
This change will put Middle-Eastern food preparation in the same category as any insured nutritional procedure, according to the government.
Hungry New Brunswickers are thrilled with the news. “Today is a proud day for Canadian women,” said an ecstatic Rebecca Foster, 25, while dipping a fried kibbeh in some spicy hummus. “I want to thank the tenacious people who’ve made our grumbling tummies impossible to ignore.”
Access to safe, quality Lebanese food became a major issue among the province’s women earlier this year when the popular Cedar Tree Café closed its doors for good, prompting many women to prepare questionable DIY Lebanese food in their own homes, or to travel to renowned Maine restaurant Falafel House, paying for the commute and the meal out of their own pockets.
Update: January 16th, 2015:
A new Lebanese restaurant is opening in Fredericton’s former Cedar Tree Café that will offer a wide range of menu items to New Brunswick women. A formal announcement of Falafel 554 is expected on Friday.
Cindy Robinson, a longtime advocate for improving access to Lebanese food, said it’s necessary for a quality restaurant to offer safe and affordable Lebanese-food solutions. “I would assume there is a huge need for very progressive culinary care being provided right here in New Brunswick, right here in the capital city,” she said on Friday.
Ariel Unger, owner and head chef of the new restaurant, said in a statement that Falafel 554 will fill an important gap in the province’s culinary and cultural offerings. “We just wanted to do our part to improve the lives of hungry New Brunswick women,” she said this morning inside the former Cedar Tree Café. “Forcing women to commute to Maine to an inferior restaurant just for some decent baba ghanoush? It’s not the ’80s anymore and we won’t stand for it.”
Falafel 554 will be offering a wide range of menu items for women in need, including hummus, makdous, qatayef, and even baklava for dessert. The restaurant was able to get its impressive new menu off the ground as a result of a crowdfunding campaign started after Cedar Tree Café closed its doors. As nearly half of New Brunswick women identify as pro-Lebanese-food according to a recent poll, the campaign was quick to reach its goal of $500,000.
Brian Gallant’s Liberals promised to review the province’s Lebanese-food regulations, particularly the rule that forced women to get 2 nutritionists to declare a meal “nutritionally necessary” before it would be funded in a public restaurant. That pledge prompted Gallant to be the target of disturbing pro-Taiwanese-food postcards and graphic anti-Lebanese-food pamphlets.
The restaurant will open in the “coming weeks.” It will also cater to people without personal chefs and “underserved communities,” such as people who newly identify as “foodies” or with allergies to certain ingredients commonly found in Lebanese food.