Canada: The restaurant kitchen where everyone has HIV: 'We want to challenge stigma'

Until recently, few of the chefs had ever set foot in a restaurant kitchen. Now they were slicing up hunks of skirt steak and gently coaxing pomegranate seeds out of their peels as they readied an elaborate four-course dinner for more than 100 patrons.

The 14-person team was working to open June’s, a unique pop-up restaurant in Toronto that is the world’s first eatery in which all of the kitchen staff are HIV positive.

“We really wanted to be able to challenge the stigma that still exists around HIV,” said Joanne Simons of Casey House, Canada’s first and only standalone hospital for people living with HIV/Aids. The idea of a restaurant was born out of a recent poll that suggested only half of Canadians would knowingly share or eat food prepared by someone who is HIV positive.

The event comes as, on average, seven Canadians a day are diagnosed with HIV, a rate that has decreased only slightly since the 1980s. 

When Casey House opened in 1988, its first client was brought to the facility flanked by paramedics in hazmat suits. Despite huge advances in treating the disease and better understanding of how it is contracted, much of the stigma of that era endures today, said Simons. “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.”

She pointed to some of the reaction on social media after the pop-up was launched as an example. But with these comments came an invaluable opportunity to publicly address some of the myths that persist today around HIV.

“There were a lot of questions about what happens if somebody cuts themselves in the kitchen and they’re HIV positive,” said Simons. “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.” Read more via Guardian