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‘Eating Canadian’

It’s all in good taste when it comes to a good meal

By Carolyn Pogue

I didn’t know what "eating Canadian" meant, but I’m always up for a story to find out.

Our son-in-law, Don Chong, explained the concept after a trip to Europe: “I was invited to teach architecture in Lausanne, Switzerland. There was interest in having distinctive Canadian design as part of the extended culture of pedagogy — very much the thing to do among Europeans in progressive architecture schools."

The class consisted of 20 international students who came from Sweden, Spain, Germany, Finland and France as well as Switzerland. After several months of design studio work, they decided a celebratory meal was in order. They wanted to wrap it up in style and decided to have a picnic on the shore of Lake Geneva."

"Then," Don said, "as if planned, everyone in unison proclaimed we would 'Eat Canadian.' I had no idea what they meant. I instinctively got defensive. With a half-chuckle, I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I get it. Us Canadians are always scraping through the leftovers, looking for our own culinary identity. And now we're being remembered merely for poutine and maybe maple cream cookies.’

"But they were serious and incredulous that I didn't know what they were talking about. So they explained: ‘Everyone comes with the dish of their home country. Come as you are, celebrate, share and enjoy each other. Pretty simple. That's Eating Canadian. Everyone knows that!'"

Except for millions of Canadians, Don thought. He said that he was filled with a "certain kind of joy" and felt pride in being from a country known for allowing people to be themselves. "I then saw, in a new light, what drew my parents to immigrate to Canada."

The story is a funny reminder of what we can learn with a good meal. And that is something United Church of Canada ministers Ted Reeve and Bill Phipps suggest with their new initiative, Feast for the Common Good.

"Knowing how difficult it is to talk honestly about climate change, right relations with indigenous peoples and the growing income inequality, the idea is to have conversations during a slow, quality meal of locally sourced food," Phipps explains. "The premise is that people will be more open and honest during such a convivial time together. The goal is to deepen conversation and see the connections among these three realities." St. Paul's United Church in Orillia, Ont. hosted the first Feast for the Common Good in September. In October, Christ United Church in Mississauga, Ont. will host a multi-faith Feast organized by the Halton-Peel Chapter of Greening Sacred Spaces.

Of course, eating locally sourced food is both new and old. It’s what we did 50 years ago. What was on most tables in Canada was the food grown in our own gardens and a nearby farm, forest, ocean or lake. Quite simply, we ate what grew here. Oranges were even annual toe-of-Christmas-stockings treats.

Today, we remember that eating locally is a good way to consume food. And we are re-learning what grows naturally in the area we live in.

On recent visits to Toronto and Winnipeg, I discovered two new restaurants that serve indigenous foods, taking local and natural to another level. Tea and Bannock is located on Toronto’s Gerrard Street. It serves wild rice, three sisters soup (squash, corn and beans), Labrador Tea, blue berry desserts, fish and other delicacies. Aboriginal art adorns the walls, art on the walls. What’s more, the friendly staff will answer questions about the traditional foods they serve and the places from which it was harvested.

In Winnipeg, we have dined on traditional foods at Neechi Commons. Art, sometimes political and always interesting, lines one wall. After the meal, customers can shop for arts and crafts, as well as groceries. Meanwhile, the Feast Cafe Bistro, a new restaurant partly owned by actor Adam Beach, provides just that, both for the palate and the eye. Here, you’ll be surrounded by equally interesting art and served by knowledgeable staff quite willing to share their culture along with traditional gourmet food.

All of these restaurants are inspiring examples of eating locally sourced food and learning more about the cultures of Indigenous peoples. After all, a meal table is a wonderful place to celebrate, learn and enjoy good conversation. And, perhaps, it puts another spin on "eating Canadian."

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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