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Food is one of — or maybe even the — best thing about travelling. But do we give enough thought to what we’re eating and the place it comes from when we’re on the road? It’s hard not to get caught up in Instagramming an incredible looking dish for all our foodie friends at home to drool over and completely forget that someone worked hard to get that dish to us—and that the place the ingredients came from could be under threat. Adventure Canada is launching a new program, Taste of Place, that connects food with issues like climate change, food security, and Indigenous food sovereignty. Because food is such a big part of the adventure of travel and the exploration of new destinations, we talked to Adventure Canada CEO Cedar Swan about how what’s on our plates is tied to the unique and special places in Canada.
Lots of travellers connect travel to the idea of trying new and unique food but we don’t always pay attention to the way a place is connected to a dish. Why is that an important thing to think about?
Just like language, music, and architecture are anchors of cultural endurance, so too is the food of a culture. Food is a natural link between a people and their environment, and it tells a tale of community roots and how they evolve over time. Regional dishes almost always evoke a sense of pride, and it is such a delight to sit down and learn from the cook all the pleasure and pain points of acquiring the ingredients and preparing the meal. It really helps you get to know a place—who are the fishers and farmers, how long have their families been here, why they love the land. It is fun to see how new influences shape classic dishes, and it helps us to understand and connect more deeply to the social fabric of a place.
Food is also a way responsible travellers can make a positive impact on the places they visit. The way we spend our dollars matters: when we choose to buy local and support local food producers and chefs, we help communities maintain viable economies… Taking the time to enjoy locally grown and developed dishes supports the culture of the region by giving value to that unique dish, the many generations that have preserved it, the soil that grew it, the farmer that tended to it, and the chef that created and presented it to us with pride and love.
Because Canada is a pretty prosperous country, food security might not seem like something to worry about. Global warming could change that. Are there places where you see that happening sooner than later? Are there places where it’s a problem already?
At the surface level, the presence of food all around us provides us with a sense of abundance and security—food security. But it is a fragile system upon which we depend, even without the stress of climate change and how it is increasingly affecting our food systems and the ecosystems that generate food.
Canada is not a food secure country. We used to produce more of our own food and yet now we import close to half of our food. As well, we export a lot of the food that we grow. Climate change is affecting our food system—from extreme storm events, regionalized droughts, changes to aquatic ecosystems, and disruption of seasons and keystone species like pollinators.
Adventure Canada’s new Taste of Place program also looks at the idea of Indigenous food sovereignty. Can you give us a crash course on what that means and why it’s so important?
Food insecurity exists when a person does not have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Food insecurity is a very real thing. It is the right of peoples to have healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.
When we talk about food sovereignty, we are talking about empowerment. It is community-minded approach to food management, and it puts food security back into the hands of the people. It is a proactive concept where food acquisition and production from within a community is at the forefront of the solution. It reduces the reliance on imported food and reinforces the value and importance of local food harvesters. Food sovereignty incorporates local knowledge, language, cultural continuity, and community self-sufficiency. It is integral to the Indigenous peoples in Canada’s long cultural heritage, and intimately a part of the future for Indigenous people in Canada and around the world.
Sharing a meal with locals is always a really amazing experience when you’re travelling. Can you tell us about a memorable meal experience you’ve had as a traveller somewhere in Canada?
One of my favourite experiences is from the community of Conche, a town of about 170 on the Northern Peninsula in Newfoundland. We stop in at Conche about once a year on our expeditions, and part of our community visit is a meal in the town hall.
There is an incredible group of women in Conche that organizes a delicious meal of freshly-caught fish, veggies, fresh-baked bread, and pie and tarts for dessert. There is a series of pans on the stove and each piece of fish (in Newfoundland, when you say fish, you mean cod—all other fish are called by their name) is fried fresh in butter just as they go on the plate, and served with a simple slice of lemon. Part of the ritual is each table must stand up and sing for their supper, a song of their choice, and my role in this event is to run to the kitchen and grab the plates and serve them to the table as each table sings. Now, full disclosure: I don’t love seafood. In fact, as a kid I used to tell my friends’ parents that I was allergic to seafood so I didn’t have to awkwardly reject it during meals I was invited to. But one time, by the end of the service to our guests and community members, I was famished. We had come to the end of the veggies and bread, and there was just a piece of cod left. I was a bit reluctant because I had my own story that I did not like fish, but I knew it had to be done as there was a long evening ahead of us yet, including music and dance. I took my piece of lemon, squeezed its juices over the slightly crisp top, and bit in—and it was absolute heaven! Fresh and light and perfect in every way. What better place to fall in love with Cod than in Newfoundland. To this date it is still the best piece of fish I’ve ever eaten, and every time I’m in Conche I’m sure to hang out near the town hall kitchen.
Depending on what part of the country we’re from, we can have a very limited idea of what ‘Canadian food’ is—that as a country, we don’t have a particular food culture or dish that identifies us. Prove us wrong: what are some unique and amazing Canadian foods that you’ve tried while travelling across this country?
While we might argue about what should be our national dish, there certainly is no shortage of candidates. I’m a lover of soups, I have them everywhere I go; Leek and Potato and chowders in Atlantic Canada, and Pea and Onion from Québec always make me happy. Roast Caribou, wild elk, Arctic Char, pitsik, and panitsiak are treats when we go north to visit our family. I’m a lover of the Okanagan’s Pinot Noirs… the list goes on. For more, be sure to check out Food Day Canada: they are an incredible resource and centre of celebration of Canadian cuisine.