- Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History ed. by Franca Iacovetta, Valerie J. Korinek, and Marlene Epp
The title’s tentative direction – Towards a Canadian Food History – underscores the non-nationalist agenda of this impressive collection of papers, which reveal the complexities of border crossings and the global reach of the foodways located in one geographical context. The editors’ introduction provides a concise historiography of Canadian food and situates their offerings within the contemporary public discourses on nutrition, culinary skills, gastronomy, and food sustainability. The papers are organized around a number of different themes, including cross-cultural encounters, regional, group, and national identity, gender, commodities, nutrition, and activism. They are based on original research and employ such rich and varied sources as menus, cookbooks, oral histories, and government documents from across time and space. The resulting range of material truly captures the Edible Histories, Cultural Politics of the title, providing remarkable, insightful, and eminently readable servings for students, academics, and interested general readers.
The significance of this collection of papers lies in the fruitfulness of using food to tell the varied histories of the Canadian population and their relationship with the land. For instance, the lack of arable land in Newfoundland has fostered a reliance on cod and seals to the point where these resources echo through the identity politics of place and people (Hanrahan). Similarly, one chapter describes gardening and gathering in the settler life of British Columbia’s Peace River region as a means to increase food security during the winter months. Gardens were tended by women and children, and planted with Old World species such as rhubarb carefully brought from Scotland, fostering a connection to a homeland in a new setting (Davies). The knowledge of the land recalls the foodscapes of First Nations, from whom [End Page 134] settlers learned to survive, and several chapters explore these encounters with sensitivity and depth (Roberts, Norman). Despite the challenges faced by many Canadians to acquire enough food, the spectacle of public dining on extravagant foods can be found throughout history. The gastronomic delicacies of snipe and Chipewyan-style partridge, enjoyed by privileged men dining in mid-nineteenth-century taverns, affords the exploration of culinary hybridity and gastronomic inequity. This theme continues in the chapter on the 1939 Royal Tour banquets, which offered a taste of Canada to Britain’s King, akin to contemporary G8 summits, where there is more on the menu than cosy commensality (Roberts, Pulver Ungar).
The domestic activities of women, who are universally linked to everyday food provision, are frequently foregrounded in this collection, tracing their roles through Mennonite cookbooks, Italian immigrant families, and out into the public sphere of political lobbying, such as the Toronto Housewives Association campaign against increasing milk prices during the Depression (Epp, Cancian, Guard). Other controversies surrounding food access and education are scrutinized, including student protests about university food during the first half of the twentieth century, which are eerily reminiscent of many contemporary students’ call for better food services on campus (Gidney). The role of nutritional science and the state is addressed in several chapters, covering such topics as Canada’s food rules from the 1940s, Quebec school manuals, the colonization of Aboriginal bodies, and the rise of health food in the 1960s, all of which problematize the notion of “health” and the hidden agendas of these public programs (Mosby, Durand, Walters, Carstairs). Throughout the text, references are made to other chapters in the collection, employing a useful comparative technique that alerts the reader to similarities in food issues across time.
The inclusion of food issues from the recent past and present allows the reader to gain perspective on Canada’s current food system, including the politics of people’s food choices, such as vegetarianism, and the response of the beef industry to celebrity dissenters (Korinek). The role of advertising and the food industry is not left on the shelf, with several contributors exploring the marketing of baby food, Canadian apples, and...