How much of what you eat is actually from Canada?
Sure, you may have bought the food at a Canadian grocery store, and it came from a Canadian business, but was it really a Canadian product? While it has become increasingly easier to find out where our food is coming from, Canadians are still eating a lot of food that comes from somewhere else.
Canada may be known for inventing poutine, or get the across-the-border rep for being a nation of maple syrup-swilling, beer-loving hosers, but the reality is Canada is a tremendous food producer. In fact, as the hashtag for the annual Food Day Canada declares: #CanadaISFood. So we are what we eat.
On July 30, 2016, Canadians coast to coast are encouraged to observe Food Day Canada. The event’s roots go back to 2003, when The World’s Longest Barbeque was held nation-wide as an organized response to the sanction of Canadian beef exports by the United States. Having evolved into a true celebration of Canadian food, the event and its organizers are steering Canadians towards restaurants, vendors, chefs, and more who truly represent Canadian food.
Food Day Canada Founder Anita Stewart chatted with Daily Hive via telephone about what the event is about to her–and what it can mean to Canadians everywhere.
“To me it’s just a pride-filled celebration, as far as I’m concerned,” explains Stewart. Criss-crossing the country for several years, Stewart says she’s observed “a rather disjointed culinary nation.”
“Right now it’s so dynamic,” Stewart says of Canada’s culinary landscape. “There’s so much going on. Right now it’s just an embarrassment of riches.”
However, Stewart believes that Canadians need to “look in their own backyard” for truly Canadian foods. This means getting a lot more savvy about label reading, and supporting local farmers and purveyors.
Stewart, who is a staggering fountain of information about Canadian food products from honey to rice and from the Atlantic to the Pacific, points out that shoppers need to be aware of what terms like “Made in Canada” versus “Product of Canada” on labels mean. For example, if an item says “Made in Canada,” it only needs to be at least 51% Canadian, whereas “Product of Canada,” means at least 98% Canadian-made.
Ice cream lovers may want to take note that cartons at the local supermarket will be festooned with a blue cow if the product contains 100% Canadian milk. Dairy, points out Stewart, is something Canada does–and has–in spades. If you’re buying Rogers sugar, you can also decipher the product code; if it starts with a 10 it was made in Vancouver, and a 22 in Taber, Alberta.
For this year’s Food Day Canada, there’s a distinct emphasis on asking consumers to “Shop Like a Canadian!” and to that end, they’ve got a list of 149 truly Canadian foods we can enjoy, from tap water to vinegar, bitters to beans, and, of course, plenty of cheese.
Home cooks who are looking to make meals of only Canadian ingredients will do well hitting up the farmers’ markets, reading labels carefully, and also being open to doing some parallel ingredient swapping. If it’s hard to get a hold of some BC Fraser Valley rice for a rice bowl recipe, consider using a regional barley instead. “It isn’t easy, you have to pay attention,” cautions Stewart.
Still, the foods produced by small-batch food-makers “really brighten our food landscape,” observes Stewart. Using these kinds of ingredients can make food taste so much better, particularly if Canadians are also thoughtful about seasonality.
“Food Day Canada is at this time of year specifically because there’s a harvest everywhere,” points out Stewart. Indeed, this is the time when Ontarians are biting into juicy peaches, and British Columbians are tucking into cobs of succulent sweet corn. Berry baskets are brimming, and grills are sizzling with meat and seafood from shore to shore.
And seasonality is a good reminder why you’ll want to eat your strawberries when they’re fresh, local, and tasting the way they’re meant to.
While many restaurants espouse the same kind of “eat local” and seasonality philosophies, it doesn’t mean all Canadian restaurants–particularly bigger chains–are on the bandwagon. (Food Day Canada’s site has a list of Canadian restaurants that “walk the talk” when it comes to Canadian food.)
For Food Day, Stewart’s wish if for Canadians to “cook as local as they can.” She’s urging Canadians to post photos to social media to share with the nation, using the #CanadaISFood hashtag, and those will be re-shared by Food Day Canada’s social channels.
Stewart also hopes that the message of Food Day Canada is heard. To those outside Canada, Stewart would like them to understand that “Canada is food, and we have a cuisine, and its multi-regional,” and, she adds, that our ingredients are trustworthy.
“Our ingredients are produced to very very high standards. From organic to conventional, our growers, farmers, fishers are doing a great a job.”