Cool Food Stories
Written by Veronica Henriquez
It was a beautiful fall evening on October 26th, a perfect day to attend the Cool Food Stories event at The Annex of Collingwood Neighbourhood House (CNH).
This storytelling and community dinner event was described as aiming to showcase how the environment we live in influences our food cultures, traditions, and food memories.
As soon as I entered the room where this event would be taking place, I was greeted with colourfully-decorated tables adorned with snack platters. I settled for a seat and immediately noticed the projector screen at the front of the room displaying a picture of a bowl of rice. The caption read: “White Rice with Kraft Singles”. Needless to say, I was intrigued. As I read the story about a young Chinese-Canadian man sharing his experience of growing up eating Kraft Singles in white rice, I couldn’t help but hope that more stories like this one would be shared as the night went on.
The room came alive as more people entered, all with smiles on their faces. Veggie platters were being invaded by careful fingers and friendly conversation buzzed through the air but slowly died down as the main organizer, Crecien Bencio, announced that our first local speaker would be sharing her story with us.
Jewel Thomas, a Musqueam elder working at the CNH, started off this event with her food experiences as a Musqueam elder who grew up in British Columbia. She recounted memories of picking raspberries with her grandmother, who would carefully collect them in a handwoven basket and can them, all in one day. She explained the importance of food to First Nation people and the current issue of the depleting supplies of sockeye salmon. As someone who enjoys cooking traditional meals, she relies on salmon greatly as her main source of protein. With a diminished supply of salmon, she illustrated the impact this had on what meals she would make and the switch she had to make from fresh salmon to canned salmon.
Jewel is greatly proud of her Indigenous background and helps young Musqueam kids gain this pride through the Musqueam Tween Cooking Class, which is coordinated by Jewel. This class teaches young Musqueam kids how to cook healthy meals using fresh ingredients while connecting with other Musqueam kids and adults. To close her talk, Jewel gave thanks for the food we were about the eat and for all who were gathered together; a great start to the rest of the evening.
The food provided was incredibly delicious, diverse, and dietarily inclusive! The main entree, butter chicken, was made in three ways: with dairy and chicken, with dairy and vegetables, and without dairy and vegetables. I am lactose-intolerant and my fellow project group member who joined me for this even has Celiac disease and we both felt as if there was something we could eat without having to make sacrifices, which was fantastic.
Our next story came from Kayla Isomura of Japanese and Chinese descent. Kayla is also a member of the CNH team as well as a freelance photographer. Through her fascination with cultural diversities and food, she used her photography talents to develop a project called “Kraft Cheese and Rice? It Feels Like Home” (Isomura, 2019). Through pictures and interviews, Kayla recounts the food stories of a diverse group of people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. Daikon latkes, chow mein sandwiches, pandesal and Spam, and ketchup and soy sauce are some of the food combinations showcased in Kayla’s project (2019). This project truly resonated with me.
As the youngest member of a family of six and the only one born in Canada, I grew up truly immersed in two different cultures. I, too, have seen my Salvadoran culture and Canadian culture clash many times when it comes to food and it was interesting being able to relate with these stories and realize that I wasn’t alone.
Kayla then introduced the next speaker, Leona Brown, who was accompanied by her two young sons. Leona passionately shared her belief in the importance of passing down Indigenous traditions to her children through harvesting plants for natural medicines. By doing so, she feels more connected to her Indigenous culture. She proudly gestured to her two young boys as she explained how important it is to her to pass down cultural knowledge and traditions to her children.
Lastly, Kayla explained she would be conducting an interview with Mayu Takusaki, one of the people she interviewed for the “Kraft Cheese and Rice…” (2019) project.
Mayu, a third-generation Japanese-Canadian, was introduced in Kayla’s project under the heading: “Chow mein sandwiches”; a picture of Mayu and friend Leslie seated at a table constructing the sandwiches is displayed on the projector screen. Mayu explained growing up eating chow mein sandwiches, something that everyone in her family ate. Kayla asked where she thought the idea of putting this traditional Japanese Canadian dish in between slices of bread may have come from. Mayu explained that when her parents and grandparents arrived in B.C., they worked out on the fields for long hours and the convenience of eating chow mein in a hand-held way was probably the beginning of the chow mein sandwich in her family.
Throughout the evening, many guests were nodding in agreement during the stories, showing their feeling of connection to Jewel, Kayla, Leona, and Mayu. This event showcased the importance of food sovereignty in the food system, a recurring theme among the storytellers.
Food, itself, is a storyteller; it recounts pride, struggles, and traditions passed down through generations.
For Further Reading:
Cool Food Stories – Sustenance Festival. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://sustenancefestival.ca/events/cool-food-stories/
Isomura, K. (2019). Kraft Cheese and Rice? It Feels Like Home. The Tyee. Retrieved from https://thetyee.ca/Culture/2019/09/06/Mixed-Heritage-Ingredients-Food-Blended/
What is Food Sovereignty? (2018). Retrieved from https://foodsecurecanada.org/who-we-are/what-food-sovereignty.