A Canadian Slow Food Odyssey

03 May 2011

Last month I traveled across Canada from Vancouver Island to the Vallée de la Batiscan in Quebec, meeting with Slow Food members, speaking to groups and teaching cooking classes along the way to discover the great people, places and projects connected through the national movement today.

For the first leg of my journey, I traveled across British Columbia and through the majestic Rocky Mountains in VIA Rail’s Canadian, a historic train that departs from Vancouver thrice weekly, making the four-night journey to Toronto. Moving at a more human pace with a lower carbon footprint, the comfortable ride includes meals of regionally sourced ingredients and affords time for reflection, a sense of national history and the opportunity to experience hours of stunning scenery and wildlife.

I disembarked in Edmonton however, where several members of the local Slow Food convivium were my guides to this region of northern Albert. Edmonton is a large modern city, but people here continue to understand the importance of “putting food away” and despite snow falls as late as May, I was met with generous offerings of local foods wherever I went. Canning, hunting and ice fishing are still a way of life for many in this area. Highlights in Edmonton were cooking from a surprise ingredient-box that included Burbot roe (a fresh water fish); visiting a young urban homesteader who cures wild meats, makes cheese and grows much of his own food on a small suburban lot; and visiting a perogie factory which was started by the Ukrainian residents of a nursing home.

A three-hour drive to the south, my next stop was Calgary, where I met with convivium members and close to 100 students of the local culinary school at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Here, awareness of Slow Food is strong and the young chef students have a new school garden and are led by a group of highly qualified, passionate instructors. Students helped prepare a dinner for convivium members that evening, making sausages from whole animals, baking bread with Red Fife wheat and preparing salads from local greenhouse vegetables.

From Calgary I flew to Toronto, Canada’s largest convivium in the country’s most ethnically diverse city, where I led an afternoon of cooking and dialogue with community leaders from the city’s most economically challenged areas. These proud and resilient immigrant women who hailed from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Iran worked together to prepare a meal of local halal lamb shoulder with turnips, potato gnocchi, Red Fife chipatis and an apple tart tatin. That evening, almost a hundred people enjoyed the dinner and heard Slow Food International’s General Secretary Paolo di Croce speak about the hidden cost and low return to the farmer in everyday industrial Canadian foods such as potato chips and washed salad greens.

Back on the train, I continued my journey to its end point in Montreal, this time joined by several convivium leaders from Ontario en route to the annual national meeting in Quebec. Slow Food Montreal has been invigorated with youth at their recent “5 á 7” cocktail hours, each one with a guest speaker focusing on issues of sustainable local food production and serving locally sourced beverages.

Three hours north in the Vallée de la Batiscan, the National meeting brought together around 30 representatives of a dozen Canadian convivia from coast to coast. Key decisions for the year to come include continuing the National Canning Project; launching a pilot project to teach economically challenged Canadians to cook; and commitments from several convivia to support Slow Food’s A Thousand Gardens in Africa project. Slow Food Canada continues to work towards status as a federal charity and is exploring opportunities to host a Terra Madre Canada meeting in the future.

Visit the Slow Food Canada website to find out more about national projects and for local contacts.

Mara Jernigan is the current President of Slow Food in Canada and has volunteered for Slow Food for over 10 years.

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