From The Conversation Canada: Hey Foodie, Do You Know Where Your Meal Came From?

Hey foodie, do you know where your meal came from?

Snapping and posting your meal has become a daily ritual for many. Shutterstock
Sarah Duignan, McMaster University

“Foodie,” a term once relegated to food writers and gourmet appreciators, now encompasses a broader group. Many of these new foodies like to keep an online record of their eating habits: posting photos on Instagram or reviews on Yelp.

What many consider to be a hobby, however, can also be an indictment of lurking Western values around health and culture that appropriate, marginalize and exclude crucial voices.

The rising cultural appreciation of what we eat in North America comes with increasing connections between how our food choices mark our identity. Are we sustainable consumers, eating organic and non-GMO foods that are healthy for us and our environment? Or are we social media users concerned with trendy foods, ingredients and cuisines?

More importantly, how does the new foodie culture complicate racial and socioeconomic issues?

In the last decade, mass foodie-ism has grown into a social awareness of food systems and a heightened appreciation of taste. Early in the 2000s, food writers like Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle highlighted North America’s unsustainable food systems and challenged the public to be engaged with what and how they ate.

This conscious awakening grew even more through documentaries like Food, Inc., and food television like Chef’s Table. With that, food morality and food politics really blossomed.

The late Anthony Bourdain said the North American food fascination is connected to its relative cultural youthfulness: less than 300 years old. Bourdain argues that we’re in the process of growing up and learning what older cultures have known for a long time: food is more than just food. It’s conversation, politics and social status.

Food morality

Foodie movements, like Slow Food, are often rooted in undertones of morality. For example, common words used to describe food on vegan or health blogs are: natural, organic, pure, unprocessed. The implication is the opposite: that foods that don’t fit into this category are bad.

Canadian attitudes towards some traditionally basic ingredients has shifted. For example, milk is no longer a main recommendation on Canada’s updated Food Guide. Lean fats are encouraged and less salty or sugary foods are recommended to maintain a healthy diet. Individuals who can’t live up to these new expectations are blamed for their own failure to adapt.

The moral superiority expressed with these diets can act as harmful barriers to some, socioeconomically. Also, the appropriation of global cuisines that come with foodie culture can work to maintain structural racism.

The “Five White Gifts:” flour, sugar, salt, milk and lard. are ingredients that are full of historic injustices and ongoing colonial legacies. These five foods were given out in ration boxes by the government of Canada during the 1940s to Indigenous families living on reserves.

The Canadian government believed these “gifts” would make up for the lack of access to traditional hunting and fishing spaces. These ingredients became staple foods for many Indigenous families and contributed to forcing a disconnect for communities from their traditional food sources. This caused ongoing health concerns, most notably higher rates of type 2 diabetes.

Food morality can reinforce racially-charged power structures and food gentrification means that some communities can no longer afford their own foods.

Appealing to Western palates

Chef Andrew Zimmern positioned himself as a cultural navigator of Chinese cuisine. Last fall, his launch of Lucky Cricket restaurant in a Minneapolis suburb has been raised as an example of food appropriation. The restaurant serves Chinese foods to a mostly white community, focusing on small plates, “adventurous eating” and organic, local ingredients. Zimmern, concerned that the neighbourhood he served wouldn’t understand his food, aimed to “introduce them to a real duck roast.”

David Chang’s ‘Ugly Delicious’ tackles harmful food stereotypes.

After public outrage of his cultural appropriation ensued, Zimmern responded in a Facebook post saying he believes his role is “making invisible communities, cultures, tribes and businesses visible.”

This Westerner-as-cultural-expert mentality maintains imperialist notions, similar to the idea of early Western explorers “discovering” the New World. It’s a one-way exchange where “the Westerner” gains “insider” knowledge and has the power to re-purpose and profit from these foods.

Toronto-based writer Lorraine Chuen explored these intersections of food, race and power by researching who is considered to be an authority on “ethnic recipes.” Chuen sampled recipes from the New York Times recipe section and found those writing about cuisines from different cultures were white writers. Therefore, in the example of the publication and circulation of the New York Times recipes, it is often white foodies who control how dishes are cooked at home and interpreted, thereby erasing people of colour from their cultural heritages.

How foodie interactions shape cultural attitudes

It may be easy to critique food personalities perpetuating existing power dynamics by being “benevolent” authorities and translators of global foods. A more difficult task is to critically self-reflect. How might we as Instagram-users perpetuate harmful attitudes and practices?

Social media is a useful everyday tool for foodies to solidify their social power. Foodies impart knowledge through visuals and reviews that fuel certain spaces as the more authentic dining experiences. Mass-foodies are then crowned as the primary sources for other people’s indirect knowledge of “good” food.

What’s a food-loving person to do?

We can think more consciously about how we use food as a symbol for our own self-expression. We can examine how we morally position ourselves and our food choices. We could skip the foodie influencers who feel the need to translate cuisines of different cultures. We could support an authentic food industry.

Shows like David Chang’s Ugly Delicious are tackling harmful food stereotypes. Indigenous chefs like Rich Francis of Seventh Fire Catering are fostering cultural healing and reconciliation through food.

If we want to truly make food and life more sustainable, we should think about the power dynamics of our food. If we respect the humanity of the communities we interact with, our food experiences and global curiosities are enriched by all cultures on their own terms and power.The Conversation

Sarah Duignan, PhD Candidate, Host of AnthroDish Podcast, McMaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Canada's new food guide: A fail on culture and sustainability?

This piece originally appeared in The Conversation Canada.

Canada's new food guide: A fail on culture and sustainability?

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The Canada Food Guide has always been subject to political and economic agendas. The new 2019 guide could present dominant visuals of affordable foods like frozen vegetables — to connect to more Canadians and tackle food insecurity. (Shutterstock)
Sarah Duignan, McMaster University

Canada’s Food Guide is being revised. After a three-year consultation process, the guide will be published within weeks. Sadly, economic and political agendas will likely continue to make its dietary recommendations unachievable for many Canadians.

As a biocultural anthropologist, I explore how nutritional health goes beyond physical health. Social factors like income and proximity to grocery stores have an impact, as do cultural values and knowledge.

Why then, in a country as culturally diverse as Canada, is there such a surprising lack of culinary representation in our food guide?

Health Canada’s current (2007) food guide. (Health Canada)

The food guide has long been rooted in economic agendas. The 1942 Official Food Rules for Canada were developed to encourage Canadians to eat more, despite food rationing during the Second World War. This was to combat malnutrition and to strengthen soldiers and industry workers. Despite seven changes to the guide between now and then, there have been no suggestions to eat less.

Early drafts of the new guide indicate that the conventional four food groups will be reduced to three — wholegrain foods, fruit and vegetables and protein foods (incorporating the traditional meat, fish and dairy).

The drafts suggest the guide will remain focused, however, on the nutrients that individual bodies should consume. The food guide does not appear to tackle the important economic, social and cultural barriers many individuals and families face to accessing healthy food.

Fresh fruit is expensive

During a 2013 visit to Canada, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, expressed serious concerns over the severity of food insecurity and hunger across the country.

Food security is defined as the availability, accessibility, affordability and appropriateness of foods for households.

Notably, de Schutter voiced concern about the lack of social protection programs and high rates of food insecurity for low income households, Indigenous populations living off-reserve and new immigrant families.

Early prototypes of the Food Guide reveal a continued focus on fresh produce. And yet frozen produce is cheaper and still reliably nutritious. And when you’re stressed about money or live far from a Whole Foods, you’re unlikely to prioritize quality over quantity of food.

The new guide could offer more dominant visuals of affordable food alternatives — for example frozen spinach cubes beside fresh varieties — to connect to more Canadians.

Reconciliation involves Indigenous foods

The guide should also think about healthy foods that are culturally appropriate. Incorporating traditional Indigenous foods (for example game meat, corn soup or wild blueberries) or foods that would be recognizable to newcomers to Canada (such as plantains or cassava for Central American families) would help more communities recognize their own diverse histories and cultures in the Food Guide rainbow.

If we are serious about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, then this should also be reflected in what foods we recommend as healthy. Health Canada does have an Indigenous-specific food guide, but the language and visuals suggest that this is a “complement” to the main guide. Its grain recommendations, for example, ignore the fight some Indigenous communities are having to reclaim their pre-contact cuisine.

Members of the James Bay Cree of northern Québec roast geese on a fire. (David Dyck Fehderau)

Food sovereignty is the right to healthy, sustainable and culturally appropriate food, and for communities to define their own food systems. Incorporating traditional foods from a variety of Indigenous cultures (for example wild rice, char and fiddleheads) into the main guide would make the recommendations more reflective of the diverse values and cultures that make up our country.

More importantly, it would also help to shape realistic food recommendations for communities where certain foods are more accessible and affordable, particularly for those living off-reserve. In turn, foods that are culturally and physically nourishing may help improve chronic health conditions and promote cultural healing.

Meat and dairy industry influence

Throughout the evolution of the Canada Food Guide, agricultural industries have lobbied for certain foods to be prioritized. The 2007 version drew concerns from health experts, as it suggested a half cup of fruit juice was equal to a serving of fruit. There was also worry that the guide encourages people to eat too much meat and dairy.

Dairy cows walk in a pasture at Nicomekl Farms, in Surrey, B.C., in August 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The 2019 update of the Canada Food Guide makes important changes by removing fruit juice recommendations and encouraging Canadians to drink fewer sugary beverages. Yet concerns remain about the agricultural industry’s influence.

“Secret” memos from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) stated that emphasis on plant-based proteins would have “negative implications for the meat and dairy industry.” The AAFC also argued against plant-based diets being more sustainable, claiming that the beef industry was making sustainability efforts.

In 2017, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food recommended the government work with industry to “ensure alignment and competitiveness for domestic industries.” This may suggest that sustainability is not on the government’s menu.

Healthy diets depend on sustainable food systems

But this is also an era of Canadian history defined by climate change, harmful government actions against Indigenous sovereignty and food-insecure families.

And it’s not an impossible task to positively change national food recommendations. Brazil’s 2014 food guide framed diet as “more than just nutrients,” embracing food as a natural part of social life. The guide recommends reducing processed foods (like chips or soft drinks), and increasing culturally appropriate foods (like local plants) that support social and environmental sustainability.

Brazil stated that dietary recommendations need to be tuned into their times, responding to changing food supply and population health. Reacting to social, cultural and environmental changes to food systems isn’t just good for a population’s diet — it makes for more resilience during climatic change and hardship.

Perhaps it’s time for Canada to move away from individual nutrients and frame healthy diets as dependent on socially and environmentally sustainable food systems.The Conversation

Sarah Duignan, PhD Candidate, Host of AnthroDish Podcast, McMaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.