What we eat and how we eat; Change and Continuity in Canadian Foodways during the 20th Century PDF Print E-mail

Background and Aim of the Study

There is, to date, no systematic or comprehensive study of Canadian domestic foodways in the twentieth century. This is in marked contrast to the abundance of resource material (prescriptions in government, corporate, and popular texts) and interest (increasingly strong interest in women’s history, growing acceptance of “un”official documents as legitimate sources of inquiry, and universities’ recent willingness to recognize the value of interdisciplinary inquiry).

Our program of research uses the domestic kitchen, and the food prepared and consumed in it, as a lens through which to view cultural continuity and change in Canada in the twentieth century.  Our objective is not only to describe a little known and underappreciated history, but also to analyze the roles that technological innovation and novelty play in shaping culture. A study of foodways (by which we mean the food habits and practices of a people, how a group selects, prepares and consumes its food) allows us to focus on cultural continuities, expressed through culinary conservatism, while at the same time examining the response to the exotic, the unfamiliar, and the new, through the adoption of new foods into the household larder and on to the table. In this research program, we adopt an interdisciplinary perspective to examine Canadian foodways in order to identify underlying continuities, the deeply embedded and taken-for-granted habits of domestic foodways, as well as the conditions that redirect them or reorder them. We attempt to understand (as well as just document) why and how Canadians have come to adopt new foods and food customs while preserving others. We focus on the long twentieth century (i.e., 1880-present) because it is a time of unprecedented change in terms of consumer marketing, technological and product innovation, and globalization of the domestic marketplace.



Each investigator pursues a research related either to prescriptive or descriptive practice in domestic Canadian foodways.

(a) prescriptive practice:

•    form and function of corporate spokescharacters and food celebrities in Canada [Cooke]

•    essential/dangerous foods [Marquis]

(b) descriptive practice:

•    comfort foods [LeBel]

•    design changes to accommodate ethnic innovation [Kenneally]

•    history of commercial ethnic food producers and distributors in Montreal [Dickenson]

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