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Food and Culture: Food Habits in Cape Breton Case Study

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Updated: Jun 23rd, 2022

Introduction

Extant literature demonstrates an instinctive consciousness of definitive links between food, culture and civilization (Justice, 2012), and the central role that culture continues to play in informing food choices (D’Sylva & Beagan, 2011).

In many instances food has be equated to a people’s culture by virtue of the fact that food is essentially typified as dialogue, as language, and as one amongst many material elements that define culture (Justice, 2012).

Through a case study on food habits in Cape Breton located in Nova Scotia, Canada, the present paper aims to expound on various elements of food and culture.

A Food Recipe: Acadian Seafood Stew

There exist many food recipes in Cape Breton to demonstrate the convergence of a multiplicity of cultures residing in Cape Breton Island. Cape Breton covers a physical area of 10,311 sq km and has a population of 147, 454, but the food choices are limitless and the many languages spoken there (e.g., English, French, Arabic, Mi’kmag and German) demonstrate wide variations of ethnic groups residing in the area (Nickerson & Kerr, 2009).

This case study samples one of the most popular food items in Cape Breton known as the Acadian Seafood Stew. This dish is prepared from flour, butter, fish stock, chopped talk celery, chopped carrots, garlic and onions, tomato paste, and Cajun seasoning (NovaScotia.Com, 2013).

Most of these ingredients are indigenous to Cape Breton and are supplied by local suppliers, who use the latest technology and farming methods to produce them.

A majority of farmers at Cape Breton use organic farming methods to produce carrots, garlic, tomatoes and onions, which are then sold while still flesh, thus eliminating the need for cold storage (Lake, 2013).

Fish is not in short supply in Cape Breton due to its geographic location, with available literature demonstrating that there is limitless stocks of salmon, trout and perch when rivers unfreeze during the summer (Heading, 2011).

Consequently, it can be argued that most of these ingredients come from the farmers’ land (or sea/river in case of fish stock) directly into the farmers’ market in Cape Breton, from where they are purchased for consumption.

Additionally, it can be argued that this recipe does not contain any processed ingredients or chemicals that are added by food suppliers to prolong the shelf life or change the flavor. Processed foods are substantially responsible for the high increase of lifestyle diseases witnessed elsewhere in Canada and also globally (Resor, 2010).

Cape Breton Food

It has been mentioned in this paper that food forms an important constituent of any culture (Justice, 2012). History shows that the Chinese identifies with their own type of food, the Indians with their curry, and the Americans with their fried chicken and mom’s apple pie (Hachey, 2013). But is there such a thing as Cape Breton food considering the fact that the area is home to multiple cultures?

To answer the above question, it is imperative to evaluate literature on the diet of natives of Cape Breton and how the diverse cultures found in the area today have impacted on Cape Breton’s diet.

It is clear from extant literature that the indigenous peoples (Mi’kmaw) of Cape Breton roamed the island as a semi-migratory society that not only depended on fish in spring and summer, but also ample wild game and sea birds during the harsh winters (Heading, 2011).

This author also notes that “…Cape Breton is a forager’s dream, home to some of the most delicious and nutritious berries, including blue berries, black berries, raspberries and goose berries” (para. 6). In this respect, the nutritional value of the food was complimented by the large avalanche of berries and other wild fruits.

However, as the indigenous peoples started to interact with foreign cultures, their food habits and patterns shifted substantially. For instance, the Acadians who settled on the Bay of Fundy and in southern New Brunswick brought into the fore French culinary habits and French recipes (Heading, 2011).

The British, Arabs and Germans who settled into the area much later also brought their varied food habits and recipes in line with their own unique cultures.

An important point to note is that these cultures started to share their ways of life (Heading, 2011), hence their foods and other culinary habits. It is this imperative that renders currency to the assertion that there exist Cape Breton food and food habits that arose as these varied cultures came together to share their way of life.

Cape Breton food is similar to food of other regions because it is grown from soil using the same farming techniques and technology as can be found elsewhere.

The fish in Cape Breton is similar to that in the United States or anywhere else by virtue of the fact it comes from the rivers and lakes, not mentioning that it holds similar nutritional value to other fish found elsewhere. However, major differences are witnessed in food production and processing chains, as well as in cooking and consumption habits.

From the exploration of the Acadian Seafood Stew, we have seen that Cape Breton food is not processed and consumers can still have fresh supplies of the produce because most of it is produced within the locality (Lake, 2013).

This food, although coming from a multiplicity of cultures that were brought together by the act of sharing a physical location, can be described as Cape Breton food as it is made from fresh local ingredients that are found in abundance in the area.

Processes of Eating/Not Eating Certain Types of Food

There exists a variety of Indian food choices in Cape Breton owing to the fact that the Indians form a significant part of the population. However, most people fear to indulge in Indian foods due to often mistaken belief that they are always spiced with hot chilies and are therefore bitter-tasting.

People learn new food varieties and food habits by constantly interacting with other cultures and learning from their styles (D’Sylva & Beagan, 2011). On a personal level, I could not eat the Indian delicacy known as Kakori Kebabs due to mistaken belief that is always seasoned with hot peppers.

However, I started interacting with some Indian buddies at school and got to learn a little bit of their culture and beliefs. The social interactions culminated into close personal bonds that got me invited in most of their functions and celebrations.

Upon tasting some of the Indian foods during the ceremonies, I started to dispel the myth that all Indian foods are indeed bitter.

A close Indian friend introduced me to the Kakori Kebabs during one of their social outings to mark an Indian calendar event. I loved the kebab and have made it part of my food repertoire ever since.

Education and awareness creation can also make some individuals to cease from eating certain types of food as happened to me when I attended a shrill awareness campaign during the winter. Shrills are endangered types of fish so much liked for their excellent flavor.

It was revealed during the campaign that caned shrill may actually not be the real shrill due to the poor fishing methods employed by fisherman in Japan and other areas. Canada is a net importer of shrill meat (Nickerson & Kerr, 2009).

However, it was revealed during the awareness campaign that the large Japanese trawlers end up catching snakes, spiders and other undesired animals, which end up being crushed together, processed and exported to Canada as caned shrill.

It was impossible to verify the facts from the campaigners, but a negative belief was automatically formed that that tin of caned shrill may actually be containing pieces of snake and spider meat. Since it is against my culture and belief to consume snakes and spiders, I removed the shrill delicacy from my food repertoire.

This exploration again demonstrates that culture was central to making the decision not to eat caned shrills anymore. Again, we can deduce from the exploration that culture and awareness inform the beliefs and attitudes that we hold toward certain types of food (Justice, 2012).

Food Eaten in Thanksgiving Day in the United States

Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a holiday with a past rich history in the United States, hence calling for the preparation of special diets of food on the fourth Thursday in November.

The calendar event has been an annual tradition since 1863, when, during the American civil war, the then U.S. president Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of offering thanks and praises to our beneficent and ever-loving Father (God) who resided in the Heavens, implying that the calendar event has a deeply religious connotation (Justice, 2012).

Turkey is the food of choice in many thanksgiving holidays in the United States, thus many Americans refer to the Thanksgiving Day as the Turkey Day. It is widely believed that “…the wild turkey (Meleagris gallopa) is native to North America and was a staple in the Native American diet” (Filippone, 2013 para. 1).

History has it that turkey was introduced to the early pilgrim settlers by the Native American Wampanoag tribe after the pilgrims settled in 1620 and the first ever thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 at the request of Governor William Bradford.

The Native Americans were invited as important guests of honor, hence the significance of the turkey to the event (Filippone, 2013). Although it was not until 1863 when President Lincoln inaugurated thanksgiving as an official calendar event in the U.S., the historical significance of the turkey in the lives of American continues to be felt to date.

Special Occasion Food

Preparing food for close family members and friends is a straightforward affair since their likes and dislikes are well known. This may not be the case in preparing food for total strangers.

Again, the person preparing the food might be aware of the cultural orientations towards certain types of foods since they already understand the beliefs and attitudes of close family members and friends.

However, the beliefs and attitudes towards certain type of foods may not be known in the event that food is being prepared for strangers who may or may not share your cultural orientation (Worthington, 2012).

Consequently, special occasion food should be prepared cautiously and all attempts should be made to ensure that information about the guests is known ahead of time.

However, it is important to consider the nutritional needs of the visitors and also consider their appeal by preparing a variety of colors, shapes and flavors (Worthington, 2012). This is because preparing special occasions food is very tricky as one may never know what the guests want.

References

D’Sylva, A., & Beagan, B.L. (2011). ‘Food is culture, but it’s also power’: The role of food in ethnic and gender identity construction among Guan Canadian women. Journal of Gender Studies, 20(3), 279-289.

Filippone, P.T. (2013). Thanksgiving turkey history. Web.

Hachey, M. (2013). Web.

Heading, J. (2011). Cape Breton food; History in the making. Web.

Justice, H.K. (2012). The consolation of critique: Food, culture, and civilization in Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway Review, 32(1), 16-23.

Lake, A. (2013). Cape Breton local food adventure. Web.

Nickerson, N.P., & Kerr, P. (2009). Snapshots: An introduction to tourism (5th ed.). Ontario: Pearson Education Canada.

NovaScotia.Com. (2013). Nova Scotia recipes. Web.

Resor, C.W. (2010). Food as a theme in social studies classes: Connecting daily life to technology, economy, and culture. The Social Studies, 101(6), 236-241.

Worthington, D.S. (2012). Seriously simple parties: Recipes, menus and advice for effortless entertaining. New York, NY: Chronicle Books.

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