When the fork is mightier than the sword 

Food activists, meet Food Day Canada

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - food as activism Join the long list of culinary activists who have marched over the decades as you mark Food Day Canada, held the first Saturday of every August.
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  • food as activism Join the long list of culinary activists who have marched over the decades as you mark Food Day Canada, held the first Saturday of every August.

When all is said and done, you can truly make a statement with your dining plate-ment.

The #MeToo movement fighting sexual violence. The #MeTwo movement launched in Germany to fight racism. Idle No More. The Occupy movement. The anti-gun movement gaining new traction in light of 3D-printed gun plans that can be downloaded by anyone. The civil rights movement. Suffragettes. The student movement that rose up like a magnificent whirlwind in Paris in 1968 and went on to change the world.

On and on goes the list of citizen activism aimed at blasting some welcome structural instability into endless wrongs and social injustices that could bring us to a darkness if it weren't for the hope and light cracked open by the activism itself.

To that noble list, add a simple, lovely form of activism as political and effective as you could want.

Culinary activism has long been recognized in certain circles—professional or somewhat esoteric ones, like book clubs, since many proponents are also excellent writers—while pretty much burbling under the radar of most everyone else (the best kind of revolutionary activity).

The Academy of Culinary Nutrition posts a top-50 list of culinary or food activists, starting with a few names you've found in this column over the years: Michael Pollan, author and professor of journalism at UC Berkeley, that hotbed of activism, who's known for his culture-shaking books like The Omnivore's Dilemma. Vancouver's own J. B. MacKinnon and Alisa Smith, founders of the 100 Mile Diet, which turned eating into a movement. Joel Salatin, prolific writer and owner of Polyface Farm, the farm of many faces that's inspired a new generation of environmentally, ecologically and emotionally aware farmers. Even Michelle Obama and her activism to improve kids' nutrition and end childhood obesity made the list.

Then we have culinary activists like Alice Waters, who set off a nice little counterculture food revolution when she opened her now-famous Chez Panisse restaurant, also in Berkeley, in 1971. Local and organic were key tenets.

And let's include some of the Whistlerites who've changed the way we eat. People like Leah and John Garrad-Cole, founders of Love Child Organics for babies; Angela Perzow Pelz, the heart and soul behind Olives Community Market; and Nicolette Richer, who gave up life at muni hall to found The Green Moustache Cafe, purveyors of all things delicious, vegan and organic, including the first all-vegan vending machines.

To this noble list add Anita Stewart, a woman with a long list of credentials, including member of the Order of Canada, the University of Guelph's first Food Laureate, and advisor to the Governor General's Awards in Celebration of the Nation's Table. But what really impresses me about Stewart, besides her sense of humour, is she loves being an activist and a disrupter.

Sure, she's better known in Eastern Canada than around here, but this Saturday, Aug. 4, you can taste Stewart's own brand of food activism during Food Day Canada.

Food Day Canada started life on Aug. 2, 2003 as "The World's Longest Barbecue." Nothing to do with the Canadian National BBQ Championships at Dusty's this weekend (though that will be fun, too), "the world's longest" was founded by Stewart in solidarity with Canada's cattle and beef industry, which had been hit by U.S. sanctions.

Sounds familiar, eh? But those '03 sanctions were due to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or "mad cow disease," when a black Angus cow in northern Alberta was found to have BSE. The U.S. immediately closed its borders to Canadian beef and cattle, with 40 more countries following suit.

Lots of us worried about our ranchers, but Stewart actually did something, inviting people across the land to fire up their barbes Aug. 2 that year with some good Canadian beef. Even Canucks living abroad followed suit.

Since then, Food Day Canada, held on the Saturday of the August long weekend every year, has morphed into a loose-knit celebration of Canadian cuisine.

Not that I'm a nationalist, or even close to it (God knows we have too much of that around these days), but going back to those food activism tenets of eating and buying local for all kinds of environmental, ecological and emotional reasons, I think it's cool we have a Food Day Canada, even though most of us don't even know about it. Actually, how Canadian is that?

If you were too busy planning your B.C. Day long weekend, or too excited about Dusty's BBQ championships, or just too hot to think about anything, period, here are some easy tips:

1. Check out the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre's cafe for just about the only taste of original Canadian cuisine in town.

2. Check out these fine restos celebrating Food Day Canada: Araxi, where, clever people that they are there, every day is Food Day Canada—but, seriously, where chef Quang Dang is putting on a fantastic spread. Likewise, Il Caminetto, where chef extraordinaire James Walt is full-on with the Canada food celebration with an Italian twist. At the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, chef Derek Bendig has a seven-courser under his toque blanche featuring, among other good things, Berezan shrimp from the most technologically advanced, land-based seafood farm in the world in Langley, 25 kilometres from the ocean. How revolutionary is that?

3. Look in your garden. Look in your fridge and read the labels. Pick three things truly Canadian and serve them up.

4. Say screw it all and head to Lost Lake with a copy of Nick Lacata's Becoming a Citizen Activist. Lacata is a former Seattle city councillor so he definitely knows his stuff.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who reminds you that "staying active" means politically, too.

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