Community mourns loss of ‘Food Laureate’ Anita Stewart

CENTRE WELLINGTON – Members of this community, and agricultural and culinary officials across the country, are mourning the loss of Anita Stewart.

The Elora resident, a member of the Order of Canada and Food Laureate at the University of Guelph, passed away on Oct. 29 at age 73.

“Anita was a true champion of local food and she will be greatly missed by all who knew her,” stated Senator Rob Black in an Oct. 30 social media post.

University of Guelph president Charlotte Yates called Stewart “an exceptional and one-of-a-kind person.”

“She was known as a great supporter of all things Canadian, a true innovator and a trailblazer, and also as a cherished and loved personality,” said Yates.

“She will be mourned and missed by many.”

Jackie Fraser, co-owner of Fraberts Fresh Foods in Fergus, knew Stewart as a “dear friend” and “an incredible pioneer of and advocate for the local food movement.”

Fraser fondly recalls Stewart starting the World’s Longest Barbecue to support the Canadian beef industry in the aftermath of the “mad cow disease” or BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) crisis in 2003.

The event eventually morphed into Food Day Canada, a nationwide celebration of Canadian food and agriculture.

Stewart was “a staunch supporter and promoter of women in agriculture and Canada’s agri-food sector,” said Fraser.

“Thank you, Anita, for all that you did for Canadian agriculture, local food, and our beloved Centre Wellington. You will be sorely missed.”

Food Day Canada announced that on Oct. 30, Niagara Falls will be lit red and white – a Food Day Canada tradition – in honour of Stewart, the event’s founder.

“Shining a light on Canadian cuisine was her joy and passion,” the organization stated on Twitter.

“Her spirit and passion for Canadian cuisine and the people who make it happen was unrivalled.”

The author or co-author of well over a dozen books on Canadian food and wine, Stewart was the first Canadian to earn a master of arts in gastronomy, studying at the University of South Australia.

She wrote for several newspapers and magazines and was also a regular contributor for the CBC.

She travelled across Canada for decades, documenting her favourites places and recipes along the way.

“Our food traditions can stand on any world stage. We should be very proud of who we are as a food nation, as a culinary nation,” Stewart once told the Advertiser.

“There’s such great food diversity in this country and it needs to be celebrated.”

In June 2009, Stewart was inducted as an honorary lifetime member of the Canadian Culinary Federation of Chefs and Cooks.

In 2012 the University of Guelph appointed Stewart as its first Food Laureate, the university’s honorary food ambassador charged with providing advocacy and leadership and promoting initiatives.

“We are known internationally as the place for food research, teaching and technology, but our contributions to the culinary life of Canada needed to be more widely touted,” she said upon her appointment.

Last year the university announced it was improving the school’s Macdonald Institute food lab – and naming it the Anita Stewart Alumni Food Laboratory.

In 2018 Stewart was awarded the inaugural Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) Dinner Bell award, which recognizes an individual or effort that “breaks new ground in public trust in food with collaboration and leadership with meaningful impact.”

She has been recognized by many agri-food partners for her work in bringing the food industry closer to consumers.

Through her culinary expertise and advocacy, Stewart was renowned across the nation and beyond, but she always kept her hometown – and county – in the forefront.

“Wellington County is rich in terms of culinary resources; food resources are massive here,” she said.

Just this summer, Stewart stressed the importance of supporting local farmers, producers and restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year … it’s very important to acknowledge local food,” she told the Advertiser.

“If anything, COVID-19 has made us infinitely more attentive to our local food supply…and why we need to say thank you to our farmers/fishers/processors.”

Food Day Canada is asking people to leave tributes on Stewart’s personal Facebook page for her family.