OTTAWA – Senator Rob Black is pushing to pass a bill that would officially recognize Food Day on a national scale, while also carrying on the legacy of Canadian food champion Anita Stewart.
On Nov. 30 Black, a Fergus native, spoke at a second reading on behalf of an Act to Establish Food Day in Canada – a bill he’s sponsoring.
Food Day Canada is an annual celebration founded by Elora resident Anita Stewart, who passed away last year, that encourages Canadians across the country to buy, cook and eat food raised or grown in Canada.
Black said not only is it important to acknowledge the work of Anita in bringing Food Day Canada to fruition in 2003, but the day is also “to acknowledge and recognize the work of agriculture and food processors, farmers, fishers, in the industry in providing food for Canadians three times a day, 365 days of the year.
“We can do it many ways, but this is one way that I’d like to see a national day,” he explained.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge what our farmers are doing for us.”
Food Day Canada, spearheaded by Stewart in 2003 in response to the mad cow disease scare, is already celebrated by many, but Black said the bill, in his mind, just solidifies it as a national day for Canada.
Anita was many things – a food activist, cookbook author, master in the kitchen – and the first Canadian food laureate at the University of Guelph.
She championed local food, not just in Wellington County, but throughout the province and across Canada.
“It wasn’t just the food it was the ingredients and the stories behind the food,” Black said. “This is important for me, and I think it should be important for everybody.”
The bill, if passed, would designate the Saturday of the August long weekend Food Day in Canada.
“It would be an opportunity for Canadians across the country to acknowledge the good work of our farmers, our fishers, our producers and processors in providing food for Canadians and the world,” Black explained.
“I don’t think we do that enough,” he added.
“I don’t think we appreciate what we have available to us here in Ontario and across Canada that’s provided by our farmers.”
Anita’s sons Jeff and Brad Stewart spoke to the Advertiser about the significance of the day to their family (siblings Mark and Paul were not available).
“It was always mom’s dream to be able to have everybody in Canada celebrate Canadian food and this is just one more step towards that, which is awesome as far as we’re concerned,” Jeff explained.
He said it was back in the early 1980s that their mother began researching Canadian food.
“At that point in time, we really didn’t have a national identity for food and there was a lot of people that kind of scoffed at mom when she started doing this,” said Jeff.
“The food landscape in Canada continues to evolve so I think it’s important for us to recognize that we have a very unique, distinct Canadian food culture nationally here and mom wanted to shout that from the rooftops and tell everyone about how amazing the food is here and how resilient our food system is here.”
Jeff said he hopes the bill will bring more awareness about Canadian food and acknowledgement for the people working in the food system.
“Canada’s such a diverse nation that it’s great to be able to put a voice to that and recognize the Canadian ingredients that are being used in so many different kinds of foods now that weren’t even here 20, 30 years ago,” he explained.
“Food evolves and as food and food culture evolves, it’s awesome to pay tribute to that.”
Anita always pushed to get recognition for the people making a difference in the world of Canadian food and that’s something Jeff and Brad said their family is really happy to be able to continue.
Long before promoting local was “cool,” Jeff and Brad recall going with their mother to speak with different chefs and meet with farmers and vendors to discuss recipes and what foods were in season.
“People are really getting it and that’s what mom would always get excited about,” Jeff said of the bill.
“She’d get excited when she talked with a new chef a new farmer, new restaurant and they’d get it. They’d understand the idea of what it takes to eat locally and seasonally.”
It was his mother’s dream, Brad said, to convince Canadians there is such thing as a Canadian cuisine and a Canadian food culture.
“Then to see that this could potentially be a day that we celebrate nationally, it’s literally her life’s work encapsulated in a single moment,” he explained.
“She literally said she would love if Canadians could celebrate food for a day and this was a precursor to actually naming this food day so it’s literally her dream incarnate – her life’s work incarnate.”
One of their mother’s sayings, Brad recalled, was, “Is there any better way for people to come together than to break bread?”
“’All the best parties are in the kitchen,’ that’s what mom used to say, for sure,” Jeff added.
Brad became emotional when discussing what the bill means to the Stewart family.
“It’s a sense of rightness, a sense of perfection, a sense of things being as they should be, a sense of faith so to speak,” he said.
“Those are the feelings that I have. There’s a lot of feelings so I think that’s where the emotions coming from … it’s a collision of emotions, and I’m speaking for all of us, I’m speaking for Paul and Mark and Jeff.”
Though Anita was seen as a celebrity in the food world – she has been referred to as the “Queen of Cuisine” – Jeff and Brad said they watched firsthand as their mother bootstrapped her way through.
“She was at a radical turning point for the Canadian food scene,” Jeff said. “She came by it honestly, too.”
Brad said in a lot of ways, having Food Day in Canada is “an expression of a nation coming into its own.”
Jeff said their mother always said Canadian food was like a salad – “different elements and flavours and textures that were all recognizable on their own, but together it’s just a beautiful composition.”
“Hopefully this is the starting point for almost the type of celebration and life that we got to live; maybe this is the starting point for Canadians to start making these types of salads and through that start to discover Anita Stewart,” Brad added.
“Through that, people will start to discover the depth of her knowledge … I still almost feel like we’re just scratching the surface.”