2019 State of the Culinary Union Address

When Max Yasgur stepped onto the stage at Woodstock, fifty years ago, he greeted the half a million strong by saying, “I’m a farmer,” and received a more thunderous ovation than Jimi Hendrix drew the following day. Today, farmers are the rock stars. Farmers do more than feed our cities; they cultivate our land. Chefs, the really good ones, are their interlocutors. From Europe to Japan to each coast of Canada and every province in between, local culinary traditions and farming practices are defining our cultures and our economies like never before. Today’s savvy restaurateurs are buying locally and sustainably. We care about where our food comes from; we care that it’s appropriate to the season. We want to know what to eat that distinguishes each destination when we travel. Fresh is in. Exotic is whatever grows in our own backyard. Regions across Ontario are brimming with authentic experiences true to our roots. We’ve discovered that not only do good things grow in Ontario; but also that acclaimed chefs have recognized “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

Chefs, FarmersAs the world’s major cuisines are becoming more globally influenced in their home countries, their diasporic iterations are becoming more regionally specific. No longer do we merely crave Chinese food. We’re choosing between Cantonese, Hainanese, Shanghainese, Taiwanese and more. We’re learning culture and geography through our palates. However, despite all our existential issues of sustainability, there are too many who choose dishes like a Tinder date. In the evolution from edible to instagrammable, we are indulging in the simulacrum of food porn while spinning further away from the fundamentals. “The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation,” wrote David Hume.

tout est possibleRegional tourism initiatives are exciting us to get on the road and discover. Oyster trails and ale trails, wine routes and food tours are reconnecting our understanding of local economies and environments directly to their sources. A younger generation of urban farmers is bypassing cost-prohibitive, machine-heavy, GMO-saturated agricultural practices, and innovating by returning to tradition-before-convention. They may just save the world. There is so much happening now, so much to explore and experience, to learn, taste and share. As my dear dad used to teach me, “The learning never stops. If your heart is in the right place, there’s always more.” And as my mom always says, “When we taste our neighbour’s food, we can better understand each other.”

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