Monday, November 30, 2009

October 2008: Thanksgiving, the Slow Food Holiday

The philosophy of the Slow Food Movement stresses the importance of the connection between those who produce our food and those who consume it, between those who uphold the rural traditions of cultivation and production, and those who make the choices about what they will put on the table. Thanksgiving Day in Canada is the one day of the year when we all make those connections and celebrate the links between planet, producer, and plate.

Canadian Thanksgiving has several roots of origin and a long tradition, even though it became a holiday with a fixed date only in 1957. Martin Frobisher, the English explorer who probed the north and east coasts of Canada in the 16th century, gave thanks for his safe voyage to the New World by hosting what can only be called a Thanksgiving dinner in Newfoundland in 1578. At about the same time, Samuel de Champlain and his band of settlers in Nova Scotia formed l'Ordre de Bon Temps (The Order of Good Cheer) to give thanks and celebrate the bounty of their new land in a communal feast. United Empire Loyalists who came to Canada after the American Revolution brought some of the traditions they had grown used to in the 13 Colonies. Of course, the many Native celebrations surrounding food and giving thanks for it pre-date any of these. While the date of our Thanksgiving moved around through the years, it was finally fixed as the second Monday in October by Act of Parliament in 1957. It is about a month earlier than the American Thanksgiving because our harvest is so much earlier, and, thankfully, it has maintained most of its traditional meaning while the American holiday has been tainted by commercialism: Thanksgiving Friday has become the busiest shopping day of the year south of the border.

The centerpiece of the contemporary Canadian Thanksgiving holiday is a huge family meal, traditionally made up of the local produce that is abundantly available at harvest. Nothing could be closer to the spirit of the Slow Food Movement.
First, we are eating the produce that is grown in our own neighbourhood. After all, we are celebrating the harvest, so it is only natural that we enjoy local pumpkins and turnips, squash and potatoes along with our turkey or ham and other delicacies from Ontario farms.

Second, we consciously choose food that is part of our heritage and prepare it in traditional ways. True, we sometimes look for ways to update tradition by introducing new tastes or different menu items, but for the most part Thanksgiving is the one celebratory meal that retains the same menu year after year. This is one meal where a pre-prepared, frozen heat ‘n serve just won’t do. Lavish preparation with many hands involved is part of the enjoyment.

Third, we honour those who produce our food and appreciate our rural and agricultural roots. The celebration is all about giving thanks, and in doing so we must acknowledge those whose labour makes our food available. In the Niagara region we have choices from a harvest whose overwhelming variety, quality, and quantity makes us the envy of most other regions in the world. It’s easy to take our good fortune (and our farmers and agricultural workers) for granted, so a day of Thanksgiving is perhaps more appropriate here than anywhere.

Fourth, we sit down with family and friends and take the time to enjoy the food in convivial company. Food as a sensory pleasure (instead of belly-filling fuel) and eating as a social activity (instead of a snack in front of the TV) should be a daily routine. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to re-discover these pleasures, and perhaps resolve to make them a year-round part of family life.

Add to all of this the increasing emphasis we are placing on healthy, even organic foods (whipped cream notwithstanding), and Thanksgiving could be the one meal a year that makes us all honorary Slow Food members.

To find out more about Slow Food or to become a member, go to or contact Renée Girard at

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