Canadian Cultural 'Misappropriation' - Denny Scott editorial
Last week The New York Times shared a “Nanaimo Bar” recipe on its Instagram account which got some Canadians, especially some west-coasters, a little hot under the collar, and justifiably so.
The post read as follows: “Canadians, this one's for you. Get the recipe for classic Nanaimo Bars…” however the image that accompanied it didn’t look like any Nanaimo Bar I’ve ever seen, and a lot of people shared the same concern.
The base layer was too thick, the custard was non-existent and the chocolate on the top looked way too thick. It was basically a little custard surrounded by way too much chocolate.
Why am I picking up on this? Is it because I love Nanaimo Bars? No. First, I don’t love them. I like them. They’re good. But I don’t love them and even if I did, I’m not physically fit enough to complain about food without looking just sad.
The reason that I’m focusing on it is because, as a proud Canadian, I’ve noticed a trend lately: people are appropriating our culture.
And while some people may say Canadians don’t have a culture, they’re wrong. We’re more than just polite versions of our southern neighbours. Canadians have their own food, their own cultural norms and, just ask Ontario comedian Russell Peters, our own accent. Oh, and music. We definitely have our own music. We have a culture and it’s being borrowed from.
I’m not against that. Really. I think it’s great that people find out how good Nanaimo Bars (or Nanaimo-style Bars, if you’re a Corner Gas fan) are. I think we should share poutine with the world and no one does maple syrup quite as well as we do. It’s great to share what makes us unique with the world. Also we know how to make butter tarts.
So why have I taken umbrage? Because it needs to be done right. I’m not against people enjoying Canadian culture, and
even incorporating it into their own (poutine pizza anyone?), It has to be done right, though.
So The New York Times screwed up Nanaimo Bars, but where else have I seen this trend? Well, recently one of my editor Shawn Loughlin’s guilty pleasure television shows, The Bachelor, messed up poutine.
A contestant from Toronto introduced the titular character to Canadian traditions (and if you don’t know the premise, one guy chooses between dozens of women who want to get married… it’s really weird). As part of the experience, they sat down to a meal
of Canadian food, including “poutine”, and while it had the ingredients, it certainly wasn’t appealing. Normally, the date
would have happened in the contestant’s hometown of Toronto, but, due to COVID-19, the show’s creative team sought
to recreate a Canadian experience, including the food and a one-on-one hockey game.
The contestant is from Toronto so maybe she bears some of the blame for not calling out the mistake, but The Bachelor really doubled down on angering Canadians by posting a Twitter survey asking which of four Canadian delicacies people would choose: Nanaimo Bars, Beaver Tails, peameal bacon or poutine. The images that accompanied it were horrible and none of them looked right, except the Beaver Tails, but only if you were squinting.
One very observant person said the poutine, which was made with chunks of dry-looking cheese curds and greying gravy, asked why the dish looked like vomit. (Okay, their word wasn’t vomit, but I’ve tried to clean it up).
Like I said, I’d be happy if The Bachelor introduced a bunch of people outside of Canada to some great Canadian food, but they missed the mark and owe our country an apology.
While we’re dolling out the “you should apologize” memos, one needs to go to Seattle chef Matt Broussard who, last August, shared his homemade recipe for “poutine”, and, once again, those quotation marks are intentional.
What’s wrong? Well the better question would be what’s right? It had potatoes in it, so I guess that’s technically right, but that’s about where Broussard’s attempt at the dish falls off the rails.
His is a creamy potato dish combined with scallions, which is not poutine no matter how you slice it.
It also had onions in it. I love onions. I put onions on everything that isn’t supposed to be sweet, but even I would never put them on poutine.
We need to claim our culture, as hidden as we may think it is, and make sure it’s represented well. Can we stop The Bachelor or Broussard from showing bad poutine or The New York Times from showing poorly-crafted Nanaimo Bars? Probably not. But we can certainly make sure that when people do look to Canada, they see our cultural mainstays in the best light.
We need poutine to look fresh and appetizing, Nanaimo Bars to be created correctly and butter tarts to either have or not have raisins in them… the jury is apparently still out on that one.