A Call to Action: Identify our Canadian Voice

Food Bloggers of Canada Conference April 12 to 14, 2013

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Dana McCauley’s Call to Action during our last session at the Food Bloggers of Canada conference was the crescendo of the entire experience for me. “Oh, Canada!” Mardi Michels, Melissa Hartfiel, and Ethan Adeland guided 80 Canadian Food Bloggers through an historic portal that was a phenomenal ground breaking Canadian Food Blogging moment. When Dana added the FBC2013 conference to the timeline she had developed chronicling the change in food writing through technology from 1995 to the present, shivers went down my spine.Dana's Chart

This is it! We have joined hands from coast to coast, united through our love for food and storytelling, to identify our Canadian voice within the world through our food stories. The work that was undertaken by the Food Bloggers of Canada Team resulted in an event that surpassed any possible frame of reference on my part. I was edified spiritually, emotionally, intellectually… and physically? Oooo, baby. Not sure that would be called edification. Maybe satia-ti-fication or satura-ti-fication or stuffified? I still have that glassy eyed glazed gaze when recalling the food prepared by the Hockley Resort Kitchen.

fbc_logo1Food Bloggers of Canada was conceived by the three at the helm of the organization around a table at Canteen in Toronto in May of 2011. All three are food bloggers: Melissa Harfiel, a website designer; Mardi Michels, a French Teacher to elementary school aged boys, and Ethan Aleland in sports retail and management. But, that doesn’t begin to describe the level of expertise and skill these three brought to the table, or the synergy that has evolved through their work together. Synergy for them, then; efficacy for us, now.

So what is it that makes Canadian Food Bloggers unique? What do we bring to the collective table that is undeniably Canadian? Why is it so difficult for us, as Canadians, to get a handle on the uniqueness of our own culture? The vastness of the Canadian landscape contributes to this conundrum, yet other countries are as vast and present a clear cultural front to the world. And Canadian food. What is it, really? That would be an important bit of information for a Canadian food blogger to consider.

1. Community

Off the plane from Edmonton, dragging my bag through the public entry at Pearson, two familiar cyber-faces waiting, waving and welcoming. Only in Canada, I say. Andrea (Baking in Saskatoon) and Bridget (Crosby’s Molasses) were my secret weekend treasures. Connecting with these gals, with whom I had met via the private FBC attendee Facebook page, grounded me.

The long farm style tables invited communal conversation and within the early morning hour, the breakfast room at Cabin in Hockley Valley was aglow with a like-minded generosity of spirit and sense of unabashed candor that is rare. Only in Canada, I say. I connected with Julie (Sober Julie), as I am sure many do. She puts herself out there. I met Helene (Super Kitchen Machine), in her true protein form, after years of a cyber relationship through our love of the Thermomix machine. We chewed on more than Canadian grains at this morning meal.

I got to hug Helene (La Cuisine d’Helene), Renee (Sweet Sugar Bean), Isabel (Crumb), and Heather (The Tasty Gardener) , and many more. While one might hug other food writers and bloggers at other conferences, this was different. There was an understanding of the importance of this connection.

The sense of community developed through the Food Bloggers of Canada hub, this conference, and through the relationships that will thrive, is only the beginning. It is our rare Canadian warmth that does set up apart. We are accepting. We collaborate more than we compete. I love that about being a Canadian. We work to grow together, not independent of one another, but interdependently. Only in Canada, I say.

2. Humility

Each presenter on every panel gave their all to each of us without guile or pretension.


David Leite was hilarious, endearing, authentic, refreshingly intelligent and a lover of the English language. I am his new number one fan. The cadence of his words and steady rhythm of his intent amid the peppering of clever quips had me bedazzled. As a teacher of English Literature for, oh… 30 years, hearing how he agonizes over every word he writes found me as charmed as a snake by a pungi: cobra hair, and all. He lit me on fieye-ere! Rarin’ to go. To read. To write. To create. To literate. As our only American guest, I am curious about his Canadian experience. Did he sense our unique identity? He certainly emulated the essence of our Canadian humility.


I was deeply touched by Emily Richardson’s unabashed sharing of her cookbook publishing experiences. She goes onto my Valiant Women List. It is usually saved for the closest of friends, but her heart rendering story took incredible intestinal fortitude to live through and a vulnerable courage to share. She epitomized our Canadian humility in its purist form as well as our hallmark perseverance.

Every panel was remarkably astute. I connected with at least one person from each, and the offer to extend the learning personally was unexpected, yet so sincere. I have so much to learn, and through the humble offering of each of these profoundly talented individuals, I will thrive. The following list, once meaningless, is now the placeholder for so much meaning.

  • Bloggers and Brands
  • Making Dough
  • Publishing
  • Recipe Development 101
  • Food Photography and Styling
  • Bookkeeping for Canadian bloggers
  • Future Trends in Canadian food blogging

Of course, our humility is also a curse. We do not stand up and brag about our accomplishments. That is not polite. We do not sell ourselves well. That is simply boorish. It is culturally difficult for a Canadian to step up, speak up, and spread it all out there for the world to see. Though we are fiercely proud of who we are and what we represent, we are not very comfortable with getting in anyone else’s face about it.

3. Accessibility

And the sessions began. The consummate learner, I sat in the centre of the room, soon to be surrounded by a table of Canadian food heroes: Dana McCauley, Diane Jacob, Charmian Christie, Lucy Waverman, and Mairlyn Smith. Helene and Bridget sat with us, too. Now that is accessibility. The comradery around the table was warm and familiar. It is true that we were all over 40, of that I can be sure. There is a universal understanding amongst women everywhere over 50, but this was more than that. It was about the cause. It was about the writing and the food: the Canadian food. Only in Canada, I say.

Canadian food heroesDiane Jacobs is a maven. A masterful maestro. What a privilege to listen. To her. I am reading Will Write for Food all over again. And, maybe once more, after that.

To meet Dana  in person was such a pleasure as she has contributed to my Food Trends post the past two years; I am a great admirer of her multi-faceted contribution to our Canadian food scene.

Mairlyn Smith, almost 60, she will remind you as she holds her leg straight up past her head, or does the splits on the carpet photographing her cookie, possesses an energizing bravado that draws people to her. Accessible? Yes, siree. She is right there and out there, all at once.

Lucy  only attended for the portion of the conference that she presented at which was truly unfortunate for her as well as us. After attending her compelling presentation, it was evident to me that she had much to learn about Canadian Food bloggers and our ability. It was equally apparent that we had so much more to learn from her. She was the exception. Not so accessible on this day, which was a shame, and not consistent with what I truly believe to be “so Canadian”.

4. Perseverance

I can tell you stories, but let’s just start with this conference. The very fact that it happened within our expansive landscape with such outrageous success is a testament to the perseverance of our three Food Blogging in Canada leaders. The fact that the conference sold out with flights to purchase, plans to make and family budgets to attend to provides evidence of sacrifice and single-mindedness. We are a tenacious group. Work ethic? Most Canadians live to work. We do not leave time to understand what “working to live”, even means.

Focused. Sometimes, too much. It can be hard to see the forest for the trees. But we love those trees.

If Canadian food bloggers decide to work together to determine what sets us apart from our international counterparts, there will be no looking back.

5. Tolerance

Accepting? You bet! First, may I say, that if I dare to judge you, I completely get it. The Golden Rule is not lost on us. We may not live in a country where state and church are united, but we live in a country where we have each worked hard to get where we are. We understand the value of hard work. We have endured misery and suffering. We understand the importance of community and unity and will be the first to offer a hand. We understand cultural differences. We live in a country that was settled by others and that has grown up through to an official multi-cultural identity. Ah, yes. We are tolerant because we have been faced with so many opportunities to understand.

We will also be the first to forgive. That is changing as we grow and shift through the ages, but we still are a forgiving lot.

Our tolerant attitude and forgiving nature could be partly why our Canadian food system is in the state it now is. Most of us, urban dwellers, two and three generations from life on the farm, have lost touch with that once familiar reality. Not living in the country distances us from that life, its stories and the reality that our modern day farmers and producers face. It is astonishing that we now have organizations like Food Secure Canada working relentlessly to secure a safe and sustainable food supply for our Canadian future.

6. Canadian Food Identity

My first trip to France I was jarred toward understanding how tightly woven the fabric of French culture is integrated with that of the British and translated though our life as we live it in various parts of Canada. I am a Westerner. Yet, so many aspects of French food culture are a part of our prairie family life. I have only traveled to Yellowknife in the North, but have an affinity for “all things Canadian” there. I am not sure I will ever eat Beaver Tail, but I value Northern heritage and the food culture that it brings to the forefront of understanding who I am as a Canadian. I am on a never-ending quest to eat, taste, partake-of and learn-to-make Aboriginal food. This is the first food of my great nation, and I have not yet sat with an aboriginal family and ate a heritage meal steeped in the varied cultures of our first people.

Certainly, Saskatoon berries, high bush cranberries, the mighty Great Plains Bison that feeds on natural fescus, the Great Northern Bean in its creamy buttery nutrient-rich splendor, artisan raised grass fed Alberta Beef (it’s our terrior) that evokes the very essence of one’s primordial being, the wild aromatic nodding onion, sweet earthy artisan honeys flavoured by the wild flowers of our land, an abundance of curd pressed and caressed cheeses made by small producers with fat raw milk from grass fed and sustainably milked dairy cows… And apples? Oh, my… the variety in flavour and texture and fragrance. More grow in our cold Winter climate than can be used. This is my Canada. Potatoes and tomatoes. Root vegetables still clinging to clumps of black delicious dirt, and Spring vegetables splaying clean crunchy vines, pods and shoots, mushrooms foraged at the foot of our forests, and true free range eggs from a farmer I know who doesn’t feed his layers soy. Now I am getting political, but this is my Canada.

And what one puts on the home dinner table does make a political statement.

I look forward to continue building our Canadian food identity through our collective Canadian Food Blog Writing, the relationships we have developed and those we will forge through this opportunity: our “Call to Action”. Our Canada! Let’s face forward to the world and unite in this quest to further the conversation about what is it is that is truly unique about us. Let’s identify our Canadian voice and sing together, from sea to sea, in perfect harmony!

“Only in Canada?” Oh, how proud I am to have been a part of it all. Thank you, Mardi, Melissa and Ethan for the depth of your insight, leadership and hard work, and to the 9 volunteers, 22 presenters, 25 sponsors and 80 food bloggers for coming together to be a catalyst for change.


  1. Dana McCauley says

    Val, thank you so much for your kind words. I’m truly humbled by your praise! I hope we meet again soon.

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      The work I do with Slow Food in Canada and this very website has had me work toward this for the past few years. To find an opportunity to gain partners in this work through this conference within our country was a gift. You struck a chord that still has me vibrating!

  2. says

    Bravo Valerie! Thanks for such an articulate and heartfelt recap of this momentous event. It would certainly not have been the same without your presence there, and your retelling of the occasion. It was thrilling to meet you too, and to be part of such a fun and fortunate group of Canadians. Your great capture of David Leite speaks volumes about the tone of the week-end. What a blast!

  3. says

    Was a fantastic review of the weekends events Valerie.
    It was just wonderful meeting you.

    Your last paragraph brings forth the same excitement we felt after Dana spoke.
    I look forward to seeing the Canadian food blogging community bloom and grow into something even greater then what we have now.
    What wonderful friendships that we formed in Ontario.
    What an amazing community we have.
    Only in Canada!

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      I cannot believe I didn’t add you to the big hug list! It was so important for me to meet you, and such a pleasure! Didn’t get a lengthy chat in, but we will continue along this path together!

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      Dearest Dan!
      I left out the entire Calgary contingent! Bang my forehead! How could I have done that? I had to edit… but it is REMARKABLE that we had to travel so far to finally meet in the flesh. I am thinking about an Alberta Food Bloggers somethin’ somethin’. Nothing big… just a little twine to wrap us all up in so we get together a couple times a year.

  4. says

    Val, what a great recap to a conference that I am really sorry to have missed. I am into researching and sharing Canadian heritage recipes – like the ones we get to sample at country church suppers (have you ever tasted fluffier turnip whip? What’s the secret?) or those that many of us learned in our early Home Ec classes (back when there really was Home Economics). Kudos to the organizers of such a worthwhile organization for giving Canadian food bloggers the opportunity to network and learn from each other.

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      Headed out to the Slow Food in Canada National Conference today in Osooyos, or I would be trolling your site! So happy to meet you! Let’s work on sharing some of those recipes and food stories! That is one of my very important goals!

  5. says

    Finally, a picture of me that doesn’t make me want to tear my hair out :) Val, this is truly a ‘Canadian Foodie’ recap. It was so nice to spend some time with you at the conference and get to know you better. I hope we flew the Edmonton flag high, and well :) Hugs!

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      How could I have NOT thanked YOU from the bottom of my heart as our ALBERTA ambassador from FBC??? That is the very reason I wanted you in the photo. FOUND IT! Will send it… I fell exactly the same way. To finally spend a little real time with you was SUCH a pleasure – and quite the irony, considering we live in the same city. I have an idea, and when I get back from my conference this weekend, want to talk to you about it.

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      Thanks, Charmian!
      Dana will write a little ditty to you, me and Karen Gilbart regarding her idea for a western regional cookbook event – and then we will throw the party – or I will, with your help!

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      Thank you, Aimee!
      Congratulations on your well deserved Food Blog Award. You do us all so proud!

  6. says

    I was out of country and had to miss this but have followed along with reading the tweets and people’s post conference posts. It sounds like you had a fantastic time and I am sorry to have missed the chance to say hello in real life. I quite enjoyed your write-up Val. And I love what you do.

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      What a lovely compliment. I would have loved to have given you a big hug, too, as the feeling is mutual.

  7. says

    I loved meeting you too Valerie. I especially liked how you pointed out that we Canadian Food Bloggers collaborate more than we compete. I’ve been to conferences in other industries where you find everyone is eyeing up everyone else as the competition. At FBC2013 we could not have been any faster at developing friendships and talking about collaborations in the future. Love this about our community and how it still resonates weeks after as I read everyone’s followups from that weekend! Thank you!

  8. says

    You are the best xo, it was such a pleasure to finally meet and hug and spend the w-end at the same table. You make an impression that last on people and we feel good being around you. You have such a great spirit. I was beyond excited to meet you and many others at the conference. Hope our path cross again. I know it will :)

  9. says

    What a lovely wrap-up, Valerie. Your photos and your words really capture the essence of the event… it’s like I’m right back there again.
    It was wonderful to meet you at the conference, and to chat for a little while. You are truly an inspiration! I hope we’ll get to connect again more often, even if it’s just online for now. :)

  10. says

    Thank you so much for including me in your wrap up of the Food Bloggers weekend! I am honoured to be included in your list of Valiant Women and I also wanted to say that it was such a pleasure to chat with you and see your awesome smile in person!
    I hope to meet up with you in person again soon. Ciao bella! Emily

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      What an honour to have you pop over and respond to my post. Yes, you made a profound impression on me and yours is the kind of courage it takes to create change.
      Big hug

  11. says

    Wonderful post Val! And how lovely was it to finally meet you. Next time I’m in Edmonton I’m going to call you up and we’ll go for coffee. Would love to chat with you more!

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      Should you come to Edmonton, you must! I would love to have you over for dinner, or we could cook together. Coffee, at the very least!

  12. says

    I shouldn’t choose favorites, but this is possibly the best recap of the weekend that I’ve read. I agree with so, so many points. I often think about and discuss Canadian Identity. It used to be hard because it was always being compared to America, either in how we were different or how we were the same. It wasn’t until I went and lived in England for a year that I could really see what living in Canada meant. To me, our identity seems hard to pin down because as a country we are accepting and accommodating and we welcome new cultures and flavors into our everyday lives. I love that the food Canadians eat is constantly shifting and that at any moment we can have a bit of each cultures food available to us. Living in England there was amazing Indian food, but the rest of the food choices were nowhere near as diverse as are available in Canada. When I think of Canadian identity I think of a place that people are welcome to introduce their culture to while still being accepted into the mainstream. I also think of a culture that is interested in their food, trying new things and wanting to discuss where their food came from and where the food culture is going. Even if I end up moving to another country again for a short period of time, Canada is the only place that I’d want to raise my family and put down roots.

    I felt the same way about the speakers that you did. So friendly and accessible! So much knowledge to share and I love that we are all part of this on the ground floor and have a say on where it’s all headed. Cheers!

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      What a lovely compliment. It is gratifying to know that what I wrote resonates with others in a similar fashion. I am tickled we connected at the conference and are aligned in this focus and I am going to be very purposeful, on a regular basis, in working to develop this identity. I have just returned from the Slow Food Canada National Conference in Osooyos this year where like minded people from across the country gathered to work toward a similar goal, albeit more political with an aim to promote awareness and membership in the organization. I discovered some very specific foods there that were unknown to me: the Lake Osooyos Sockeye Salmon and Biscuit Root made the biggest impressions upon me while there. I hope to write about each in the near future to add to our “unique to Canada food” repertoire.

  13. says

    Hi Valerie, I enjoyed getting to know you a little over the course of the weekend. Thanks for the kind words.

    I’m glad you recapped Dana’s talk, because I had to leave with David for the airport and I missed it. I loved being among Canadians again and I think this is absolutely right to explore and highlight what makes Canada’s culinary heritage different.

    Having met a few leaders of Slow Food Canada, I’m pretty sure the organization is in good hands with you on board. You seem like someone with a lot of energy and good ideas.

  14. says

    I have met many of the bloggers you mention like Ethan and Isabel in Washington DC, Helene in Toronto, and spent 4 days with Diane Jacob and her husband at the Food and Wine Writers Workshop. Many bloggers we feel we know already through their blogs but there is nothing like that personal connection. It sounds like you had an amazing experience Valerie.

  15. says

    Amazing post Valerie!

    Your writing style and flare puts me to shame. I only hope that with five years experience I sound half as good as you.

    Wearing a flag was one of the main messages I took home from the Conference. That really resonated. One of the first things I did after getting home was sign up to join the Food Bloggers of Canada. Immediately after getting acceptance I put that logo with it’s maple leaf right up there at the top of the blog on the right (it’s since gotten bumped down just a bit by a link to my About me page – something else I learned I should have at the conference).

    I will admit though that I’ve found it hard to do much more than that to showcase our fine country. Well besides showing of some damn good restaurants. You’ve done a much better job distilling down how Canadian an experience the conference was, and that is awesome.

    I know you’ve read my summary, I have no clue if you bothered to check out the rest of my blog, but I run a down to earth blog where I just talk about memorable food experiences good or bad. My question to you, is how would you suggest I add more of a Canadian feel to my posts? Or is it enough that the Canadian attitude and pride just shows through in what and how I write?

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      Timely question – and I have not YET meandered through your site, but I will! I am posting a Canadian Food project I hope to engage you in! Thank YOU so much for your active engagement, here. That is what we are all about, really!

  16. La Torontoise says

    Dear Valerie,
    Your posting is so profoundly Canadian and touching. Particularly, the lines concerning Canada’s identity in terms of multiculturalism. Can not agree more.
    Thank you so much for putting it all together! So inspiring.
    I’m Canadian, from Toronto, living now in North Europe because of my job. I learned about the conference through Dianne Jacob’s web site, just few days before its start date. As an active traveler and cook at hearth, I’ve been planing to set up my own blog as a creative venue to share my experiences with other food and travel enthusiasts. I try to learn as much as possible from more experienced bloggers and books on the topic (like Dianne’s book). Joining the conference would have been my most important learning experience this year. Unfortunately, taking care of a little child and work commitments did not allow me to come to Toronto on such a short notice, but I feel very enthusiastic about the CFB event and definitely will consider joining it next year. Reading your post resonated with me and made me feel the warmth and the generous spirit of the conference; my imagination is very vivid and to me, it feels like I were there. I’m very appreciative for your writing about it.
    Also, I’m so happy to read that food-awareness has been dramatically increasing over the past few years.
    I wish you, the organizers and the attendees much success in what they are doing!
    All the best!

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      La Torontoise,
      What a lovely interchange. I am sure that the people from FBC will appreciate it as much as I do. I sure hope you decide to join The Canadian Food Experience Project!

  17. says

    An excellent recap, Valerie, and I so enjoyed your writing style and passion for your topic. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet at the conference – next time!

    • Valerie Lugonja says

      Thank you so much for not only taking the time to read the post, but to write such a thoughtful comment. I am sorry we didn’t meet as well…Did you see the next post! I would love to see you join us in The Canadian Food Experience Project! :) Valerie

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