Food Bloggers of Canada Conference April 12 to 14, 2013
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.
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.
Food 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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.