For folks growing up in diasporic communities, food can be as important as language. The dishes we cook and our attitudes toward them provide a link to an ancestral past. One of my earliest and most vivid memories was my Ukrainian-born paternal grandfather making borscht with farmer’s sausage at his home, a cabin in Badger, Man., when I was three years old. He grew up during a time of famine and could make a meal out of almost nothing. I haven’t eaten meat in 15 years, but I can remember exactly how that borscht tasted.
Both of my maternal grandparents were born in Canada, but neither spoke English as a first language. While I never learned to speak Ukrainian (or the haphazard mix of English and Ukrainian that my Baba still uses with her sisters), the pyrohy, pyrizhky and nalysnyky we share on holidays gives me a sense of the life of past generations.
This summer, I stumbled across an archival interview from The Carillon with Wasylyna Gorman, a Ukrainian-born woman who in 1899 made the journey across Europe and the Atlantic to settle in Stuartburn, Man. with a dozen other families, including my great-great-great grandparents and four of their children. Many of her recollections are about food. She recalls how one lady brought a head of garlic across the ocean, giving the six cloves to six women in the village so they could grow their own. When recounting my great-great-grandparents’ wedding, she remembers buying meat from local Indigenous hunters “which was cooked in broth and real tasty.”
While these meals can give us a window into our own diasporic pasts and cultures, they can also act as an educational portal into our neighbours’ pasts and cultures. Arts and culture reporter Naaman Sturrup’s cover story this week is a Winnipeg food atlas of sorts, examining how food can act as a bridge toward empathy and understanding.
– Thomas Pashko