historian of food, health & colonialism

The Burdens of McHistory

[Cross-posted with ActiveHistory.ca]

Walking out of the subway into Yonge Station in Toronto recently, I was confronted with poster after poster bearing some strange, slightly off-putting questions about McDonald’s. These included, in big bold letters, messages like: “Is the meat fake?” “Are there eyeballs put in your meat?” Or, “Are McNuggets made from processed pink sludge?

In the end, it was the presence of other posters assuring me that McDonald’s burgers and McNuggets are made of only recognizable cuts of the chicken or cow that finally tipped me off that the posters were, in fact, part of a McDonald’s ad campaign and not some kind of PETA-inspired anti-McDonald’s stunt. The question still remained, though: who thought this was a good idea? Like the recent Domino’s “Pizza Turnaround” campaign that bizarrely admitted that their food had been terrible for years (but was, supposedly, fine now), these ads seemed to remind commuters of the many reasons they’d likely developed over the years — both ridiculous and practical — not to eat at McDonald’s. What was going on here?

My search for answers eventually led me to the fascinating website yourquestions.mcdonalds.ca where, apparently, Canadians can submit questions like those plastered around Yonge Station and, within a few days, they’ll be answered by someone at McDonald’s and posted for the world to see. Initially launched this summer, the website currently contains hundreds of questions and answers that, it turns out, provide a fascinating glimpse into Canadians’ complicated relationship with their fast food and, perhaps more interestingly, McDonald’s ongoing and often failed attempts to deal with its own McHistory. (more…)

Here and Now

Yesterday, an interview I did with author and food columnist Sarah Elton about the history and future of community cookbooks was featured on CBC Toronto’s afternoon program, Here and Now. It was a great conversation, and you can listen to it at the Here and Now website.

I also highly recommend that you pick up the cookbook that we discuss, Share: Delicious Dishes from FoodShare and Friends. It’s fantastic and eclectic and, more than any other cookbook I’ve seen, reflects the real diversity of Toronto. And, if you’re looking to find out more about the history of Canada’s community cookbooks, be sure to check out the University of Guelph Library Culinary Collections. Other libraries and archives could learn a lot from Guelph about protecting and preserving Canada’s culinary heritage, so it’s definitely worth browsing through their fantastic holdings.

Canada War Cake

Last night provided a perfect example of why messy, heavily-annotated and well-used cookbooks are more important historical sources than clean, lightly used ones. After my talk on the politics and culture of food during the Second World War, the Culinary Historians of Canada provided some amazing wartime snacks. And in the process of trying to figure out whether a recipe for “Canada War Cake” from a wartime community cookbook published in 1918 would have actually been used during the Second World War, we discovered that some of the pieces of newspaper that had become stuck to the back of the oilcloth cover included references to the Nazis, suggesting that – indeed – the recipes proved to be useful during both wars!

Thanks again to Liz Driver, the Campbell House Museum, the Culinary Historians of Canada, and everyone who came out last night. It was a lovely way to spend an evening. I learned a lot from your questions and our conversations after the talk. I really look forward to incorporating some of your insights into my book.

If you couldn’t make it to the talk but want to try making your own Canada War Cake, here’s a recipe submitted by a reader of the Windsor Daily Star in March 1942.

Food Will Win the War

Just a heads up for anyone in the Toronto area: on Wednesday, November 14, I’m giving a public lecture entitled “Food Will Win the War: Eating for Victory during Canada’s Second World War” sponsored by the Culinary Historians of Canada and Campbell House Museum. I’ve been told that there will be period refreshments which will include, among other things, my favourite wartime recipe, “Canada War Cake.”

Below are some of the event details from the Culinary Historians of Canada website: