Food for the body and soul
Stories connect us, write Craig and Marc Kielburger.
Chef David Wolfman remembers sitting at the kitchen table as a boy, gathering with his family over plates of wind-dried salmon and bannock.
A member of the Xaxli’p First Nation in British Columbia, Wolfman’s mother left the reserve for Toronto. Indigenous food in the city was scarce, but she fed him stories about wild berries that grew outside her cabin, and about feasts of candied and smoked salmon that marked celebrations. It wasn’t until he was in his 20s, visiting his mother’s reserve, that he understood. “The stories and the food are inseparable,” he says.
Wolfman started a path of personal, cultural and culinary discovery. He spoke with indigenous people on reserves and in cities across the country, learning from Mohawk, Cree and Inuit elders. He took in the traditions and food, discovering new ways to re-create old recipes and reconnecting with his heritage.
Salmon is not just a stubborn fish that swims against the current — it’s a reminder of the cricket song that marks the salmon run, the generations-old techniques for drying the catch, and the way fishermen share their bounty as a sign of their connection to the land, leaving the entrails in the woods for other animals to eat. For his people, food is more than nourishment: it’s spiritual.
There’s a new cadre of indigenous chefs who are part historian, part cultural ambassador. Piecing together recipes long passed down orally, Wolfman helps people find a sense of history and identity through food.
For many experiencing the residual e ects of residential schools, food provides a link to a culture they didn’t even know they were missing.
Three branches of Jesse Thistle’s Métis-Cree family endured the violence of land grabs and colonization, passing down the trauma through generations. In the aftermath, Thistle was raised by his grandparents, but alienated from his culture. Now a Trudeau scholar and leading voice on intergenerational trauma, part of his journey to reconnect with his heritage has been through food.
“Rediscovering our food is a return to fundamentals, to our relationship with the land and our history,” he says.
As indigenous fare finds a place, it’s leading to new conversations and cultural understandings.
Breaking bread together might seem like a small thing, but it’s something.
The next time you’re out for a meal, look for an indigenous restaurant. We promise you more than good eats. Exploring indigenous cuisine, the stories and culture, o ers non-indigenous Canadians a way in.
There are some honest and di cult conversations ahead. Maybe those conversations are best served with food.