Writer’s Block: Salad Bowl or Melt­ing Pot?

A culi­nary les­son on mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism hits the spot

Our Canada - - Contents - by Beth Mc­clel­land,

In this class­room, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is on the menu.

Be­fore the bell rings,” said our teacher Mrs. Owen, “I just want to say a few words about our next unit. Next week, we will be talk­ing about mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. Ba­si­cally, we will be com­par­ing our na­tional pol­icy, of­ten called the salad bowl, to an­other phi­los­o­phy called the melt­ing pot. We will be ex­plor­ing both of those terms in much more de­tail. In prepa­ra­tion for our dis­cus­sion, I have an as­sign­ment for you. On Mon­day, I would like each of you to bring in a potato dish. It can be a dish from your own cul­ture, a fam­ily favourite or just a recipe that you like. Please bring enough for ev­ery­one to have a taste. And, please also list the in­gre­di­ents, so any­one with food re­stric­tions knows ex­actly what they are eat­ing. You don’t need to worry about plates and cut­lery. I will han­dle those. Have a great week­end, ev­ery­one, have fun and be cre­ative with this as­sign­ment.”

On Mon­day, Mrs. Owen asked for vol­un­teers to pre­sent their dishes. Hyang-soon raised his hand shyly. “I’ve brought in a Korean side dish called gamja jorim. It con­tains potato, white oys­ter mush­rooms, corn syrup, onion, gar­lic, olive oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, sugar and water. It isn’t spicy. I would be glad for you to try it.”

Ananda was next. She proudly pre­sented her dish. “My fam­ily is from the state of Gu­jarat, in west­ern In­dia. For re­li­gious rea­sons, we are veg­e­tar­ian, so of course, this is a veg­e­tar­ian dish. It is called va­gan bateta nu shak. It is potato and egg­plant curry. It also con­tains toma­toes and a few spices. It is quite spicy, and very tasty!”

Mike was the next stu­dent to take the floor. “I’m one-quar­ter Ir­ish, and there is noth­ing more Ir­ish than the potato. Since I love my meat and pota­toes, I’ve brought in some of my mother’s hearty Bal­ly­maloe Ir­ish stew. The main in­gre­di­ents are lamb, car­rots, onions and pota­toes. No other com­fort food can beat it!”

So­phie’s dish was a stark con­trast to Mike’s stew. “I’ve brought in some py­rohy. Sorry, Mike, but I’m a ve­gan. You won’t find any meat in my dish. You won’t find any dairy prod­ucts ei­ther. I know that ched­dar cheese and cot­tage cheese are usu­ally pop­u­lar in­gre­di­ents, but my py­rohy con­tains only pota­toes and onions. I do re­al­ize that many peo­ple like to add sour cream as a top­ping, so I also brought a con­tainer of low-fat sour cream for any­one who would like some.”

“Low fat!” groaned Mike. “No, but se­ri­ously, Soph, thanks for think­ing of us. I should have con­sid­ered you, too, and brought some of my stew with no meat in it.”

“Sorry, So­phie and Ananda, but my fam­ily changes ba­sic scal­loped pota­toes

into a main course by adding Ital­ian sausage and tons of cheese,” said Tony. “In­stead of us­ing ched­dar, though, we add moz­zarella and Parme­san cheeses. I’m afraid I wasn’t re­ally think­ing much about any­one’s di­etary re­stric­tions when I put this dish to­gether.”

The class also sam­pled Jewish potato latkes, French Cana­dian pou­tine and Ger­man potato salad.

Af­ter each stu­dent had pre­sented a dish, Mrs. Owen took her turn. “Thank you, ev­ery­one. We have tasted a lot of very in­ter­est­ing recipes to­day, each one show­cas­ing the sim­ple potato. I have one more dish for you to try. I have brought in some plain boiled pota­toes. There should not be any di­etary is­sues, be­cause I have added noth­ing to them. I did not even add salt or pep­per. You will taste only the flavour of the pota­toes.” Sev­eral of the stu­dents com­mented on the bland­ness of the plain boiled pota­toes, most also com­plain­ing about lack of va­ri­ety.

Mrs. Owen used these com­ments as a start­ing point to launch their first les­son on mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

“There are two dis­tinct mod­els for deal­ing with var­i­ous cul­tural groups within a sin­gle so­ci­ety. These two mod­els are called the melt­ing pot and the salad bowl (or cul­tural mo­saic).

First, we will talk about the melt­ing pot. An­other term of­ten used to de­scribe this ap­proach is cul­tural as­sim­i­la­tion. Cit­i­zens are as­sim­i­lated into one ho­mo­ge­neous na­tional cul­ture. Can any­one tell me why my potato dish might be com­pared to this melt­ing-pot model?

“I think your word ho­mo­ge­neous is the an­swer,” replied Kim. “Our dishes all had other in­gre­di­ents. Your dish was ho­mo­ge­neous, since it con­tained only plain pota­toes.”

“That is ex­actly the an­swer I was look­ing for, Kim. Ev­ery bite of my dish was the same as ev­ery other bite. There was noth­ing to dif­fer­en­ti­ate one bite from the next. In a melt­ing-pot so­ci­ety, cit­i­zens are en­cour­aged to as­sim­i­late, and lit­er­ally, blend in to one na­tional cul­ture.

“Now, let’s talk about mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, or the salad-bowl model,” con­tin­ued Mrs. Owen. “In 1971, Canada was the first coun­try in the world to adopt mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism as an of­fi­cial pol­icy. This model al­lows cit­i­zens to take pride in their an­ces­try. It also en­cour­ages racial and eth­nic har­mony and cross­cul­tural un­der­stand­ing.

“Op­po­nents of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism ar­gue that it em­pha­sizes the dif­fer­ences among cit­i­zens, rather than their shared cit­i­zenry. How can our potato potluck here to­day be com­pared to our na­tional pol­icy?” asked Mrs. Owen.

“Well,” be­gan Mike, “we tasted a lot of dif­fer­ent eth­nic dishes to­day. I think dif­fer­ences were def­i­nitely em­pha­sized, but that doesn’t need to be a bad thing.”

“Yeah, we tried things we might never have tasted be­fore,” said Tony.

“Be­sides en­joy­ing our cul­tural dif­fer­ences, we were also able to respect one an­other’s di­etary re­stric­tions, whether they were caused by al­ler­gies or were based on re­li­gious be­liefs,” added Ananda.

“Our dishes were not at all ho­mo­ge­neous. Each one was dif­fer­ent, just like each in­gre­di­ent in a salad is dif­fer­ent, in taste, colour and tex­ture. I think we cel­e­brated our dif­fer­ences, rather than merely tol­er­at­ing them,” said So­phie.

“Is there any­one here who pre­ferred my potato dish to the va­ri­ety of flavours we ex­pe­ri­enced to­day?” asked Mrs. Owen.

No hands were raised. n

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