Snacks: A Canadian Food History by Janis Thiessen

One of the best days of my childhood was when my Mom bought my brother and I a gigantic bag of Willie Wonka candy, popped on original version of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and left the two of us to eat all the candy we wanted. The ability to self-monitor our consumption without our younger sisters or parents watching was the most grown up and indulgent moments of my life. I was probably somewhere between eight and ten and I will never forget that feeling.

Snacks, whether they be sweet or salty, are woven through so many people’s lives. We all have our favorite holiday snacks (I’m a sucker for those nuts in a shell that show up here around Thanksgiving) our favorite movie snack (Popcorn with peanut butter M&Ms mixed in) and our the snack we don’t understand (Kale chips people, really?). But, until this book, I hadn’t given much thought to the snack business itself.

snacksSnacks: A Canadian Food History by Janis Thiessen is a thoroughly researched book focusing on the Canadian snack industry. We see chips, chocolates, and candies in the isles of our local grocery stores, but the history of these businesses and the impact of politics and corporate mythology was never something I had pondered. I was struck by the complicated growth of many of these companies. But, I was most struck by the individual pride of the workers that has taken massive blows with the current snobbish attitude towards snack foods.

Several things surprised me as I read about the history of snacks in Canada. For example, Canada has a great many grants available to businesses that aid in building or expanding fledgling businesses. Covered Bridge Chips traces its routes back to 2004 when three members of the Albright family decided to form the Carleton County Spud Distributors to sell their own, and others, chips. The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency provided $528,000 in repayable funding for plant construction and another $77,150 for marketing and bus tour operations. Another expansion was supported by both federal and provincial government funding totally $340,000. Perhaps, as an American, I’m more surprised by the transparency of these transactions.

Also, whether a product is made entirely in Canada or had its roots in America, if the public embraced a product as Canadian, it was seen that way. Old Dutch chips are synonymous with Canada but they started in Minneapolis. Similarly, Cheezies was originally part of a snack food company in Chicago. But both snacks have been embraced as wholly “Canadian” through advertisement, local ties, and a sense of corporate humility. My obsession with this country grows. Unlike in whole great swaths of my country, where you aren’t local until the fifth generation no matter your dedication to the town, the idea that Canada will just decide that you’ve earned the label, “Canadian,” is intriguing to me.

One thing all the snack companies are not humble about is the quality of their products. Whether they be chips or chocolate, the companies actively fight against the label of “junk” food and the pervasive myth that these type of foods are inherently evil and across the board, unhealthy. Old Dutch potato chips have been manufactured for over eighty years using local potatoes and local canola oil and the company credits these simple ingredients and the boutique process used to cook the chips as the reason Old Dutch chips are the healthiest version of the snack possible. Similarly, Cheezies production has been virtually unchanged since 1948 and its product is proudly made from local sources with no preservatives.

Cheezies also uses corporate mythology to align itself with Canadian culture. The plant is only open from Monday through Friday so that families can spend time together on the weekends. Also, the company is reluctant to advertise, they have no Facebook or Twitter account.

Cheezies corporation boasts that, “unlike Jelly Belly in California who have turned their factory into a carnival of color and celebration, the Hawkins Cheezies factory in Belleville is just a factory. Very Canadian.”

Meanwhile, Ganong, the sole remaining Canadian chocolate company, takes credit for the heart shaped Valentine’s box and proudly hosts a chocolate festival every year. I can tell you, I’ve added this festival to my travel calendar because I am dying to meet “The Great Chocolate Mousse and his lovely wife Tiffany,” the mascots that preside over the festival in St. Stephens. And, even with their bragging, festivals, and a chocolate museum, Ganong has used the romance of chocolate and its devotion to the community to instill the pride of Canada in its success and survival.

“Everyone needs some pleasure and enjoyment in their lives, and that no one deserves our moral judgment.”

The journey through these companies inception, survival, and continued existence was wrought with disaster, war, unionization, and more fires than I could track. But, the biggest threat to all of these companies is the current ideology of the wholesome food movement. The author makes fantastic arguments that this manifesto is relevant mostly to the privileged healthy and has me questioning some of my beliefs regarding snack consumption. The balanced attitude of one individual interviewed, Grant Wichenko, just keeps coming back to me.

“…I grew up knowing that snack foods had a place. So, thankfully, I was able to bring that forward to my kinds. You don’t eat this because you are hungry; you eat it because it’s a treat.”

My obsession with all things Canadian brought this fascinating book into my life and now I know I need to travel back to Canada just so I can try all the local favorite snack foods.

Tell me, please!

What’s your favorite snack?


fiction · YA

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Phillippe

I can’t seem to stop reading cute high school romance books even though they are really not my favorite. I thought the premise of this book sounded fun – a fish out of water story told from the boy’s perspective – but when I cracked into it I know I emitted a loud sigh. High School was not my favorite. I absolutely see why someone in high school would want contemporary books but I don’t enjoy revisiting the endless drama. Then I noticed that the main character is from Canada. I can’t get enough of Canada! So, I forged onward.

northamericanteenagerThe Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Phillippe is the story of Norris who grew up in Montreal, Canada. He and his Mom have relocated to Austin, Texas for her job after the divorce. And, of course, poor Norris now has to combat with the heat, the culture and high school. I know we have probably all read this story one-hundred times but paired with genuinely sweet friendships and a slow burning romance I found the story sweet and fun to read.

Admittedly, Norris is difficult to like at first. His quick wit and over use of irony and sarcasm give him a hard edge. This, oddly, is completely acceptable in a female character (usually white) who is dealing with high school life. I was really struck with how little patience friends of mine had for Norris as, apparently, dudes aren’t supposed to have all the feelings. I loved that Norris was unlikeable at first. It made him feel genuinely teenager-y. Now, if he hadn’t developed and changed as a person through the book that would be a different story but he did and it was enjoyable to watch. As his friendships grow and change Norris has to decide whether he is going to take a chance on being himself or not.

Like many books set in high school, the background cast of characters is essential to creating a balance to the story. This is especially true when the main character is abut off a butt. Surrounding Norris are my two waring favorites; Maddie, the cheerleading overachiever who guides him, and Neil, the awkward rich kid who wants to learn hockey. There is also Aarti Puri, the girl of Norris’s dreams and the character I actively didn’t like.

Unlike many other teenage stories, I really appreciated the constant presence of Norris’s mother. So many stories featuring kids in high school have a glaring absence of parental involvement. In The Field Guide not only is Norris’s Mom involved in his life in a consistent and positive manner, but his friend Maddie’s Dad is incredibly involved in her life. It was a relief to see a teenagers talking to their parents instead of just a stock character there for the kids’ to hide their emotions from throughout the story.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager was a truly enjoyable read. Norris may not be perfectly likable from chapter one but the person this character develops into is worth the read.

Tell me, please!

What is your favorite fish out of water story?


not a review

My Canadian Obsession

Many years ago I started developing a major crush on Canada. I grew up in the mid-west and Canada seemed just a exotic and far away as Mexico. Also, as a cold-weather lover, Canada seemed more suited for me. Basically, Canada is my tall dark and handsome Jacob and everything south is the Edward everyone else is into. In the past two years it has blossomed into a bit of an obsession.

Finally I had the opportunity to visit! For the last ten days I have been traveling through Canada – mostly Quebec. While I may have arrived home to my own bed last night completely exhausted and swearing to never travel again, this morning my crush continues. While I travelled I had a ton of time to read and listen to books and I burned through so many! And, I was “lucky” in that almost all of the book stores in Quebec were French only books so I only came home with two new books. I cleared five off my massive TBR and started a sixth so I am ahead (which is highly unusual for me). Wait, do the two French/English dictionaries I bought count? Er, I also purchased some on my Kindle – do they count if I already read them? Darn it. Hold on while I just climb right off my high horse.

Many reviews are coming and I cannot wait to catch up on what everyone else is reading!

Tell me, please!

Do you have any Canadian related reading recommendations?