This wonderful guest post was written by David Kruger. David is an inspired teacher and food activist. Thanks so much David.
With certainty, there is one thing that my dad and I share, other than a last name and blood: a deeply spiritual relationship with food. That said, the relationship we have with food is very different, in large part having to do with our childhoods.
My dad grew up on Baldwin Street, in Kensington Market, in 1930s Toronto, and his parents had a fruit and vegetable store. Many times he has told me anecdotes about a childhood on the street, messing with friends, having fun and being pretty care-free. Even though he grew up in the Great Depression, he never went hungry and he never missed a meal. Plus, he seems to have played on a black church baseball league team, and he made deliveries for his parents’ using a horse and buggy. He can tell you about when Kensington Market was all Jewish, and every family that lived in the neighbourhood. And they all had nicknames!
I grew up in north Willowdale/North York/Toronto in the 1970s, and my parents did a pretty awesome job of providing for all our basic needs. We were fed, clothed and sheltered, and knew we were loved. There weren’t a lot of frills, but life was more than good enough. Plus, we didn’t know any better. Sure, other families went on vacations together, but they didn’t get to explore their own city. I spent a good deal of my time playing on the street, calling “Car!” like in “Wayne’s World”. Playing ball hockey, Nerf football, and at the local parks playing tennis, baseball, football, or whatever seemed like fun that day.
I spent a lot of time in front of the TV in my formative years. Some of it was Phil Donahue some of it was M*A*S*H (where I seem to have developed my cackle/laugh, thanks to Alan Alda/Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce), some of it was Graham Kerr AKA “The Galloping Gourmet” AKA the British guy that drank a lot on TV, and then there was the time with my dad. With my dad, I’d go explore Chinatown, Little India, Greektown, or drive (Google Maps: 11.7 kms) to Finch and Weston Road for a burger!
As the youngest I figure I probably ended up spending the most time with my dad, when I was old enough to not be a burden, but couldn’t be left at home alone. Then, I grew to enjoy grocery shopping with my dad. It meant time with him. So, we’d go grocery shopping. All over the city. Ya, all over the city. He’d go to Knob Hill at Woodbine & 7 because mushrooms were on sale. (Google Maps pegs it as a 14.4 km trip) I have been known to drive to different grocery stores because something was on sale, or that was the only place to get a particular item. This was something I learned from my parents. Go to three or four different grocery stores to get all the different things. Whether they were better, or a better price, that was what we did. Got better.
So, I was good at grocery shopping, and circling the sales flyers. Well, truth is that I get excited on Thursday, knowing that the sales flyers would arrive. So much so, that I emailed Metroland, and ended up getting a carrier fired, because I didn’t get my Thursday paper on Thursday.
Then there was the time spent in the kitchen with my dad.
My dad can cook. Really cook. Like, open the fridge, freezer and pantry and go to town cook. Sometimes they’d be awesome. Sometimes they’d be okay. Sometimes they’d be awful. More often they were hits than misses, and the okay ones were more than good enough, because they were made with love. However, and I’m guilty of this too, he’d rarely follow a recipe and was even less likely to write down how he made something.
So I learned about spices from my dad. I learned about different fruits and vegetables when we’d go grocery shopping. I learned about meat from my dad. We’re both passionate about food. We both love to score a good deal. We both love it when people really enjoy what we’ve made for them. But then the similarities seem to end.
My dad grew up in a time when the industrial food complex didn’t exist. Chemicals weren’t as prevalent, and livestock wasn’t being fed steroids, hormones and antibiotics. As he’s aged, the food he once knew has changed. I can say that in my own lifetime I remember when there was a season for asparagus, strawberries and tomatoes. Even though I hated tomatoes. Imagine how much has changed for my dad, since he’s almost 83. My dad can tell you of a time when movies were five cents, and you got a popcorn and comic book too!
My dad didn’t much like school, so he dropped out around grade 11. I wasn’t being challenged by school, and thanks to my grade six teacher, I went in to the Gifted program in grade 7. Gifted education challenges the student to think more in-class, and involves a lot of questioning. Maybe this is why there are so many rebels that came out of that program!
So, eventually I ended up questioning the way that food got to my table. It was a long and meandering process, and I continue on it. My dad has been known to call me, and let me know a grocery store (not close to me geographically) has steaks on sale. Or roasts. Or ribs. Industrial meat. Meat that I don’t tend to buy anymore. Why?
Generally speaking we eat too much meat. Four ounces is the recommended serving size for beef, but when was the last time you ordered a four ounce steak? Then, I got to talking to people and learned that traditionally/organically raised chicken tastes like chicken, and not a protein vehicle. Steaks taste like beef, and the fat is completely different and much healthier, than industrial beef. I learned that the chickens are larger, because they’re not brought to maturation in a hurried fashion that results in awful things happening to the bird. Also, I’m part of the food chain. I’m the end consumer of these animals. My conscious decision to eat meat means that I am responsible for the death of animals. Ideally, I’d like to think that the animal I’m eating lead a happy life. Hence, the term “Happy Meat”.
So, I was awed by what I learned from Harry and Silvia Stoddart, at a SlowFood Toronto Field-to-Fork/Field-to-Table/Farmer-to-Table event, about how cows are treated in the industrial food system. Then, there was “Supersize Me”and “Food Inc.”, and getting involved with organizations like The Stop, SlowFood Toronto, FoodShare, and people like: Wayne Roberts, Debbie Field, Nick Saul, Jonah Schein, Jamie Drummond, Lauren Baker, Darcy Higgins, Michael Pollan, Josh Matlow, Laura Reinsborough, Jodi Lastman, Barry Martin, Voula Halliday, Meredith Hayes, Malcolm Jolley, Brooke Ziebell, Paul De Campo, Arlene Stein, Jamie Oliver, Paul Finkelstein, Ivy Knight, Mark Cutrara, Jamie Kennedy, and Brad Long, to name but a few.
The above-mentioned people are my heroes, in a way that’s usually reserved for actors or athletes. They really and truly want the best for all people of Toronto and beyond. They care deeply about the food they eat, and that everyone should have access to the benefits of healthy food. Not to mention that they don’t want people to be ignorant to what’s going on with their food, and the food system.
My dad taught me to stand up for what you believe. When I was 18 my dad went out to the house across the street, to confront the biker boyfriend of the owner’s daughter. He walked out with purpose, a strong voice, and diffused a domestic situation. For that day. I was scared to death for my dad, grabbed my Jackie Robinson brown Louisville Slugger and was going to go out to help. My mom told me not to be a dick, (which made my buddy Saul giggle uncontrollably) and that was that.
I don’t know that I was ever more proud of my dad.
My dad may not have sat me down for a heart-to-heart, but he took me fishing and I caught a 17 pound carp. My dad may not have played catch with me, but he taught me about spices. Thanks to him, my iPhone (epicurious), a few key recipes, Jamie Oliver, Rachel Ray (ya…) and whatever it is that goes in my brain, I’m pretty good in the kitchen. My dad may not be the most expressive and emotive guy around, but I know that a good piece of meat is going to bring a smile to his face.
I’m a social justice and food activist because of my dad.
Happy Father’s Day.