My Dad, Me and Food

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.

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