Food Culture

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Submitted by damien on

In one month we will celebrate our one year anniversary of our move to Quebec. After having lived here now for almost twelve months, we are starting to get a feel for the people and culture of the Gaspesie. I can't say whether what we have experienced here is representative of Quebec as a whole, but it certainly has been a lot different than Maine. One of the big differences is the way food is approached, and how it factors into relationships and gatherings.

Quebec barn

A significant portion of our life revolves around food. We spend a lot of time, energy, and money feeding our family healthy, whole-food, home-cooked meals. We view food as not just a means to sustain us, but a powerful tool. A tool to heal and nourish your body, a tool to form relationships through shared meals, and a tool to change the world through local agriculture, sustainable farming practices, and supporting local growers and producers.

We value food, and we love sharing meals with people.

When we were living in Maine, it was an extremely rare occurrence that someone would invite us over for a meal - despite the fact that we told people we would eat whatever we were served (I am sure it also had something to do with the fact that there were five of us). For the most part we were on our own. We resigned ourselves to the fact that a family of five plant-eaters had to go it alone, unless we went to a church pot-luck, or invited people to our home (which we did often).

At times we actually felt bad about our approach to food. Were we being too "extreme"? Were we alienating ourselves from developing deeper relationships because of how we chose to eat? Or was it something else?

Food prep

Interestingly, Quebec has been a completely different story. In the last year we have been invited out to peoples homes for a meal more times (if you exclude Thanksgiving) than we have the entire time we lived in Maine (9 years). It has been rather shocking.

Quebecois approach food completely differently (at least where we live anyway):

  • The experience of food and sharing a meal is very social. When someone invites you for a meal, they say "come in the afternoon". When you arrive - under most circumstances - the meal prep has not been started; you prepare the meal together. Part of the experience of sharing the meal together is preparing the meal together.
  • People are not afraid to cook. Almost everything we have had is made from scratch with basic ingredients. Quantity doesn't seem to phase them either, nobody has batted an eye at our family size. And if our parents are visiting, our friends invite them too!
  • There is no fear of vegetables.
  • Wine is served at every meal, and when you tell people to come for a meal, even if you tell them to not bring anything, they bring wine.
  • Nobody seems to be bothered by avoiding certain ingredients like gluten, or corn, or catering to food sensitivities. They like to be creative with food around here, and - unlike where we lived in Maine - they recognize the full spectrum of foods available, not just meat, wheat and cheese.
  • Dessert does not feature predominantly, if at all. When we lived in Maine, there was what I would call a big dessert culture. You couldn't have a meal without some sort of dessert. And often, the dessert was a big deal. Around here most meals we have been invited to do not include a dessert.
Kids help with the food prep

This whole experience has made me think that perhaps it wasn't necessarily our diet that left us feeling un-fulfilled in our desire to share fellowship with people over food in Maine. Perhaps it was cultural too. Maybe we were expecting something that just wasn't part of Maine's culture.

Culture that celebrates preparing and sharing a meal together really resonates with us. It is just one of the many unexpected side effects of our move that continue to surprise us.

Camp meal at Forillon National Park

Travelling and experiencing new places, people, and culture is an incredible experience. It is something we want to do more of and this move to Quebec is just the beginning for us. Despite the fact that we are Canadians moving back to our home country, the whole process of moving from English-speaking Western Canada to the Eastern USA, then to French speaking Canada has really widened our view of the world - and we haven't even left North America (yet).

In what ways have you widened your cultural view in your backyard?




Here in Delisle, (Delisle, SK

Here in Delisle, (Delisle, SK not Delisle, QC) we find a very odd food culture. Since moving here 7 years ago we have had people over for dinner, for wine and cheese, for throw together backyard BBQs. Everyone is glad to be invited. Everyone who is invited comes. The food is good and everyone has a good time. The odd thing is, only one family has EVER invited us back and that is the elderly couple across the street. They have lived in this town for 15 years and we are the ONLY people to have them over. So now, it is just the two of us who go back and forth with meals. Whenever I make a pot of soup, I send some across the street to them and they send back some sort of baking. It is nice and I wish more people would do this.

I find that very interesting.

I find that very interesting. I live in Pennsylvania, and have found that we also receive very few invitations to dine anywhere. We are also a family of 5 and eat a plant-based diet, though my husband and children will eat meat if it is offered, I do not for health reasons. How interesting that the food culture is so different there.
I have, at times, wondered if our food choices have somewhat alienated us socially. On the other hand, we have 3 very young children and it does seem like our culture isn't entertaining-friendly. We usually end up hosting, but never lack for people to entertain. Though I rarely serve meat of any kind, people come by the dozen to eat here and rave about our food.

I love to hear about the food

I love to hear about the food cultures of other countries. I wish America had more of a stable food culture. We say we're still developing it, because we're a young country, but Canada is also young like us. It is interesting that Canada has always been more okay with keeping its European and British influences where in America we are like rebellious children who want to throw it all off at the smallest provocation. I appreciate the older ways and would love to live them! We try in our own home, but like you state here it's much harder when the surrounding culture does not value it. Food is social, after all.

Also would depend on the

Also would depend on the people one is spending time with. For instance, if I am with my husband and other Africans the food culture is entirely different. My siblings have married people who are Dutch, British and Chinese which influences cooking/traditions. I also have native siblings who make bannock and moose jerkey... so for me there isn't really "one Canadian Food Culture" though I think by that people are mostly referring to the fast food, made from a box type of eating?!

Great piece, Damien! What you

Great piece, Damien! What you are experiencing really is representative of Québécois all over the province (and wherever we find them in big communities, like in Whitehorse, Yukon). It is true: we love to cook together and we are not afraid of vegetables!!

I think maybe it was just the

I think maybe it was just the location in Maine that you were in :-) Our community in Maine is very involved with good quality local food. We don't really eat meat, mainly veggies, and eggs from our chickens. We have a thriving year round farmers' market and a co-op that is just starting. There are a lot of people that are concerned about where our food comes from and the food security of our neighborhoods. I am actually amazed of all that is available in our state, and what we are able to produce even though our growing season is so short. And as far as people inviting us to dinner, well, we are more potluck people. We tend to alternate hosting with some other families, and then we always bring a dish that is something we would eat, and hope others will like it :-) I'm not saying that your experience was wrong, just different than mine! I am glad that you have found the community you are looking for now in Quebec.

I echo what Damien said here.

I echo what Damien said here. There was a very good food culture in Maine and we were involved in local food, healthy food and community food events but it wasn't the same - "come share and cook a meal at our house" feel that we have experienced here. And like Damien says, we loved Maine and liked where we lived in Maine. This is just different and this is one area of difference that we really like (the library situation - well that's another story!)

Very interesting. When I was

Very interesting. When I was growing up in Arkansas we had somewhat of a "food culture" although perhaps not as much as you describe. It was partly a generational thing. The younger generation cooked less and relied more on store bought/prepackaged food although their were exceptions. The older generation tended to cook more from scratch, making lots of pies, roasts, and stews. We had enough hunters and gardeners that a lot of stuff was fresh from the fields. A church pot-luck in Arkansas with lots of grandmothers cooking up their specialty was a wonderful thing.

Oh, what a yummy post. I too

Oh, what a yummy post. I too love cooking together - as a hostess or guest. It makes eating an event that you all build together. Some people aren't comfortable without having everything ready beforehand - and I get that, because "I'm there" sometimes too. Maybe it's because of other people's expectations - or what you think they are! Of the many good friends we said farewell to in AB, we miss one couple especially, because of this very thing. There's a special kinship you gain when you "break bread" together right from the get-go.

I have found that when you

I have found that when you live in a small community in the country, eating together with your neighbours is a very important part of the local entertainment.People aren't distracted with movies, theatre, fancy restaurants, etc....that is available in the cities and so they have the time and interest in getting to know their neighbours. Also, traditionally, French people had very large families and so feeding 15-20 people was a pretty normal activity on a daily basis. That would be exhausting for one person to do, so everyone pitched in to help. They fed their large families with the food they grew in their large gardens and everyone always had enough to eat. They also raised their own chickens, pigs, beef, and milk cows.I know this because my husband came from a large family (French in Saskatchewan), and he had 15 siblings.

I love this post! We moved

I love this post! We moved away from a "come, prepare, and share a meal" culture in Washington. When we first moved here, we invited people over for dinner countless times (perfect strangers, families with 8 children, grandmothers, etc) with few actually accepting our offer. It was quite an adjustment for us and still is. We actually haven't invited anyone over (except for family and close friends) for at least a year...maybe we should try again. Although, my dearest friend from Washington is moving to the East Coast, and the first thing she said to me was, "I cannot wait to have our families get together to cook and share a meal!"
I was encouraged to read this post; I am so glad you have found something so beautiful there!

I am so excited by this post

I am so excited by this post and it is stimulating great discussion with my husband. We used to invite people over each month- sometimes two or three families at a time even though it would be squishy. This isn't super easy for me in terms of my nature (like order, everything to run smooth) but I crave community. I did grow up in a home that was busy and colorful and always had extra people dropping by and sharing coffee or a meal. I don't have a perfect home and am such a simple cook that I have felt limited at times b/c I don't want to be judged and refuse to spend a bunch of $ on a fancy meal that isn't a real representation of our finances or who we are. Anyways, this post encouraged my husband and I to begin again and invite people over but also invite them to bring a dish and maybe even join in the prep or cleanup?!. (The wine sounds great too :)).I would love to hear more about this topic from you guys.

We used to do 'eat togethers'

We used to do 'eat togethers'. These are spontaneous plans on short notice with neighbours and /or friends that live close by. Let's 'eat together' means you bring what your were going to eat tonight, and we will put out what we were going to eat tonight and we will all share and 'eat together'. These were such fun because there was no stress of preplanning, and the food that showed up was such a fun surprise. These evenings were often followed by a campfire singsong or a fine evening of game playing (cards or game boards) or even a rented movie watching.

I love this post. So very

I love this post. So very interesting. I was born and raised in Michigan. While we never invited people over for dinner( other than family), it wasn't uncommon to have friends/family drop by unannounced after dinner for a cup of coffee/tea and some dessert if there was any. This would happen several times a week and my parents would do the same. Now that I am on my own, with my own family, we invite people over every now and again. However, we hardly ever get invited over. Maybe, a family of 6 with food sensivities are too much for people. There are only two families that attempt to accomodate our food sensitivities, mostly I just make our meal and take it over so we have SOMETHING to eat. Veggies are mostly unheard of in our circle of friends and family. Meals are dominated, by meat and desserts. At our house we have equal portions of meat and veggies, with usually fruit for dessert, if we even have it. We have lived in our current house for almost 5 years and have only been invited over to the neighbors 1 time and that is probably only because our kids play together all, the. time. We live in our previous house for 13 years and were never invited over for dinner to anyones house. The only time we were invited, was for a childs birthday party. Interesting, how different areas, have different "cultures".

hi -- i followed a link from

hi -- i followed a link from fimby via whole food kitchen... and had to comment. I'm from QC (i've only ever lived in QC actually) and the top of your article made me think 'oh yes, Gaspesie has a unique culture...' but then I kept reading and thought 'I guess it's not THAT different...' I could identify throughout -- i'm from a huge family -- and we always kid that 'the more the merrier' for dinner. But then laughed outloud at the desert thing. we do desert. in a major way in my family! haha. We have an anual picnic to which everybody brings something... and the running joke is that we typically need more desert than food.

I loved reading your thoughts on the QC culture as an ousider. Reminders to embrace those aspects of our culture, thank you :)

hi there,

hi there,
i came accross your blog because my friend Catherine (from catherine et les fees) mentionned how cool you guys are in her last post.
I totally agree from what i have read untill now.
i am from belgium and live in montreal since 8 years. i LOVE the food culture we have in europe and go crazy when i just see tim hortons and fast food stops in cities. i already see a huge difference between europe and quebec so i can,t imagine living in the states...
you are right about the bottle of wine, it would be unthinkable to go somewhere for dinner without it. I don't drink wine but i buy it when i go to suppers.
i am looking forward to reading more of your blog, i will definitely follow you guys!
enjoy Gaspésie! :O)

We just got back from a trip

We just got back from a trip to Quebec City and were surprised to find a restaurant that told us we had to 'bring our own wine' if we wanted wine with our meal! Yes, this restaurant doesn't serve wine or beer, and tells its clients to bring their own wine. They will open it for you and provide a glass and there is not charge for this service! What a neat idea! In case you want to know the name of this restaurant, it's in the Hotel Universel, and by the way, on certain days (the special), you can get a meal for $14 which includes 30 delicious shrimps cooked in a light batter.

I had to make a comment, even

I had to make a comment, even though this may be a little dated, coming over via Renee's blog. For 4 years we lived in a very close community in Vermont--the kind of small community where the town people might be asked to chip in and pay a family's taxes if that family was really struggling that year (and everyone would!). Yet, it was also a community where, although you knew your neighbors for YEARS and yet you never, ever made it past the front door. Let alone, never share a meal with them. However, if someone in your family was sick, homemade meals would show up on the door step.

I hate to make generalizations--but I think that is the Northern New England way, especially Vermont. Now that we are across the river in NH in an area full of transplants, there are some invitations for dinner, more in the summer than in the winter but still not a big sense of close community of sharing meals together.

I love Anna Thomas's book "Love Soup" (all vegetarian) and her idea of the "Soup Kitchen" shared meals. She'd make a couple of soups--and everyone else would bring the sides: olives, bread, a desert, a salad. I really like that idea and I should just start that. It makes economical sense AND is really easy to throw together.