April 13, 2011

Acceptability of Ethno-Cultural Vegetables Increases.....

Food is an important component of culture. It is a symbol of unity, socialisation, and spirituality.  Even away from home, the nostalgia for ‘home food’ remains very strong; this has resulted in the continued transportation of ethno-cultural foods into Canada.  This is expected because with a diverse culture comes multiplicity in foods and food habits.  The diversity has not remained in the homes but ethnic dishes have joined the main stream food culture with a tremendous boost in familiarity, acceptance and consumption.  The recognition, consumption, and popularity of many of the Ethno-Cultural Vegetables (ECV) have continued to grow and many of these vegetables have been incorporated into the Canadian culture as the influx of immigrants continues to grow.

As more ECV are introduced into the Canadian market, the language spoken is broadened to incorporate them. Today every interested party knows what “bok choy” is, and it would be difficult to say the word is not Canadian. The explosion of immigrant populations coupled with a more health-conscious public and the increased consumer desire for more variety has continued to fuel the expansion of the demand for ECV. Stores have taken advantage of the diverse clientele by having a more robust selection of vegetables, which is seen in the assortment of vegetables sold, to meet the ever increasing clientele diversity. 

For example, Chinese stores sell Chinese vegetables but also have some South Asian vegetables and traditional vegetables.  Direct observation of the clientele base of these ethnic stores shows the beauty of diversity clearly represented as all ethnicities are well represented.  This trend has not remained imminent among the new comers but spread out across even other Canadians. A close look at Chinese stores reveals that a significant percentage of the clientele is actually non-Chinese.  The same is observed in the main stream stores where ECV have increasingly found their way onto the food shelves. 

The growth and diversity of ECV in Canadian culture is also reflected in the wealth of cuisines all with authentic styles and unique tastes and peculiarity shaped by the ingredients available.  The Canadian cuisine is shifting from the more familiar traditional dishes of German, Greek, French, and Scandinavian to a more embracing wider variety of spicy foods, sweet and sour dishes.  People are trying out different foods in their homes as more mixed populations are seen shopping in ECV stores. The culinary circles have not been left behind- walk into any bistro in Toronto and you’ll witness the amalgamation for yourself as we’ve gone ‘exotic vegetable crazy’. The Chefs have done little to disappoint as they fire up grills and woks and create wonderful dishes with ECV just to calm our appetite for these highly healthy and tasty vegetables.

There are also changes in the demographic trends that indicate an adaptability pattern among the clientele.  The ECV market is composed of the young generation eagerly venturing into the new world of ECV and the older ones trying to discover the secret of health embedded in these newly popular vegetables. 

However, the issue of quality vegetables remains a stumbling block as many of these vegetables still have to be transported across thousands of miles into Canada.  This affects their quality and lowers the value obtained by the consumers.  There is good news for ECV lovers, many of the ECV vegetables are highly adaptable to the Canadian climate especially those with short growing periods such as the cabbage family, okra and eggplants.  These can be fast grown or even planted in small gardens in backyards. Many are highly nutritious when eaten raw, fresh or steamed. 

Let us promote our locally grown vegetables as we embrace the benefits of diversity. Next time you are in a supermarket please remember to Eat Local, Taste Global.

Christine Kajumba, MSc Candidate
SEDRD, University of Guelph

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April 6, 2011

Why farmers should consider ethno-cultural vegetables?

In 2003, the Small Farm Institute at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in US decided to start researching ethnic and speciality produce. The question that led to this research was ‘Will mid-Atlantic farms survive recent changes in agricultural and population patterns?’  What was happening in the Mid-Atlantic region that was of such great concern? Farms and farm land were slowly disappearing, tobacco production, which was at one point one of the largest productions, was decreasing but agricultural cash sales have increased. These trends along with a fast growing ethnic population, have led the researchers at the Small Farms Institute to believe that ethno-cultural vegetables create a great opportunity for farmers in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Small Farm Institute argues that farmers have to adapt to the changes taking place in the region and take advantage of the ethnic food market if they want to stay in production.

Does the situation in Mid-Atlantic region sound familiar? Similar trends are taking place in Ontario. Farms and farm land are slowly disappearing due to urban or suburban developments and many farmers are forced to diversify their productions. The GTA also has a very large ethnic population. Toronto alone is home to about 1.5 million immigrants, which is about half the city’s population. It is also common knowledge that the average age of a farmer in Ontario in about 54 years. The increasing age of the average farmer in Ontario poses many concerns. Who will be the next farming generation?

The ethno-cultural vegetables (ECV) market seems to provide some light onto the dire situation. The production of ECV can help non-conventional and ethnic populations enter the agricultural sector. Likewise, the ECV market can help existing farmers remain in production. This will keep the farmers and farm land in agricultural production. ECV can also help bridge the cultural gap between farmers, ethnic market operators and consumers. Many discussions have taken place around connecting producers to consumers and helping develop a more direct and personal relationship between the two parties. It is exactly this personal relationship that is missing in the conventional food market and why many people choose to eat local. In order to reach ethnic groups, which play a prevalent and significant role in many communities in Ontario, we can start with producing and promoting vegetables that are common to their cultures and food habits.

There is a general impression that cultural food habits are one of the last traditions people change or loose when migrating to a new country or region. If we want the majority of people within the GTA to eat local, we have to start producing global food locally.

For more information about the Small Farm Institute Reports, please go to:

Monika Korzun
PhD Candidate
Rural Studies
University of Guelph
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