The 'Why' of Food

“I think that when we gather over food for a meal together, a cup of tea, a coffee, whatever, I think that lubricates the social structure.”
Catherine Schaus, Canadian, June 2015

“You feel at home eating your kind of food.”
Lucia Wong, Canadian of Chinese Descent, July 2015


Eating Well to Be Well | Food, Family and Culture | Food, Place and Time


Do you eat only to stay alive? Do you eat the same foods as your neighbours? If you answered “no” then you know food has special significance for each of us.

Food can keep us healthy or it can make us sick. Many of us say that we make an effort to cook foods and prepare meals that support health and wellbeing.

Food expresses who we are. Preparing foods, traditional or not, helps us shape, communicate and perpetuate our identities.

Food spans space and time. Preparing and eating foods of our childhood connects us with where we grew up; preparing and eating foods from where we live now ties us to the present.

“I mainly cook for health reasons. I’m always eating out, and I get the energy from it, but…I’m just feeling like those foods aren’t making me feel great…”
Anosha Khan, Pakistani Canadian, June 2015

Eating Well to Be Well

At the most basic level, most of us do try to cook and eat to stay healthy and to have the energy to live our lives. At different times, companies have argued that their foods or kitchen tools ensure health and well-being.

Salads for Health
Salads for Health (c. 1930-35) belonged to Londoner Ora Eckstein (b. 1899). It maintains that salads preserve the “life-giving vitamins” of fruits and vegetables. The London Life Insurance Company, its producer, had a vested interest in healthy Londoners.
Cookbook, Gift of Mrs. Russell Eckstein, London, Ontario, 1975.

“It’s a wonderful thing. You could go to any country and have Passover. It’s a miracle to me that the one thing they could have is cooking and food so that they’d always feel right as a Jew.”
Londoner, Jewish Faith, August 2015


Food, Family and Culture

Food connects us to our roots – our families, our cultures, our different faiths. Preparing and eating this food gives us a sense of kinship, membership and community as few other things can.

Celebrating Passover
This Passover Seder* plate holds six traditional foods, which help tell the story of the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. This Haggadah, a book outlining the order of the Seder, illustrates where specific foods rest on the plate. The food is symbolic. Consider the haroset. It is a mixture of chopped apple, nuts, pomegranate, cinnamon and wine and it represents the mortar the enslaved Jews used.

* The Seder is the ritual service and ceremonial dinner for the first night or two nights of Passover.
Seder Plate, Haggadah, Lent by Anonymous, London, Ontario.


A Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner
This postcard features a young woman carrying a roast turkey, the centrepiece of her Thanksgiving dinner table. Thanksgiving became a national holiday in Canada in 1879. Fall vegetables, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie are some of the traditional foods enjoyed during this holiday meal. Because each family is unique, each adds their own special items to the menu. What does your family eat?
Postcard, Gift of Mr. Edward Phelps, London, Ontario, 1989.


“When I cook Hungarian or Italian, it brings you back home… and you think it tastes just like back home.’”
Klara Basile, Hungarian Canadian, July 2015

Food, Place and Time

Food can transport us to a different time, linking us to the people and places of the past. But food can also help cement our ties in the present. Learning about the foods enjoyed by our neighbours reveals similarities and differences. This creates a sense of belonging and fosters understanding.

Mortar and Pestle
This type of mortar and pestle is found in many London kitchens. Dhira Ghosh, a Canadian of Indian descent, is able to recreate the tastes of India with it. She explains that she doesn’t use pre-powdered spices: “We just feel it just loses its flavour, its pungency…So I’ll buy all of them separately…Whatever I need I will grind them then and there.”
Mortar and Pestle, Collection of Museum London, 2015.


At the Grocery Store
In this 1980 photograph, refugees from Laos shop at a grocery store in St. Thomas, Ontario.  They “found grocery shopping taxing as they searched in vain for items with which they were familiar.” But Canadian friends accompanied them and provided advice to help them navigate their new food reality.
Courtesy of Elgin County Archives.