Your next must-read book came out last month and I meant to tell you all about it … last month. And now it’s November. Maybe it’s better I tell you about it now, because the book is Snacks, and I think you should buy it for your snackiest friends and family this holiday season (which we can fret about later, at this rate my household will be celebrating Christmas on January 25).
Snacks: A Canadian Food History, by Janis Thiessen, explores the history and context for Canadian snack foods and it’s absolutely fascinating. Thiessen’s writing is engaging throughout, weaving the history of our national love of chips and candies with stories of the workers behind the brands and tales of corporate intrigue. I read the book over a month ago and am still a little miffed that Old Dutch Foods isn’t even really Canadian (or Dutch, for that matter – some guy named Carl Marx called the company Old Dutch Foods because he associated Dutchness with cleanliness).
Thiessen is an associate professor at the University of Winnipeg, where she lectures on Canadian, food, and business history, and brings a unique perspective to the topic of snack foods in Canada. The thing that spoke to me the most about this book was Thiessen’s critical look at how we vilify some foods as junk, and why we do that. I, for one, am very bored with hearing about how best to eat and live, as usually that kind of information is aspirational at best (at least for me as a lady professional out in the world having it all and then falling over from exhaustion).
Whole foods are good and fine, but sometimes I want to eat sour cream and onion chips and Hawkin’s Cheezies, and I want to enjoy them for what they are. Thiessen quotes food historian Sara Davis: “There’s a lot of unacknowledged privilege at work when food activists insist that the endgame should be more people cooking more meals at home,” explaining that disdain for snacking has its roots in gender bias – which is to say, if more people (women) stayed at home and prepared more meals from scratch, we wouldn’t need snacks, and we wouldn’t snack so much.
I like working and I like snacking. Thiessen makes a solid case for the benefits of a food system which, though it could be vastly improved, allows us to enjoy the occasional bag of chips we needn’t fry for ourselves. (Her favourite are dill pickle flavoured.) While the book was centred around snacks, the stories are what makes this so interesting – Thiessen incorporates oral histories from workers, business owners, and other academics to create a complex picture of the Canadian food landscape. Canadians are an idiosyncratic people, and I enjoyed learning more about our national quirks and odd preferences (ketchup chips are our passion, whether I am okay with that or not).
You should absolutely give this book to your best foodie friend for Christmas this year (ideally with a box of Ganong chicken bones). And because I love this book so very much and want you to have your own copy, I’m doing a little giveaway.
Comment below or follow me on Instagram and tell me there: what is your favourite Canadian snack food? (It is totally fair, by the way, if your faves are this entire list of PC chips from Superstore, from which I cannot choose just one. Maybe the sriracha ones. Maybe the jerk chicken ones.) You do not have to be Canadian to enter, but liking Canadians in general is preferred. Anyway, let me know by Wednesday, November 22 and I’ll pick a winner from Nick’s old hat and drop your copy into the mail before I head off to Winnipeg.
Also, because this is my site and I do what I want, I want to state for the record that All-Dressed chips, a uniquely Canadian thing, are trash and Serious Eats is wrong.