Food in Canadian Film, Part 1: I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

The following post is the first of a five-part miniseries on food and contemporary Canadian film, prepared by students from Olivia Heaney’s ENGL 393 Canadian Cinema course at McGill University. Bon Film.

I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

by Jackie Halloran Cooper

This film follows Polly Vandersma (Sheila McCarthy), a 31-year-old amateur photographer and ‘temp-girl’ whom Gabrielle St. Peres (Paule Baillargeon) hires as an art gallery secretary during their meeting in a Japanese restaurant. Polly’s unsuccessful navigation of what is, for her, an unfamiliar cultural setting, illustrates how an individual’s status can be judged by the sophistication of their cultural taste. Immediately following the restaurant scene, Polly returns to her bachelorette apartment, where the relationship between taste and sophistication is destabilized in her interactions with food, music and objects in her home.

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To make Dry Pea soop

This week’s recipe comes from The Johnson Family Treasury: A Collection of Household Recipes & Remedies 1741-1848, edited by Nathalie Cooke and Kathryn Harvey, transcribed by Erin Yanota, with forward by Lynette Hunter.

Johnson Family Treasury

Begun in Hertfordshire and London in the mid-eighteenth century, the manuscript found its way to Canada and into recipe collector Una Abrahamson’s hands and, eventually, to the University of Guelph’s rare book collection where it was taken up by Cooke.

This recipe book is the product of many hands and the editors have seen fit to preserve the visual proof of multiple contributors. Recipes appear in both typescript and in their original handwritten form.

Built over a period of over one hundred years, this collection is rich with instructions for stewing carp and lamprey, making Ratafea cakes and alleviating all manner of diseases from scurvy and pleurisy, to weakness in the ankles and cancer. This is indeed a treasure trove for scholars and amateurs alike interested in the history of medicine as tested by homemakers.

As tempting as it would be to soothe a sore throat with a plaster made from mutton suet, butter and bees-wax, I have elected to try my hand at pea soup. This is partly to do with the fact that the temperature here in Montreal has dropped of late to a brisk -20. At -20 nothing but soups and stews will do. Furthermore, this recipe calls for ingredients one can easily find in one’s “larder”.

Here, in one compact paragraph are the ingredients and (somewhat) vague instructions, transcribed by contributor C (as she is identified by the editors) and contributed by a certain Captain Torin, who has also provided a recipe for hard biscuits. I know not whether Torin’s captaincy was held by sea or by land. That the gentleman had excellent taste in soups, however, is undeniable. This is a pea soup to warm your cockles.

Dry Pea Soop

When you have strain’d off your Peas, stew in a little of that liquor, some sorrel, spinage, Beet leaves, Parsley, Carrot & leeks chopt together (a very little time will do them) in the mean time cut some sallery [celery] into pieces and boil it in the soop, and when the herbs are stewed put the soop to them; then fry a little fatt Bacon, in which you will fry your toasted bread to put into the soop.


Quick recipe note: If I’ve understood the recipe correctly, Captain Torin calls for the addition of just the pea broth to the soup. Presumably the peas are reserved for some other meal. I’ve included them in this case.

Cooke, Nathalie, Kathryn A. Harvey, Lynette Hunter, and Erin Yanota. The Johnson Family Treasury: A Collection of Household Recipes & Remedies, 1741-1848. , 2015. Print.


Text and Photos by Alexia Moyer


Sexual Politics at the Dinner Table: An Aberrant Menu for Jordan Tannahill’s Late Company

The nuclear family is heterosexist ideology’s raison d’être and its highest achievement, and the family dinner its most entrenched and sacred ritual. In Jordan Tannahill’s play Late Company, two families devastated by the suicide of a bullied, gay teen attempt to reorder their lives through the civilized structure of a dinner party. Debora and Michael Shaun-Hastings serve as the dinner’s hosts, setting a place at the table for their dead son, Joel. Tamara and Bill Dermot arrive with their bullying son in search of forgiveness, but an alternate agenda of blame begins to surface, revealing the heteronormative beliefs that have informed the actions of all. Bill strikes his son in an effort to police his masculinity, and Debora and Michael express regret at having “put all [their] eggs in one basket” (their only son having turned out to be gay). Eating is predicated on sacrifice (something living must die that others may eat), and the form of consumption signifies parallel cultural sacrifice. In this case, the othering of alternative sexual expression allows conservative family values to dominate culturally. Shrimp and scallops are on the menu in spite of the bully’s seafood allergy— a premeditated, vengeful faux-pas. The shrimp stand in for a far more grievous offence— Joel’s perceived lack of masculinity, without which he could not but fail to take his place at the nuclear family’s table. As the families keep company with the memory of the late teen, the dinner descends into disorder: food is smeared on the wall, accusations are launched, and a performance of Joel’s horrific sacrifice replaces post-dinner entertainment. As the edifice of etiquette gradually crumbles, Canadian society’s foundation of normalized brutality is exposed.

Tannahill, Jordan. Late Company. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2015. Print.

Written by: Emily Perkins

Emily Perkins is a student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She
has a B.A. in Psychology and Women’s Studies from the University of
British Columbia.  She plans to pursue a Bachelor of Education degree
followed by an M.A. in English for Teachers.


Canadian Culinary Imaginations: A Symposium of Literary and Visual Fare

Are you researching food in Canadian literature or the arts?  Is your creative practice informed by all things culinary?  If so, then you will want to submit a proposal to the Canadian Culinary Imaginations Symposium, which will bring together a diverse group of scholars and artists interested in exploring food-related culture from a Canadian perspective. The symposium will take place from February 19th – 20th, 2016 at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Richmond campus, located near the Landsdowne Skytrain Station (on the Canada Line) with convenient access to Vancouver’s International Airport.

The symposium will coincide with the launch of the public art exhibition Artful Fare: Conversations about Food, featuring the collaborative art projects of KPU Fine Arts and English students as they engage in creative-critical dialogues about food in Canadian poetry.

The complete call for papers  is listed below as well as contact information.  The deadline for presentation proposals is November 12, 2015.  We look forward to seeing some of you in February!

Canadian Culinary Imaginations: A Symposium of Literary and Visual Fare

February 19 – 20, 2016
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (Richmond Campus)
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