For a long time as a young child I wondered why my mind associated great food experiences with leaving Canada. The best meals of my life have had what I’ll call gravity to them. That is, the food was not the whole scope of the experience. I once ate at an underground wine bar in Copenhagen with an actual fireplace; the juxtaposition between the wintery outdoors and the warm, inviting space of the restaurant where my parents and I could relax, talk, eat some amazing seafood, and finally warm up is a large part of why I remember the meal at all. I recall mornings at Dennys off of some Interstate, drinking unending slugs of coffee and eating frankly damaging amounts of middling breakfast food while we planned the routes we would be taking to get to this city or that town and mocked one another as adolescents do. The joy of these memories has little to do with the food. It was the ambience, the conversation, the sense of what the Dutch call gezelligheid – that’s the stuff of good memories.
In Cakerstan food culture hits so many wrong notes that it makes those precious places where conversation is even possible all the more exceptional. And I do have to say that Canada does have amazing food experiences here and there. The problem is that Canada does all that it can to create and normalize canned, blasé, eating spaces with consequently dead interiors and dull conversation. The bulk of Canada’s food scene is samey and discourages long conversation and the kind of quiet calm that allow for all of those ancillary components which make dining out so special.
Here’s a good one – why is it that seemingly every remotely cheap bar in any English Canadian city feels the need to practically wallpaper their interior with televisions and blast loud-ass music into the place? I get that turning a profit is important and that restaurants in particular are known for dying on their feet, but could you not blatantly suggest to me while I’m eating with friends that you tolerate my presence only insofar as I spend money? Why is the whole experience tuned towards squeezing money from me, and why would I want to go to a place where I feel as though I’m being fleeced?
For the middle-class fancy in none of us there is Canada’s disturbingly large chain restaurant scene. These massive boring bundles of boxes and microwaves and uncomfortably tight uniforms for servers are raking in nearly 66% of the eating-out budget amongst cakers. And once again only the Quebecois deign to give a shit about their own culture, taking nearly half of their meals to local places. I get that there’s a place for fast-food and microwave box restaurants, but the pervasiveness and completeness of their annexation of Canada’s culinary culture is a strong tell as to how mediocre food here really is. Oh, and did I mention that these profiteering box restaurants have horrendous sanitation records? Better hope those flecks are peppercorns, Martha!
At the core of this problem, I think, is what I alluded to earlier. Eating out in Canada means that you are victim to caker business, which in turn overwhelmingly stresses the screwing of the consumer and the maximisation of profit over all else, even to the point of destroying the raison d’etre of your establishment. Instead of looking to legacy, pride, the simple enjoyment of a job well done, or any kind of positive virtue Canadians accept and almost pride themselves on being fiscal sponges, splashed into and out of dull, constructed spaces designed to wring them and throw them away as quickly as possible. This obviously does Canada’s culinary scene, with all of its enormous potential a fat lot of no good.