When people move they bring their food with them. They bring it in the form of recipes, tools, ingredients, and memories – that one pot the rice must be cooked in, saved seeds from the pepper plant used to make the only red sauce father will eat, the recipe for guava cake that has been handed down through four generations, or the funky scent memory of sauerkraut fermenting in Grandma's shed when you were nine. Cooking and eating is something all humans do and the deep emotional ties to food and drink have been well documented; it's culture and is what makes us who we are.
In a country shy of 150 years young, it shouldn't be surprising to know almost thirty percent of the population in the St. Thomas-Elgin region are first and second generation immigrants. You may be surprised to know how diverse we really are, however. In our region, immigrants come from 86 different countries of origin (top four being Mexico, United Kingdom, Netherlands and United States) and speak 58 different languages (top four being German, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese). Immigrants make St. Thomas and area their home for economic, family or humanitarian reasons.
In 2015, the St. Thomas Elgin Local Immigration Partnership (STELIP) along with the Elgin Middlesex Oxford Workforce Planning & Development Board, Rogers TV, and Ontario Trillium Foundation produced six episodes for a television show called 'We Are Elgin-St. Thomas'. Another six episodes followed in 2016. The series showcases stories of newcomers to the region, outlines supports provided by local services, and shares cultural recipes and cooking tips. The 30 minute show is hosted by Paul Jenkins with the cooking portion hosted by yours truly.
What food is available and what is traditional still influence what goes on our tables at home and in restaurants today. The opportunity to share cultures with each other will continue to evolve our cuisines of tomorrow and the generations to come. We are a multi-cultural cooking pot of sorts and it is worthy of celebration because when we move, we bring our food with us.