As Canadian as…a Knife and Fork

May 12th, 2006

Do you want to feel ridiculous?

Go try and tell someone who is enjoying a meal that they aren’t eating like a Canadian. Now try telling that to a seven-year old boy.

That’s exactly what happened to Luc Cagadoc, a grade two student in Montreal who dared to eat his lunch at school in the traditional Filipino style he had learned at home. Because he used a fork to mash his food and push it into his spoon, the school’s lunch monitor described him as “disgusting” and eating like a “pig”, and sent him to eat alone at another table.

But this wasn’t just the actions of one lunch monitor. The school’s principal told the boy’s mother that they lived in Canada, and were required to eat like Canadians. Apparently, there is an official way to eat in Canada. Does this mean then that there are also regulated napkin sizes? Or minimum chews per mouthful? Or perhaps we will start distributing an official Canadian Knife and Fork set to recently landed immigrants?

Even the School Commissioner defended the elementary school’s action, saying they weren’t racist because “if we were racist, our schools would be empty”, in reference to the school’s diversity.

But letting culturally-diverse children into your school is not the same as being tolerant of their culture, just like the simple fact of allowing immigrants into your country does not automatically make a tolerant society.

Far too often, Canada gets away with bragging about its tolerant society. This recent incident has drawn protests by Filipino political groups at Canadian embassies, and worldwide attention to Canada’s treatment of immigrant communities. This is a good thing, as Canadians can increasingly no longer play “see no evil, hear no evil”.

We can’t claim to live in a truly multi-cultural society when even a small cultural difference like choice of eating utensils can’t be tolerated. Living in a multi-cultural society means tolerating those differences that don’t cause harm or insult fundamental values, and somehow I don’t see many Canadians ready to fight for the mandatory use of forks and knives at all dinner tables. If Canada wants to be true to its image of tolerance, this kind of insensitive treatment has to go.

Imagine your child or a young boy you know in the same situation: a seven-year old simply trying to eat his lunch the way he eats at home, being ridiculed by a school official. How is a child supposed to feel about his family, and his heritage, when the lessons he is taught at home are called “disgusting”?

It’s almost comical in our age of increased immigration and cultural diversity that an argument would arise about how each of us decides to shovel food into our mouths. There are enough genuine cultural conflicts that arise in a multi-cultural country without attacking harmless traditions for being ‘un-Canadian’. While toleration may have limits in certain instances, tolerating a method of eating should be the least of our concerns. Whether you use your hands to dip your doughnut into your Tim Horton’s coffee, or your fork to shovel rice on your spoon, there is no such thing as eating like a Canadian and there never should be. The only thing that should be considered un-Canadian is the insensitivity and disrespect that was shown towards Luc Cagadoc and his family. Attitudes like that from the mouths of school officials will always be more unappetizing than any way in which a seven-year old might put food in his mouth.

Blog written by David Cohen on Friday, May 12, 2006

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12 Responses to “As Canadian as…a Knife and Fork”

  • On May 30th, 2006, Anonymous said ...

    I am surprised to read such news on the web. May be the school teacher was not just sharp enough at that time and did not realized what he was doing with a grade 2 student! Moreover, coming to Canada does not mean that immigrants should forget about their culture and background! Canada can remain a multi-cultural country only if people from different cultures have respect for each other . . .

  • On May 31st, 2006, Anonymous said ...

    I am a Filipino trying to apply as an immigrant and learning about the news about this boy made me scared. I have a 6 and 9 year old sons and knowing that they might get the same treatment has made me think twice whether to pursue my application or not. I have read many times the guide to new immigrants in the web and if I am not mistaken racial discrimination is never allowed in Canada. So I was surprised when even the school commissioner backed up this obvious bigotry. I truly appreciate what you said in your article. Every foreign individuals have the right to be respected in the way they were brought up. How many of us from small nations uses spoon and fork as tools for eating. It doesn’t mean that we, who only wanted our lives to be better, can just tolerate that kind of cruelty like that of a poor 7 year old innocent child. The promise of a better life in Canada does not mean we have to withhold everything that has been taught to us by our forefathers. And you are indeed correct Sir, unless it inflicts harm to fellow residents, then they may ridicule that sort of act. But to ridicule a child who only wanted to have a nice peaceful meal according to what he was taught to do at home then there is something wrong with the system itself.

  • On May 31st, 2006, Anonymous said ...

    🙁 Imagine that! I am a First Nation North American Indian and we were here first! So actually, the so-called monitor should be eating the Native way.. we had no forks back then..we all sat in a circle and all took food out of the same bowl..and we washed our hands by the way.
    🙂 So those two are IMMIGRANTS THEMSELVES..or have they forgotten where there ancestors come from?
    Matter of fact, us natives mostly come from Russia and Germany, when we arrived it was summer, when winter settled in, too cold to go back, so we we are immigrants ourselves..but then there was no one else living here it was OUR LAND which was taken from us through trickery,killings etc.
    So who knows maybe one or more of their ancestors…was part of that.
    Maybe they should check it out and find out that they are not true Canadians..only are because of birth.
    So the REAL CANADIANS actually is US. First come first served.

    They should be monitoring their mouths and there is no such thing as “EATING THE CANADIAN WAY”.

    I love it myself to eat with different cultures their way.

    Besides, to think of it..when they were spoon-fed..was there a “CANADIAN” way to do it? Wink.

    How about changing diapers? Is there a “CANADIAN” way?

    How about sleeping,bathing,going to the toilet,shaving.

    Come to think of there a “CANADIAN WAY” to making love? If there is, am very interested in knowing..:):):):)

  • On May 31st, 2006, Tayo said ...

    It is important that Canadians brace up with the continuing diversity of their cultural environment. Their God given temperament terrains and treasure loaded land will forever endear people from other lands.

    If the table culture of a Phillipino child, who uses cutleries, could generate such a ridiculour attention in an educational environment, I wonder what happens to the African child who has been well groomed in the home way of using his natural fingers to ‘shovel’ his meals down to the mouth.

    As your article rightly said, Canadians should take que from this and be more accommodating, just the nation’s immigration policies are.

  • On May 31st, 2006, Tayo said ...

    I am a Filipina, who has grown up in Canada since I was 7 months old, so… everything I have learned has been, so called “Canadian”. I’m sorry, but I have never heard of eating “the Canadian way” in all of my 29 years of living in this country. I’m extremely proud to be a Canadian, but more proud of my heritage and background. I am open minded becuase of it and I feel sorry for those few “Canadians” who were born here and think they have the right to say what is Canadian and what isn’t! Do they not realize that this country thrives off of the strong multicultural population?! In Canada’s defense, it really is a small percentage of people who think like that… to tell other readers the truth, I would rather live in this country than most others where discrimination is a way of life and tolerated and encouraged (The United States for example). I have been called more names in the States in the few times I have visited than in Canada where I have lived most of my life! In the end, discrimination and racism should not be tolerated in any amount, and situations like these should not be ignored but instead, dealt with.

    By the way…. maybe this lunch monitor and principal can tell me if eating a donut with your fingers is in fact eating like a “pig”?! I bet these people go home and put their feet up on their coffee tables and place their dinner plates on their stomachs for support while they eat?!!! In the end… it’s nobody’s business!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • On June 12th, 2006, Anonymous said ...

    my husband and I have a pending application as immigrant. it saddended to me to read the 7-yr old boy who only wants to fill up his hunger and was given the dose of their “canadian way of eating.” i now am having my second thoughts of bringing my family if this is the kind of environment my kids will face, i have from the beginning and up to this time taught my children that even we land in another place, your being a filipino should always be in your heart and that includes traditions and culture. how can we possibly harmoniously live in such an environment if these kind of people will be in our midst?

  • On September 19th, 2006, Astonishman said ...

    I’m a Filipino Christian planning to migrate to Canada. As i’ve known in the Bible, It’s not what you eat or how you eat it that makes you unclean but what comes out of your mouth….

  • On September 30th, 2006, Anonymous said ...

    I think I’ll send this article to Russell Peters. Hopefully, he’ll have something to say about this 🙂

  • On November 10th, 2006, Anonymous said ...

    I am from the Philippines, educated in Manila, graduated from USA in high school, graduated from Ateneo and from UK with a Master’s degree…worked with Canadian, Dutch, American and Japanese companies in Manila… have never heard anything as ‘eating “Canada style” or Canadian way… its quite disappointing that this situation, discriminatory; racist and anti-social, all in all, is in conflict with what Canada stands for: a multicultural, diverse society, more peaceful and beautiful than America, had taken place… if I was a young immigrant parent, I would ask the school where I hope to register my children their policy on table manners/ right conduct/ or even ask details on violation of Canadian law should my children use forks in their cafeterias… how about that??? Maybe parliamentary procedures should be initiated to determine the solution for such Canadian discriminatory acts within the Canadian school system…..

  • On April 22nd, 2007, Anonymous said ...

    I’m very happy to have found this web log. I came from Cyprus and I’ve been living in Canada for the last 7 years now and so far not too bad … well, not too good either. Being in a business world, I’ve found that most white Canadians are kind of prejudice towards any non-white-owned business and they expect you to have such “Canadian way” of doing business. I’ve found out that most of my white clients are super cheap and don’t have that taste in life. (Excuse me but I hope I just haven’t found the right crowd yet). So is this the Canadian way?

    I’m very thankful to the very few ones that know what stuff to buy when it comes to value.

  • On September 5th, 2007, Anonymous said ...

    This is the most backwards thing I have ever heard. As though there is such a thing as a proper Canadian style of eating! Well, then, if that’s the case, what is it? The traditional North American way of switching utensils, or the Continental method, in which utensils aren’t switched at all? (I bet such a question would divide the country, too!)

    As a proud member of the Hyphenated Clans (I’m Filipina-Canadian, btw), I understand the practicality of eating with the fork and spoon pair. First of all, you needn’t switch utensils at all, and you can fit in more good food in a bite with a spoon than you can with a fork (especially for saucy dishes). But I also get the practicality of the fork-knife duo — simply put, you can cut things. 🙂 But other modes of eating provide their own practicalities, too. Chopsticks, once mastered, are super-duper efficient. Then there’s eating without utensils at all, which — let’s face it — is always fun. The point is, I’ve been encouraged to be diverse and open-minded about my eating habits, having grown up in a culturally diverse place like Toronto. Montreal, however, is quite culturally diverse, too. That’s what makes me expect more from that lunch monitor. Like, narrow-minded much?

  • On April 23rd, 2010, Anonymous said ...

    Justice is served. Thank you.

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