As Canadian as…a Knife and Fork
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