On decolonizing our minds, hearts and palates

By Evelyn Bradley

Evelyn Bradley

When I first met my friend Charlie Sark, I was on the set of a cooking show called Worth Our Salt. He looked at all of us there that day and said, “The first step to decolonizing our hearts and minds is to decolonize our palates.”

He then proceeded to make me the best pizza I had ever had in my life.

I spent the better part of a decade eating my way through some of America’s greatest food cities. So when I moved to the East Coast of Canada, I never expected to have my mind blown by the cuisine of a place that still hosts community boiled dinners and where the primary starch is the humble potato.

I was genuinely floored by the complexity of flavours and combinations that were presented in the form of ground cherries and smoked mussels on a homemade pizza crust.

I was taken aback, not because it was an odd pairing, but because it made complete sense for the regionality of local ingredients. As I began to try and sift through my culinary toolkit, I realized that the majority of the foods I like, coming from just about every country around the world, can be replicated with ingredients Indigenous to the region I now call home.

As a diversity, equity, and inclusion professional, I am often asked about decolonization and I am often frustrated with the way it has been turned into a buzzword as opposed to being about people and a call to action.

Decolonization is on every “woke” Twitter feed and news outlet across North America, and yet we still struggle to talk about the day-to-day, in-context, reality of what it even means.

To me, decolonization is an action. It involves actively engaging in work where we intentionally take steps to undo colonialism.

In the words of Eve Tuck and K. Wang Young, “decolonization is not a metaphor.” Decolonization should not be tokenized for the purpose of pursuing social change in all areas. It is distinct to Indigenous experiences and, as such, to truly decolonize our tongues, we must first start with Indigenous ingredients — which are plentiful around us.

After spending the day with Charlie, it became clear that one avenue for me (and others) to explore decolonization and to address the inequity around cultural competency is through food.

The East Coast has a wide array of cultures and with those cultural identities comes diversity in culinary options. We have some of the best access to locally-sourced ingredients across Canada. I am starting to see that ‘classic’ PEI food is beginning to be transformed in a way that highlights the diversity present in our communities.

For example, I can get jerk lobster on PEI that has been made with lobster from Georgetown, soy sauce from Charlottetown, maple syrup from Breadalbane, and local peppers grown in Bonshaw.

To me, this is a testament to what happens when decolonization and cultural diversity take charge of your dinner plate.

Celebrating the cultural explosion on the East Coast is as easy as trying to find a McDonald’s along an American highway. But we have to be actively supporting these culinary opportunities and be open to trying something familiar prepared in an unfamiliar way.

So consider this nugget: How might you challenge your palate this year and how can you decolonize your dinner plate?

Evelyn Bradley is a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant with Bradley Consulting in Epekwitk (P.E.I.), where she and her wife moved at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In her limited spare time, she cooks up well-plated meals and writes the occasional poem.