When the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences met in Toronto last week, no one expected the group of professors charged with keeping the study of cultural alive across Canada in the name of social justice to cause a national controversy.
But among the papers about gentrification, internalized misogyny, and intersectional feminism, was a work by Prof. Nicolas Fabien-Ouellet of the University of Vermont, who argued that the Canadian national dish, poutine (a pile of French fries slathered in fresh cheese curds and brown gravy) was a symbol of cultural appropriation.
This came as a surprise to Canadians, of course, because they invented poutine. No other culture in the world has come up with quite the combination of potatoes, dairy and meat juices that delivers the combined carbs-and-calorie punch necessary to survive the harsh Canadian winters.
Fabien-Ouellet, who hails from Montreal, in the Canadian province of Quebec, argues, though, that the Quebecois (who identify more as French than Canadian) actually invented poutine, and they deserve credit, not Canada as a whole.
Still, this is surprising to Canadians because Quebec is technically part of Canada. They have, admittedly, tried to separate a few times, but never successfully. And even if they think they’re better than the rest of Canadians, they still have the same passports and maple leaf flag and are still forced to endure the continued antics of Justin Trudeau.
So why the cultural appropriation? Fabien-Ouellet has a unique theory: Canadians can’t claim poutine as their own because at one point in their history, they initially made fun of the Quebecois who ate it. That, in turn, lead, Fabien-Ouellet, says, to widespread “poutine stigma,” which, in turn, is responsible for the mass oppression of the French-identifying Canadian minority.
Hipsters are, apparently, mostly responsible for this phenomenon. Before the 1990s, Quebec had been quietly eating its French fry dish in peace, enduring the endless mockery from their more authentically Canadian neighbors, when visitors to Montreal discovered that the dish was perfect as a late night bar snack and to cure a hangover on Sunday morning.
Now they love poutine, spread the dish across Canada, and celebrated it as a purely Canadian invention because, it turns out, it was—and that’s just absolutely unacceptable, according to Fabien-Ouellete.
Unfortunately for Fabien-Ouellete, it seems, a lot of Quebecois are actually happy about the development, noting that Canadians are finally taking notice of what they bring to the greater Canadian culture.
And Canadians as a whole won’t be giving up their gravy-soaked fries any time soon.