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Anita Stewart shines spotlight on country's bounty with Food Day Canada

Ronald and Tricia St. Pierre of Locals restaurant in Courtenay, B.C., are celebrating Food Day Canada on Aug. 2, 2014, by showcasing Canadian cuisine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

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Ronald and Tricia St. Pierre of Locals restaurant in Courtenay, B.C., are celebrating Food Day Canada on Aug. 2, 2014, by showcasing Canadian cuisine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

TORONTO - Anita Stewart is putting a nationwide spotlight on Canadian cuisine in an annual event that celebrates the country's bounty.

Food Day Canada, which the culinary activist started more than a decade ago, is a chance to praise farmers, fishers, chefs, researchers and home cooks.

Stewart has worked tirelessly over 30 years to raise the profile of Canada's culinary identity and her efforts have netted her an Order of Canada. On Food Day Canada this Saturday, there are events across the country, with chefs from more than 250 restaurants taking part.

"People can go out to eat or they can eat at home," says Stewart, who is the University of Guelph's food laureate and the author of 14 books.

"It's all about culinary nationalism, a bit of patriotism as well because I really believe that we have to be self-sufficient at least to a degree in our food sources. ... At the end of the day this is all celebratory, but there's always a very serious side to it and it's feeding our own, making sure that we have the resources that are solid and stable forever or for as long as we can make it. It's protecting them too."

The event was initially called the World's Longest Barbecue and was launched by Stewart in 2003 to support farmers whose livelihood was threatened in the wake of the devastation caused by the mad cow crisis.

A wide range of events set for the weekend along with inspirational recipes are posted on the Food Day Canada website. Canadians are encouraged to post their own menus and describe their plans.

A barbecue on the beach is the theme at the Wickaninnish Inn on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where chef Nicole Gomes, a "Top Chef Canada" finalist, and Duncan Ly from Calgary's Hotel Arts are joining chef Warren Barr to showcase products from the West Coast and Alberta.

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., Around the Canadian Table is being staged by Les Marmitons, a culinary and social club for men with a passion for food, to raise scholarship funds for the Niagara College Foundation.

As part of the program Stewart will take to the stage at the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery amphitheatre to discuss Canadian cuisine with icewine guru Donald Ziraldo, chef Michael Olson, Dean Craig Youdale of the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College and others. Guests can stroll through the winery and sample delicacies, including confections created by celebrated pastry chef Anna Olson.

In the Atlantic provinces, participants range from Raymonds, Bacalao and Chinched Bistro in St. John's, N.L. Then there are casual eateries like chef Jesse Vergen's Saint John Ale House in Saint John, N.B., and his Smoking Pig BBQ in Quispamsis, N.B., and the Flynn family's Lobster Shack in Souris, P.E.I., that are also on board.

"Then we have BOOMBurger in Charlottetown, which is Scott Linkletter's fast-food burger joint. He's using potatoes from P.E.I. He can name the farmer from the beef. He makes his own butter because (he's the founder of) Cows Creamery and the Cows extra-old cheddar goes on top of the burger," says the Elora, Ont.-based Stewart. "To me that's what it's all about. It's being aware of where our food sources are."

She has personally invited the chefs. "The chefs that I've involved are really the opinion makers. They are the brand advocates for the food life of Canada."

Farmers and fishers alike are also lauded by Stewart — consumers need to keep them in business, she notes — plus she gives a nod to researchers on the Food Day Canada website in a section called Made in Canada.

Social media has come a long way since Food Day Canada launched and Stewart says it's become much easier to get the word out. New this year is a signup page on the website called Share Your Food Day Canada so people can post their images and menus. There is a Twitter feed and people can sign up for a newsletter.

"I'm very proud of it, but all I do is hold up a mirror. If Canadians look in that mirror and see something good it's because they are," says Stewart.

"No matter where you go in the country, whether it's the wild resources we find in the Yukon or the northern parts of the prairie provinces or northern Ontario right through to the cultivated crops that we see growing and flourishing everywhere we are an amazing culinary nation."

Follow @lois_abraham on Twitter.

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Online:

Food Day Canada, fooddaycanada.ca.

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