10 Questions for Food Activist Arlene Stein

Arlene Stein is a Canadian food activist and the executive director and founder of Canada’s largest food symposium, Terroir, which takes place in Toronto every spring.

Click here for more info in Terroir.

EAT: Give us a brief origin story for Terroir.

Arlene Stein: Terroir started as a way to bring people together from across all sectors of the hospitality industry to create a forum for inspirational and educational talks & programs and create a network of hospitality professionals. Our audience is passionate about gastronomy, committed to ideas of sustainability and typically owner-operated establishments. To this day, our greatest assets is bringing people together and creating relationship. We have always been a very grassroots organization and our strength is in community development. All of our stakeholders participate & contribute to the success of the event.

EAT: What are some of the most interesting topics that have been discussed at past symposiums – give us your top three personal favourites.

AS: One of my favorite years was “For the Love of Food”, with Rene Redzepi and Magnus Nilsson, I also loved the New Radical theme when we were looking at what was going on in Toronto and how it was really immerging as a culinary city.  This year by far has been my favorite to curate – we have themes and speakers from all across Canada – and some pretty out of the box stories like Migrant Workers and the annual Seal Hunt.  I think the presentations and the stories we have put together are rich and diverse including a 2 hour session to open honoring our First Nations heritage.

EAT: Ultimately, what is the goal of the symposium – what do you hope to inspire in participants and attendees?

AS: The symposium is about education, inspiration and networking.  It’s the networking which is the most important for people – an annual moment for people in the hospitality industry to come together and reunite with old colleagues and meet new ones.  Terroir is a forum that allows people to create significant relationship both personally and professionally.

EAT: What do you look for in a good contributor?

AS: When we look for presenters we are looking for someone with an interesting story – something worth sharing.  May times we are working with people that may not be comfortable speaking to a crowd so we need to make sure we place them in the best possible light.  We of course are always looking for a little wow factor too – someone who is on the radar of the media, and it’s important for us to include community stories as well.

EAT: Can you describe, in your words, the Canadian culinary experience?

AS: I don’t think there is one unique Canadian culinary experience of identity – we are too big of a country. I think what is beautiful about Canada is the wonderful culinary mosaic that exists across the country and that continues to constantly be enriches by the waves of immigration we see.

EAT: What does Canada have to offer the rest of the world in terms of leading the way in culinary innovation?

AS: Youth, talent, diversity – we have a lot of very talented young people – that come from very diverse backgrounds.  Canada provides a great landscape for these young people to learn and explore and share their skills and talents with the rest of the world.  I think about Alex Hon from West or Kuman Hahn who is currently the head chef at Kadeau in Copenhagen.

EAT: What does the future hold for the Canadian hospitality landscape?

AS: I think the world is starting to pay attention to what we are doing here and believes we have the skills and the talent – we certainly have the resources.  Even though we are a physically a big country – we have such a small population – so I think it’s important that we support each other from coast to coast in telling that story to the world.  I think Terroir is one of those annual events that help us share our collective story – and this year for sure!

EAT: What is the single most important issue in the field of food advocacy for Canadians?

AS: Land stewardship – we need to keep our farmers farming and we need to change our agricultural polices to make way to grow more food – not just plastics and animal feed.  WE could feed ourselves very well if we supported a new farming system that supported farmers to keep doing what they do best and that they were financially successful.  We have a few farmers joining us this year – notably Michael Ableman from Salt Spring Island as well as Brent Preston for the New Farm in Ontario.

EAT: Why does food matter today?

AS: I think what is exciting today (and hopeful for the future) is that so many young people are really excited about food.  They are considerate about how it is grown and also it’s deliciousness.  There is a consciousness about food that has existed for some time and I believe the young people are going to change that.

EAT: What are you eating for dinner?

AS: Pasta Bolognese.



Date: May 29th, 2017, 7am – 7pm

Location: Art Gallery of Ontario

Tickets: $300/full day, $200/half day

Tickets available at www.terroirsymposium.com

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