April 11, 2023

The fight for the right to food ft. Jamaican patties

For the full story, watch the short “Patty Wars” documentary below or click here to watch on CBC Gem.

Did you know Toronto nearly lost one of its greatest treasures — the pocket of deliciousness that is the patty? In 1985, Canadian government food inspectors served notices to Jamaican patty shops across the city saying the beef patties they sold did not meet the definition of a “beef patty” (a burger patty). The shops were told to rename their products or they’d be forced to pay a fine of $5,000 — (that’s equivalent to $10K today). 

But shop owners pushed back for their right to self-determination: to cook, eat, and sell their cultural foods. There was a media frenzy. The Jamaican consulate even got involved. Eventually the “patty wars” were won– sort of. Shops could keep selling these tasty little hand pies using the name “Jamaican beef patties.”

“The federal government’s unilateral decision to force West Indian Canadians to rename their national snack food, the beef patty, is inane,” Ontario’s opposition leader was quoted as saying at the time. We agree. But the government of the day demonstrated more than just silliness; they leveraged the unequal balance of power that fuels systemic racism in our food system — the same racism, and other forms of oppression, that inhibits the right to access and enjoy food for so many. 

We get the chance to honour the contributions of those who took a stand in 1985 with every patty we buy, prepare or enjoy in our city today. So why not make your own? Check out a veggie version of the classic recipe below, and if you decide to whip it up, be sure to tag us on social media @FoodShareTO and show us your creation!

Click the image above see the full recipe (PDF)