Religious culinary practices: Why we should be worried about the Quebec “Values Charter”

In Canada, Commentary, Cuisine by Lenore NewmanLeave a Comment

Last Autumn I was greatly privileged to join an old friend and her family for a dinner during the Jewish festival of Sukkot. We ate in the Sukkah, a temporary outdoor room roofed with tree bows, which was quite delightful as the weather was fine. I was reminded of the important role of food in Jewish life, and the role food plays in many religious traditions. Food sits at the centre of our lives, and so it isn’t surprising that food plays a central role in faith.

There are many reasons that Quebec’s Bill 60 should worry Canadians who prefer a “live and let live” approach to society building, but in the furor over the proposed rules concerning religious clothing and symbols, very little has been said about the sweeping rules governing what children will and will not be allowed to eat while under care funded by Quebec’s much loved daycare program. Quebec’s Bill 60, which goes under the rather taxing name of the “Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests”, has the following to say about food in clause thirty:

30. In order to facilitate social cohesion and the integration of children without regard to social or ethnic origin or religious affiliation, the policy must provide, among other things, that

(1) children’s admission must not be related to their learning a specific religious belief, dogma or practice;

(2) the objective of educational activities and communication cannot be to teach such a belief, dogma or practice; and

(3) a repeated activity or practice stemming from a religious precept, in particular with regard to dietary matters, must not be authorized if its aim, through words or actions, is to teach children that precept.

I think all Canadians should be a little disturbed by this sweeping language, which would also apply in private daycares that are government subsidized. Jewish families who keep kosher would of course be impacted, and Muslim children might well be fed pork. Following the letter of the rules, vegetarians could insist their children not eat meat, but Hindus and Jainists would not be able to make such a request. This is a deeply personal and targeted bit of government bullying, that will predominantly impact women and children.

No government in this country should be telling us how to feed our children. And if we can learn anything from history, it is that targeting a minority group’s cuisine never ends well.

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