Tasting Ukrainian Identity

Teaching Inclusion Through Experience

The question of how best to teach Ontario students about inclusion has been evolving since the 1960s.[1] Indeed, the adoption of an explicit national multiculturalism policy in 1971[2] emphasized the need for educational materials that reflected the country’s population. By 1977, a renewed emphasis was placed on accurately representing the origins and contributions of all different types of people to Canadian society.[3]

Teachers in Ontario were asked to make a profound commitment to multicultural education, and to treat multiculturalism as “an ethic that should permeate the whole curriculum.”[4] Resources like the Multicultural Canada Series were designed with this in mind.

The Multicultural Canada Series intended to teach students about the diversity of Canadian society. The Ukrainian Canadians student text (left) presented a variety of activities that gave students a framework for understanding and discussing difference, and the Teacher’s Resource Book (right) provided additional information and context for the teacher. Source: Multicultural Canada Series, OISE Library.

Teaching Multiculturalism, Searching for Experience

One of the ways in which The Ukrainian Canadians aimed to teach multiculturalism to students was through embodied experience. Activities like embroidery, making pysanky, and trying different foods were included to illustrate different cultural aspects of Ukrainian Canadian life.[5] Teaching multiculturalism relied on students participating in practices from different cultures as a learning tool. This was especially true for understanding food traditions.[6]

Yet, a prominent criticism of multiculturalism as policy is that it focuses too closely on aspects of multicultural identity that are easy to observe.[7] Food, music, and clothing are framed as visible markers of difference in societies with high migrant populations, and are often the way multiculturalism manifests, especially in school curricula.[8]

There Are Many Ways to Soup

Food is a lens through which we can understand social realities,[9] and students can learn about different lived experiences by trying new things. The Ukrainian Canadians gives a recipe that Mary, a character in the book, learned at home in Galicia. The book calls borscht “a very nutritious soup” and describes it as a family favourite.[10]  Borscht is a favourite in my family, too. My mother’s closest friends are Ukrainian Canadian, and I grew up in their kitchens.

Eating with people from other places is an important expression of everyday multiculturalism, a way to build emotional connection and gain different cultural perspectives.[11] Even within the idea of Ukrainian Canadian identity presented in the Multicultural Canada Series, there is a diversity of flavours and experience that can go into a single soup. When my mother’s friends make borscht, for example, they have at least three different recipes from which to choose, and then potentially infinite variations depending on what is available and how it tastes.[12]

One of the suggested activities in The Ukrainian Canadians is making borscht (Burke, 1979, p.33). I made this borscht using the recipe of close family friends, and it is quite different from the one presented in the text. Source: Personal collection, Madeleine Long.

Trying borscht is a way to become acquainted with Ukrainian cooking,[13] to be sure, but trying it with a friend illustrates that culture is not static or homogenous, but embodied and dynamic.[14]


Madeleine Long is in her first year of the Master of Museum Studies Program at the iSchool at University of Toronto. She did her undergraduate work at University of Toronto as well, and graduated with a specialist in Canadian Studies and a minor in Aboriginal Studies. She was born in Toronto to Torontonian parents, and they’ve lived in the same neighbourhood her whole life. She doesn’t do much moving around.

[1] Ontario Ministry of Education, 1980.

[2] Abu-Laban, 2008, p.1.

[3] Ontario Ministry of Education, 1980, p.7.

[4] Ontario Ministry of Education, 1977, p. 2.

[5] Burke, 1979a.

[6] Ontario Ministry of Education, 1977, p.5.

[7] Kymlicka, 2010, p.99.

[8] Kymlicka, 2010, p.102.

[9] Bonnekessen, 2010, p.280.

[10] Burke, 1979a, p.33.

[11] Johnston and Longhurst, 2012, p.329.

[12] Dycio, personal communication, December 10 2016.

[13] Burke, 1979b,  p.13.

[14] Johnston and Longhurst, 2012, p.330.

“Eating with people from other places is an important expression of everyday multiculturalism, a way to build emotional connection and gain different cultural perspectives.”