History of Canadian Snack Foods

Old Dutch snack display in Alberta. © Janis Thiessen, University of Winnipeg, ja.thiessen@uwinnipeg.ca.
Old Dutch snack display in Alberta. © Janis Thiessen, University of Winnipeg, ja.thiessen@uwinnipeg.ca.

PROJECT: “Snack Foods: A Canadian Social History, 1945-2010.”

A recent study of food consumption in Canada revealed that “the snack meal is now second only to dinner.”[1] The Canadian snack food industry employs more than 7500 workers in almost 90 factories, and produces more than $1.6 billion in products annually. Growing concern about the effects of snack food consumption on diabetes and childhood obesity make the subject of the Canadian snack food industry an important one for people beyond historians and other academics. I am researching and writing a social history of Canadian snack foods in the twentieth century. This project investigates the manufacturing, advertising, and consumption of snack foods. I intend to integrate a diverse body of literature, including commodity history; food history; government regulation and public policy; history of the body and of medicine; history of emotions; history of childhood; advertising; agribusiness and the industrialization of the food supply; history of manufacturing; popular culture; labour history; business and entrepreneurial history; and the history of immigration.

Supported by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, I have been able to hire three research assistants to help with conducting oral histories. The CEO of Old Dutch Foods has granted access to that company’s records. I’m looking forward to researching the social history of Canadian snack foods – and to eating Old Dutch dill pickle flavoured chips; I don’t take the ahistorical nostalgic position that processed prepackaged food is inherently bad.


[1] Marion Chan, The NPD Group, “Snacking in Canada 2008,” powerpoint presentation delivered at the 2008 Conference of the Canadian Snack Food Association.

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