Research to chew on

Food truck - photo supplied

Food truck – photo supplied


It might look like an ordinary food truck as it drives into town, but it will actually be a rolling research station sizzling with surprises inside.

Janis Thiessen - photo supplied

Janis Thiessen – photo supplied

Dr. Janis Thiessen is cooking up a plan to hit the road and ask Manitobans to share their food memories, histories, family recipes and even hop aboard to prepare a meal that others can sample. 

Thiessen, Associate Professor (history) and Associate Director of the Oral History Centre at The University of Winnipeg, has just received a four-year, $239,000 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight grant to research a comprehensive food history of the province. She is in the planning stages right now and will have her food truck ready to roll into Winnipeg, Steinbach and the Parkland region next summer. She is partnering with Diversity Food Services, so the truck will not only gather research, it will be selling nutritious food to folks along the way.

Thiessen plans to record people’s stories for future podcasts and create a website and digital map. Through a QR code, people eating Tina’s bean soup, for example, could then trace where the beans are grown, and link to Tina’s family story and recipe on the website.

“This project is exciting because we have such strong connections to food, and in addition to individual stories it will allow us to get at and preserve the history of small entrepreneurs who started restaurants in Manitoba, as well as food producers,” said Thiessen. “We also hope to capture some of the food traditions of Indigenous communities, such as interviewing wild rice harvesters.”

Sarah Story - photo supplied

Sarah Story – photo supplied

Thiessen also plans to get her students involved. Those enrolled in her honours/graduate Canadian Social History course this year will be involved in the research and will be expected to create an interesting final project. “Not an essay,” says Thiessen, “Students will produce a podcast, a virtual museum exhibit, walking tour of food history sites within a particular neighbourhood, or some similar public history project.”

The research project includes two other UWinnipeg collaborators, Kent Davies and Kimberley Moore, from the Oral History Centre, as well as project coordinator and UWinnipeg alumna Sarah Story.

Thiessen also launched a new book this September, called “Snacks, A Canadian Food History.”

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Diane Poulin, Senior Communications Specialist, The University of Winnipeg

P: 204.988.7135, E: