Ecological food practices and identity performance on Cape Breton Island

  • Erna MacLeod Assistant Professor, Communication School of Arts and Social Sciences Cape Breton University
Keywords: ecological food, identity performance, place, cape breton


As globalization disrupts traditional industries and economies, investigations of localized responses to these disruptions can offer insights to guide strategies in regions facing similar challenges. Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, is one such location. Traditionally, the island’s economy was resource based and centred on fishing and coal mining, but tourism became increasingly important in the twentieth century to offset de-industrialization and unemployment. Agriculture has always contributed to the island’s economy but has been concentrated in particular regions with many communities relying on imported foods. In the twenty-first century, global movements for local and ecological food practices have encouraged renewed interest and involvement in food production across Cape Breton. The island’s economic challenges remain significant and government and business leaders responding to unemployment and outmigration have identified tourism and agriculture as areas for expansion.    

Using a critical ethnographic approach, this study examines Cape Breton’s ecological food movement as a cultural practice through which participants—producers, farmers’ market vendors, consumers, restaurateurs—produce local distinction and perform their identities (Beagan, Power, and Chapman 2015; Johnston, Szabo, and Rodney 2011, Pilgeram 2012, Slocum 2007). Ecological food initiatives raise critical questions of access, labour, cultural identification, and power relations; however, I argue that local, ecological food practices also present opportunities. The collaborative efforts of multiple stakeholders can foster relationships and enrich cultural autonomy within rural communities, illuminating possibilities for building local economies, protecting local environments, and enacting meaningful individual and collective identities (Glowacki-Dudka, Murray, and Isaacs 2012, Sims 2009, Tiemann 2008)).

Original Research Article