A plate piled high with Atlantic shrimp or B.C. salmon is the definition of eating pleasure for some gastronomically minded tourists, but it could also be a learning experience, say Canadian geographers.
Dining out on good local food while on holiday has received the stamp of approval from the Canadian Association of Geographers, which has named 10 websites that highlight specialties across the country.
The list - covering everything from Nova Scotia fiddleheads to B.C. wines to Yukon Arctic char - is being offered as part of the association's annual promotional effort, Geography Awareness Week (Nov. 16-20), and to point out the benefits of culinary tourism.
Barry Wellar, director of the project, says he wants people to pay more attention to where food comes from and to the possibility that some habitats are threatened.
"I bet if you ask 50 per cent of Canadians where their food comes from, they'd say a store, and that's about all they know," says Wellar, an Ottawa-based consultant and former geography professor at the University of Ottawa.
But knowing the origin of edibles is useful, he says. Take peaches, for example.
"Anybody who knows peaches knows immediately that they're different. The U.S. peach, with all due respect, has no taste. The Canadian peach is delicious."
"Whitefish between Manitoulin Island and Sault Ste. Marie (Ont.) are fantastic," Wellar says. "They're on every menu, and I think maybe that's the best place for whitefish in the world. You go to Alberta, you gonna look for whitefish there? I don't think so."
Nairne Cameron, a geography professor at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, selected the websites to explore one of the themes of Geography Awareness Week: food and health.
"Culinary tourism can broaden travellers' horizons and is an excellent way to learn more about the local physical environment, customs, culture and people," Cameron writes online (http://tinyurl.com/ylpfre9).
So, what should a tourist think of just before chowing down on a gourmet restaurant feast in Halifax or Vancouver, if the aim is to have a horizon-broadening experience and not just an exercise in gluttony?
"Let's say you're getting shrimp off the East Coast," says Wellar. "The question would be: Are any of the municipalities on the East Coast dumping raw sewage into any of the bodies of water? This is a worry."
There's also the possibility of agricultural run-off in British Columbia to consider, he points out. "Does that affect the Fraser River and does that affect the salmon run?"
Wellar acknowledges that such thoughts could spoil the taste of dinner.
"And well they should, because all that's happened here is one person's dinner has been ruined, but over the course of three or four or five years what's happened is, for whatever reason, an entire river system has become polluted and there's no more salmon run. So in effect that could be your last (Fraser River salmon) dinner - you better enjoy it while you have it."
Here are the 10 websites: