Like so many holidays, February 23 in Toronto, higher generally known as Patty Day, celebrates a victory. However not a army one. As an alternative, the “Patty Wars” commemorated by this vacation concerned the battle between two forces: on one facet, forms and thinly veiled xenophobia; on the opposite, a beloved meals and the immigrant restaurateurs who offered it.
Jamaican patties arrived in Toronto with immigrants beginning within the Sixties and rapidly discovered their approach into native hearts. The flaky-crusted hand pies crammed with juicy, spicy beef at first gave immigrants a style of residence, however quickly grew to become a necessary chew for a lot of residents of town. After Mayor John Tory declared the peameal bacon sandwich Toronto’s signature meals in 2016, Toronto Star author Edward Keenan argued it ought to as an alternative be Jamaican beef patties: “Not as a result of they’re distinctive to Toronto in any approach however as a result of they’re beloved and out there in all places from doughnut retailers to subway stations.”
However the Jamaican beef patty of Toronto differs from patties elsewhere each in fashion and, due to 1985’s Patty Wars, in title: in Jamaica they’re merely “patties,” whereas in Toronto, they all the time tackle the for much longer title of “Jamaican beef patties.”
In Jamaica, patties are available numerous flavors and comprise totally different meats, explains Jamaican chef and meals historian Teneile Warren of Nyam Kitchen, however Jamaican beef patties got here to Canada earlier than these evolutions. The standard model eaten in Toronto tells Jamaica’s story in flavors: The native components of thyme and allspice, the Indian affect of turmeric, and the Chinese language factor of soy sauce. These all fold into the basic kind seemingly descended from the British pasty. It’s a remnant of colonialism wholly reshaped right into a quintessentially Jamaican meals.
“In Toronto, the patty advanced from baked-on-site patty retailers, to patty manufacturing crops increasing the market of low-cost, acquainted on- the-go meals,” says Warren. “Individuals wanted to regulate, they wanted it to be fast and straightforward.” These manufacturing crops provided the inexpensive grab-and-go model throughout Toronto, and the meat patties’ recognition skyrocketed.
“It’s a place-maker,” says Warren. “If you consider sure subway stations in Toronto, individuals bear in mind the patty store there.” However getting so far of large acceptance wasn’t simple, she says. “Even simply with the ability to say ‘patty’ was a wrestle.”
The Patty Wars first made information in mid-February of 1985, when a front-page headline within the Toronto Star requested, “When is a patty not a patty?” The query arose as a result of meals inspectors had ordered at the least eight Jamaican patty makers to alter the title of their product as a result of it didn’t meet the authorized definition of a patty, which utilized to hamburgers and, in keeping with the Meat Inspection Act, may solely comprise meat and seasonings. “[T]he product in query doesn’t meet the requirements, as a result of the frequent title for patty specified within the regulation says no flour might be added to the meat,” inspector Sherry Brumwell mentioned on the time. “If the product doesn’t meet the usual it will possibly’t be referred to as a patty. We’re asking for a correction.”
The “correction” forbade use of the phrase “patty” on indicators, packaging, and advertising, an enormous price to spring on small companies, and it gave them simply three months to make the modifications earlier than dealing with a $5,000 effective. The transfer threatened to erase the direct line between immigrants and their meals, utilizing authorized definitions to enshrine hamburgers as the one true patties and ignore the more and more fashionable Jamaican model.
Michael Davidson, whose household had owned the Kensington Patty Palace for the reason that late Seventies, led the blowback, calling the calls for—and the brand new names recommended by the federal government, like “Caribbean-style beef pies”—ridiculous. “Canada is meant to be huge on multiculturalism, and a beef patty is a part of Jamaican tradition,” he informed the Star. Warren places it extra bluntly: “It’s cultural policing.” A neighborhood politician who received concerned identified that “the Caribbean patty has been in existence longer than any arbitrary definition of a meat patty set by federal laws.”
In lower than per week, the problem escalated into threats of lawsuits. Native papers declared it a transparent overreach of the federal government, and Jamaican media reported that Canada had banned the beloved patty. However earlier than patties received their day in court docket, there was a gathering of federal officers, the Jamaican consul-general, and a neighborhood lawyer and patty fanatic representing the distributors. The group reached a compromise: the retailers may proceed to make use of the title “patty” or “beef patty,” so long as they specified them as “Jamaican.”
On February 23, 1985, Kensington Market, the neighborhood the place lots of the patty retailers had been positioned, threw a celebration to have a good time the victory. Then the complete incident was largely forgotten for greater than a quarter-century, although its legacy remained on the menu and packaging of each Jamaican patty store on the town.
In 2011, Jamie Bradburn, who wrote a Torontoist column referred to as the Historicist, revisited the incident—and it resounded with the patty-loving metropolis. The next yr, Royson James, a contributing columnist to the Toronto Star, issued an unofficial proclamation of February 23 as Jamaican Patty Day.
The town slowly adopted it as custom. The native department of the Jamaican Tourism Board sponsored events with free patties in honor of the anniversary, turning what as soon as appeared an try and push Jamaican tradition out of town right into a purpose to have a good time it.
Warren sees the decision as useful. The compromise, she says, was “a bizarre type of censorship that has labored in our favor,” because it marked possession of patties, branding them solely and uniquely Jamaican. “It primarily patented the Jamaican patty.” Davidson, the proprietor of Patty Palace, additionally noticed the end result as constructive, telling the Toronto Star in 1996 that “the notoriety opened some doorways for us.”
Warren, who grew up in Jamaica, noticed a flattening and simplification of Jamaican meals in Canada when she moved there as an grownup. She bristled on the approach sure meals, like jerk, underwent diversifications pushing them removed from their roots, usually by individuals unfamiliar with their historical past or significance. However regardless that Jamaican beef patties take pleasure in wild recognition in Toronto—much more than poutine, says Warren—few non-Jamaicans within the better Toronto space make them, and the patty hardly ever strays from conventional kinds. She chalks this as much as the decision of the Patty Wars. “They’ll’t be tampered with,” says Warren of the patties. “You possibly can’t take it from us.”