Love usually fills the air on Valentine’s Day. However, members of the community were not in an amorous mood when Share broke the news on Valentine’s Day 1985 that patty vendors in the city were served notice they could no longer use the term “Jamaican Beef Patty”.
The February 14 Page One headline read: “Patty sales threatened by government regulations.”
“I found the Share headline to be very sexy because February 14 is a day of love,” said businesswoman and raconteur, Itah Sadu, last Thursday at a Patty Day celebration, which was recognized by the City of Toronto. “Share shared love for the community in informing us that this snack which we enjoy was under attack.”
Michael Davidson, just four years after graduating from Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute, was managing Kensington Patty Palace in Kensington Market while his parents were vacationing in Jamaica when Consumer & Corporate Affairs (CAA) inspectors showed up and informed him that the family business had to change the name of the product and the packaging because it did not conform with the Meat Inspection Act.
They explained that, under the Act, a patty contained fresh or cooked meat, salt and seasonings and not fillers like breadcrumbs or flour, and it was not enclosed in pastry.
“They suggested I call it a ‘Caribbean Beef Pie’ and they gave the business a certain amount of time to make a change or face a large fine,” recalled Davidson. “I thought about it and figured that was wrong. You tell us that Canada is multicultural and now you are telling me to change the name of my product, which was being sold in Canada at that point for more than 20 years and had become part of the fabric of this society.”
The mainstream media picked up the story and David Peterson, whose provincial Liberal Party was in the midst of an election campaign, was photographed eating a patty. The former Ontario premier later issued a statement saying the patty existed longer than the federal government’s definition of patty and he suggested some officials definitely ‘overcooked’ themselves on the decision.
Then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was about to go to Jamaica for an International Seabed Authority Conference and the consensus was that a ‘patty compromise’ should be reached before he arrived in the Caribbean country.
Davidson was appointed the official ‘patty advocate’ for the few patty manufacturers in the city and, with the help of people such as the late Lloyd Perry, then the Official Guardian of Ontario who declared himself the official ‘Patty Guardian’, a ‘Patty Summit’ was held to get the matter resolved.
“In the meeting with CCA bureaucrats, they suggested we call our product ‘Jamaica Patty’ or ‘Jamaican-styled Patty’ and it could be defined as having seasoned ground beef with pastry under it,” said Davidson, who came to Canada as a 14-year-old in 1978 with his parents who owned the Tenderflake Donut Company in Jamaica. “We agreed on ‘Jamaica Patty’.”
To celebrate Jamaica Patty Day, Sadu invited Davidson and students from Willow Park Junior Public, Carlton Village Public and Rockliffe Middle schools to a Different Booklist to observe the event. The students and their teachers were provided with patties and a poster detailing the 1985 ‘Patty Revolution’.
“I was delighted to be part of the celebration and to tell the young people that opportunity and creativity sometimes come out of adversity,” said Davidson, who manages Patty Palace in Scarborough. “Because of the publicity we received in 1985, I was able to emerge as a leader in the business, now employing a staff of 25.”
Patty Palace produces about 80,000 patties daily which are distributed to nearly 500 stores across Ontario, Quebec and the United States.
Last week’s Patty Day initiative was also held to coincide with Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary this year.
“We are celebrating a gift that comes out of Jamaica,” said Sadu. “Jamaicans love gold and they have given us Usain Bolt and the patty, (both of) which are golden.
“(Canadian bestselling author) Malcolm Gladwell talks about the tipping point in life and he says if you have an idea and you share it with people, you could probably inspire a nation….
“We see the celebration of the patty to be a patty tipping point in that all cultures and people eat the product or sell them. If we are to look at the intersectionalities of people, we definitely will find the Jamaican patty there…When we are speaking to our students about big ideas and about making connections between the classroom and the community, here is a perfect example of a nation of 2.7 million people that makes us feel good on a good day.”
Mayor Rob Ford and members of Toronto’s City Council sent a plaque to a Different Booklist for organizing the Jamaica Patty Day initiative.
“Toronto is a city that’s made up of people from around the world who brought with them their culinary diversity that has made Toronto a hot spot for the best in flavourful and tasty cuisines,” the plaque read. “Among the many foods that have made a name for itself is the Jamaica Beef Patty, renowned for its special spices and pastry that is revered by many.”
By RON FANFAIR