Chip-loving U of W prof's book goes deep into snack food scene

Chip-loving U of W prof's book goes deep into snack food scene

A University of Winnipeg professor is set to launch a tasty new book — one she hopes will have real bite when it comes to how people think about the snack foods they love. 

Titled Snacks: a Canadian Food History, Janis Thiessen takes readers behind the scenes of the country's independently-owned snack food producers, including Winnipeg potato chip maker Old Dutch Foods, Belleville's Hawkins Cheezies, and New Brunswick chocolatier Ganong.

The associate professor of history said she studies business and labour history and started noticing a lot being written about obesity and its causes — with a lot of blame being shouldered by large corporations like PepsiCo and Frito Lay.

Thiessen said she wondered if smaller, family-owned snack food producers were confronted by the same issues and if they operated in the same manner as the mega-businesses.

She told CBC she hopes readers take away an appreciation of and understanding for the people behind the scenes at the smaller – sometimes mom and pop – Canadian snack food makers.

"There's a lot of judgement of what people like to eat for fun," she said in a Sunday interview.

"And I think it would only be fair that before we pass judgement on the folks who have this as their entertainment that we first get to know the folks who make them, and have a little perspective about where snacks fit in with all the other things we consume that also are not particularly healthy," said Thiessen.

To her, it depends whether a snack is defined as so-called "junk food." Potato chips, for example, are made primarily of potatoes so she doesn't define them as "junk."

"And yeah, while we shouldn't perhaps make deep-fried foods our main source of nutrients, it is actually whole foods," said Thiessen. "When it comes to candy, that's a lot more questionable."

Restaurant food, she said, is often loaded with fat and sugar, but that food doesn't labour under the same negative perceptions many snack foods do, she suggested.

The book, published by University of Manitoba Press, is set to be released in early September with a launch to follow in October.

Naturally, snacks will be served.