A Passable Interview: Lezlie Lowe

In 2007, I moved to Creighton Street, in Halifax’s north end. I had rented a large moving van and needed a place to park. My new neighbour came out of her house and asked if we needed her parking spot. It was Lezlie.

Lezlie writes for The Coast and has a weekly column in The Chronicle Herald. I knew her by her work, but I got to know her through food. More often than not, I would find myself knocking on her door, asking to borrow a couple eggs or some icing sugar for something or other that I was making. Grateful, I would soon return with whatever I had made – lemon curd, stews or even a birthday cake, made for her.

But it wasn’t just the fact that she was a nice nieghbour with good taste in food that made me like her. It was her politics about food that made me respect her. Lezlie gets up early on saturday mornings, so that she can go down to the market and buy meat, cheese, dairy products – more on that later – bread, you name it. If she can buy it locally, she does.

I’ve also always enjoyed my conversations with Lezlie about food. So I called her up and asked her if I could interview her for Passable. I met up with her as she was making cheese sandwiches for her kids. In her case, gouda cheese from That Dutchman’s cheese and bread from Julien’s.

Here’s part one of a Passable Interview with Lezlie Lowe.

What are some of your first memories about food?

My family has a completely toxic relationship with food.

Why do you say that?

My grandmother was over on Sunday, and my husband drove her home, and she sent him back with these flaky pastries. Which we would never, ever eat. That was my childhood. I didn’t eat a fresh tomato until I was maybe nineteen or twenty. We ate macaroni and cheese – which was pasta with a can of tomatoes, salt and pepper and processed cheese on top, like cheese slices. We had pork chops with canned peaches. We had baloney. Yeah, I never ate fresh food ever, ever. I grew up in a pretty low-income family and I lived with my parents and grandparents ostensibly so my parents were very rooted in this post-world-war-two um…

…Eat what you have?

Not even that, it was more like that chemical foods are the best, like super foods. So you ate things from cans, ‘cause they never went bad. Why would you ever buy something that wasn’t in a can? Because when you buy something in a can it never goes bad? It’s crazy to buy fresh food. So my mother really bought into that and she didn’t have a ton of money so that’s how I grew up.

What was your revelatory experience about food?

I don’t know if I had a revelatory experience. I got a job when I was 19 at the Black Market which is owned by a guy named Dominique. He lives in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia, and he’s originally from France. He and his wife, Dawn, are real back-to-the landers, so they grow a lot of their own food. I remember when I started to work there, she was grinding her own flour. She is an amazing cook, so she would have everyone who worked for them come out to their house. They raised their own chickens and grew their own food, so that was my introduction to different ways of eating.

When did you become conscious of food issues?

That developed pretty slowly. I would say that it was totally under my radar at the time when I was 19, when I was just learning that there were ways of eating that weren’t fries from the vending machine at the rink and canned mushrooms. I learned that the market existed when I was 19. I liked being there where…it was not even a social experience, I just liked being there in that atmosphere and I guess maybe…it sounds ridiculously hoity-toity, but it’s like: that was like something I didn’t know that I was into, and I was experiencing it without even realising how it had kind of always been in me. So I always went to the market, and I knew Norbert Kungl, as I was introduced to him through Dominique, so I would always go to Norbert to get veggies.

What happened to your relationship with food once you started buying stuff at the market?

I guess I became more aware of where food came from. I wouldn’t say I cared all that much, so much that I was in a relationship with somebody who had a relationship with food that was quite conventional. If I got lettuce from the market or lettuce from California at Sobey’s, it didn’t really matter to this person, so it didn’t mater as much to me. I don’t know want to sound like, “aw, I wasn’t supported in my lettuce choices”, but it wasn’t part of my life. It sort of was an organic, no pun intended thing, it just kind of kept rolling along. I became vegetarian when I was 15 or 16, which at that point was just kind of a, part of the group that I was in. So it wasn’t like I…it wasn’t for political reasons necessarily, expect in a very simplistic, naïve, “it’s wrong to hurt animals, isn’t that a great leather belt?” kind-of-way. So I was still a vegetarian for quite some time and then something hit me: I just thought, “This is ridiculous.” I was eating somewhere and I was looking at it, and “that looks so good”, and it was something meat, and I just ate it and I just thought: “This is just painfully absurd”. I think that was a bit of a watershed moment, because I thought, you know, if I’m going to be eating meat, then I’m definitely eating the best kind of meat that I can get, grown from local people that I know. And then having children…

That was my next question.

I don’t think that [having kids] changed me a lot. Maybe in terms of milk. We were really, really strict about what we let our kids… we still are quite strict about what we let our kids eat. Not in the sense that we restrict anything. They’re allowed to eat anything they want to eat. They can try anything they want. But…

Will it be in the house?

No, it won’t be in the house. Like it’s a huge treat for them to have gum, ‘cause we don’t want them chewing hubba bubba all the time, so often we’ll let them pick a piece of gum. I think in many ways -I’m getting off topic here – they’re so to-the-exterme snooty about food. And it’s by osmosis, especially my younger daughter will be like, “SUBWAY? OH MY GOSH!” We’ve explained the politics of these things to her, and she gets it partly, so she’s like, “Their bread is not made with whole grains”, and we explain that even if it is, it’s not as good as the bread we get down the street at Julien’s. And the meat, we don’t know where the meat comes from.

Mcdonald’s they just…that’s the easiest thing to explain to a kid, in terms of food is. We’ve taken them to McDonald’s once ‘cause my youngest got a coupon. She came home from school with a coupon for a “soft drink”, which she had no idea what it was, she was like, “I can go get a soft drink?” We’re like, that’s a soda pop.

So we took them and they just HATED IT. And we took them to the big one in Dartmouth with the play place to show them, “Here’s how big the play place is, here’s how big the restaurant is, why do you think they have this here?” Is anybody going to this restaurant because it’s great food? No, they’re going because it’s easy and it doesn’t cost very much money and kids get to play.

  • Keep checking here for the second part of the interview, which will be uploaded in the next couple of days.