The food language of Québec’s cabanes à sucre represents a particularly salient example of what the English language has never successfully been able to communicate about québécois culture: how the politicized nature of French as it is spoken in Québec is played out in the collision and conflation of high and low registers, a tension between reverence and repulsion. This manifests itself in the realm of Québec’s food culture in the recent return of the nation’s high-end food purveyors and top chefs to their roots in maple-soaked deep-fried comfort foods, and the equally high and low register-bending, and thus largely untranslatable names, that accompany many dishes: des pets de soeurs, des oreilles de criss. This paper focuses on the work of celebrity chef Martin Picard, famous for his foie gras poutine and infamous for his squirrel sushi and tail-stuffed “Confederation Beaver,” arguing that his menu is essentially a form of food joual.
Le langage des cabanes à sucre du Québec est un exemple particulièrement frappant de ce que la langue anglaise n’a jamais été en mesure d’appréhender correctement de la culture québécoise : comment la dimension politique de la langue française, telle qu’elle est parlée au Québec, ressort à travers la collision et la confusion de registres hauts et bas, créant une tension entre révérence et répulsion. Ceci se manifeste dans le domaine culinaire par un intérêt renouvelé, de la part des pourvoyeurs de produits haut de gamme et des grands chefs nationaux, à leurs racines, réalisant une friture à base de sirop d’érable et recourant à des noms intraduisibles pour désigner de nombreux plats, comme « les pets de soeurs » et « les oreilles de criss ». Cet article analyse le travail du chef Martin Picard, connu aussi bien pour sa célèbre poutine au foie gras que pour son infâme sushi d'écureuil et son castor “Confédération” – farci de sa propre queue, affirmant que son menu est essentiellement une forme de joual alimentaire.
French and English are Canada’s two official languages, but in the decade between the end of “la grande noirceur” (with the death of Québec Premier Maurice Duplessis in 1959) and the October crisis of 1970, joual became the unofficial language of Québec. Joual can be characterized by its frank references to the highly personal, and frequent recourse to swearing. The language is peppered with English words as well as a somewhat more phonetic pronunciation of certain French ones. Joual is warm and informal, spoken in the context of casual and close relationships. However, if the difference between any two languages is mutual unintelligibility, then it is more accurate to say that joual is a register of the French language, since people who speak joual can also understand “proper” French, or, more accurately, other French registers. Indeed, language registers are levels of usage: the degree of formality (as evidenced by the choice of vocabulary, pronunciation and syntax) deemed appropriate to the communicative purpose, social context, and standing of the user. The context in which the Québécois began politicizing the use of joual was one of complete social upheaval: the 1960s. In Québec, the sixties followed years of drastic urbanization and secularization, le Refus global (in 1948) and the resulting sea change in traditional Québécois culture. The French population was speaking out against English-Canadian cultural, political and economic domination in a strong Québec accent. This is the context in which playwright Michel Tremblay wrote Les Belles-soeurs (in 1968) the first play in which joual invaded the public, and decidedly bourgeois, realm of the theatre.
This is also the context into which celebrity chef Martin Picard was born: 1966 in Repentigny, Québec. Picard is one of Canada’s most celebrated chefs and certainly Québec’s most recognizable, with his famous Montréal restaurant Au Pied de Cochon, two cookbooks, frequent television appearances including the Radio-Canada series Martin sur la route, and now a sugar shack in St-Benoît-de-Mirabel (in the woods about an hour west of Montréal). In recent years, questions of national identity have come to the fore again, as they were in the 1960s. In September 2012, a Parti québécois minority government was elected, which put forth Bill 14 to strengthen French language laws, La Charte des valeurs québécoises, limiting religious freedoms, and on April 7 2014, an election which would essentially bring about another referendum on Québec’s national independence. Québec is, at this moment, defining what constitutes its patrimony, and if the world of fine dining can be seen as a modern, bourgeois context similar to “the theatre” of the late 1960s, then the overwhelming popularity of Picard’s sugar shack, with its roots in maple-soaked deep-fried comfort foods, speaks of a refusal to be relegated to the position of “lesser” in any cultural sphere. In his introduction to the English translation of Picard’s first Au Pied de Cochon cookbook, Anthony Bourdain writes that part of Picard’s particular genius is in his “impeccable sense and timing to realize that now, right now, is the perfect time to give the whole world of fine dining the middle finger.” (p.7) 
I will argue that this is a genius reminiscent of Michel Tremblay’s. Martin Picard’s register-bending culinary style is essentially a form of food joual and represents a particularly salient example of what the English language has never successfully been able to communicate about québécois culture: how the politicized nature of French as it is spoken in Québec is played out in the collision and conflation of high and low registers, a tension between reverence and repulsion.
Joual explained (as opposed to translated) in English
In a CBC radio interview dated July 5th 1972, Michel Tremblay explained to English listeners that “There’s a phenomenon in the Québec way of talking, it’s… we talk as we are. We are, we’ve always been the cheap people of Canada, and we speak in a cheap way. Our French is not French, it’s not English… and it’s quite beautiful. There are beautiful things in the way French-Canadians talk.” However, despite quite possibly being the world’s most eloquent craftsman of joual, Tremblay stops short of being able to capture or explain that beauty to his English listeners. Indeed, joual is notoriously difficult to translate, and therefore often isn’t, even when there are French and English versions of a Québécois book. One example of this kind of silence and non-translation is in Martin Picard’s first cookbook, the Au Pied de Cochon album. There are both French and English versions of this book published in 2006. For English readers, the book begins in a register appropriate to the world of fine dining with a glowing introduction by Anthony Bourdain. The French version, however, skips the validating Anglophone ethos and instead offers a 48-page, full-colour comic book account of the life of Martin Picard within the context of the history of Québec, and featuring a vagabond pig.
Un Cochon errant is the title of the comic book, which does not appear in the English version, and whose title recalls that of popular Québec folksong Un Canadien errant (A Wandering Canadian). The song was written in 1842 by Antoine Gérin-Lajoie but has since been invoked as an anthem for other groups of French-speaking Canadians who at some point in their history were exiled by the British (the Acadian version is known as Un Acadien errant). Un Cochon errant provides a similarly biased, read potentially Anglo-alienating, account of the defining moments in Québec’s history since Picard’s birth in the late 1960s. That the political message manifests itself awkwardly in English translation is echoed by the joual used to express it: form matches content when a largely untranslatable language register is used to express (and thus protect) a likely-to-be-ill-received message. Rather than a translation, I will propose a description of the way joual operates, drawing examples from two events detailed in Un Cochon errant that illustrate what makes this language register difficult to translate.
Vive le Québec libre!
On July 24th 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle stood on a balcony at City Hall in Montréal, and to the large crowd assembled said: "Vive Montréal; Vive le Québec!" and then added "Vive le Québec libre!" with particular emphasis on the word 'libre'. ("Long live Montreal; Long live Quebec! … Long live a FREE Quebec!") De Gaulle’s pronunciation of that final phrase was met with uproarious applause as it was the rallying call for Québec nationalists to separate from the rest of Canada, and de Gaulle’s use of it was taken as French support for the movement.
In Un cochon errant, Québec’s famous balcony scene is depicted, followed by the reactions of “the common people of Québec” – sitting at the bar watching television, or working in a garage and listening to the radio. The first person says: “Sacrament! Ça va roter le baloney à Ottawa t’à l’heure…” The word “sacrament” reveals three integral elements of the flavour of joual. First: it does not stand on ceremony. “Sacrament” is a swear word, and beginning in this way sets the tone for the entire utterance. Second: it is religious. Whether in reverence or repulsion, what any given culture choses to swear about is highly revelatory of what is most taboo within that culture, be it sex, excrement, or in the case of Québec, all things Catholic. Third: it is hybrid. The word “sacrAment” as it appears in joual represents an English spelling and pronunciation of the French word “sacrement.” The word “damn!” would be a decent English-language translation of the first two elements, the tone and religious nature, but not the hybrid aspect. The last part of the phrase “t’à l’heure” reveals another integral element to joual: is a kind of direct shorthand, “t’à l’heure” being a phonetic representation of the way joual abridges certain syllables in what we might call “translation units” – in this case “tout à l’heure” meaning “later” or “after this.” Similarly, with the second speech bubble on this page, a mechanic says “Comment? Que c’est qu’y a dit?” which in standard French would be “Qu’est-ce que c’est qu’IL a dit” and in English “What? What did he say?” - again, a weak translation in that it loses the flavour of the shorthand.
As for the meat of the statement: “ça va roter le baloney à Ottawa” finds a rough equivalent in standard English as “they’ll be burping baloney in Ottawa.” What gets lost in a standard English translation here is the way “ça va roter” is passive, not actually “they’ll be burping baloney” but literally “it’ll be burping baloney,” thereby undermining the subjectivity of the powers that be in the Canadian capital by making the subject an impersonal “it” (rather than the personal subjet pronoun “ils”). Speaking of “burping” and “baloney” are further examples of the familiar register of joual, as well as its frequently frank and direct references to bodily functions, hence what Michel Tremblay was gesturing towards when he said: “We talk as we are. We are, we’ve always been the cheap people of Canada, and we speak in a cheap way.” “Baloney” is the cheapest of cheap foods: a processed sandwich meat made with the unmentionable leftovers once the rich (read English) have selected the prime cuts. Thus, “Sacrament! Ça va roter le baloney à Ottawa t’à l’heure…” translates as “Damn! They’ll be burping baloney in Ottawa tonight…” or a more literal (foreignized) “Sacrament! It’ll be baloney burps in Ottawa later…” meaning “de Gaulle’s message is not going to go down well with the Federal government” – all of which lose the undermined presence of (the) English in joual. And indeed, the speech was a diplomatic fiasco and condemned by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, whose response was that "Canadians do not need to be liberated."
Just Watch Me
Lester B. Pearson may have spoken too soon. By 1970, Canada had a new Prime Minister: Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Trudeau garnered the respect of English-Canada and the distrust of many Québécois when he instituted the War Measures Act in response to the kidnapping of British Trade Commissioner James Richard Cross and the kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte, who was the Minister of Labour and Vice-Premier of Québec, by members of Front de Libération Québécois (FLQ). Even a cursory assessment of the French and English origins of the names of the people involved in this incident reveals the inadequacy of a simplistic English versus French paradigm to summarize Canadian and Québec politics. Pierre Trudeau was a representative of Canadian Federal powers, Pierre Laporte was kidnapped and murdered by the FLQ, and James Cross was kidnapped but released two months later by the FLQ. As seen in the previous example, joual is hybrid. What is important to understand about this hybridity is that “English” does not occupy a fixed, say negative, position within joual. It is, in fact, the same for religion. There is no consistent dichotomy whereby any one language or institution is always good or the inverse.
When asked by English media how far he would go with the armed guards and warrant-free searches of citizens, Trudeau famously replied “just watch me.” That was on October 13th, 1970. Three days later, Trudeau delivered the French speech depicted on pages 26 and 27 of Un Cochon errant. Here, the comic strip dramatizes the different registers occupied by “proper” French (and the suspect powers who use it), English speakers with their overt abuse, and joual. In this episode, Martin Picard is four years old and stuck at a roadblock with his father and brother while another vehicle is being searched by armed soldiers. Picard’s mother is listening to Trudeau’s speech on the radio when his father calls. “Mon doux! On est-y en guerre?” (My goodness! Are we at war?) she thinks to herself as the phone rings. In French, “doux” replaces (that is to say softens) “Dieu” much in the same way “goodness” does “God” in English. Joual makes frequent use of this technique, its users deriving increasingly creative and humorous expressions to swear without technically swearing (tabarnoushe for tabarnac, criss for Christ, caline for calice, or invoking fake and funny alliterative Saint names à la “c’est dur en Saint Siflette!”) to respectfully disrespect, to walk the fine line between revering and reviling. In the comic strip, “doux” becomes “Dieu” again when Picard’s father explains why they are late getting home.
Further illustrations of the way joual dances with and between registers are present in the phrase “on est-y en guerre?” First, “on” occupies a more familiar register but represents roughly the same subject as “nous,” a subtlety lost with the English pronoun “we.” Second, in French, there are two ways to ask a question: preceding a declarative sentence with “est-ce que” (hence: “est-ce qu’on est en guerre), or by inverting the order of the subject and verb (“est-on en guerre”). “Est-on en guerre” is unusual, however, because the inversion method of asking a question occupies a higher register than “est-ce que” questions, but then “on” indicates a lower register of French. Joual circumvents the issue by creating a kind of semi-inversion, where the subject “on” is left in its primary position, and the inversion is effected with a “false” pronoun – “y” which in standard French replaces a place, and in joual is often used instead of “il” for ease of speech – but here serves no referential purpose. Here, “y” is no longer replacing a noun - its function is to keep the beat in the cadence of joual. Joual does not respect distinctly consistent and separate language registers just as it does not allow for Catholicism or English to occupy any single, consistent hierarchical rank. Instead, joual expresses the weight and richness of the omnipresence of both language and religious politics in Québec.
Translating Joual With Food
If one were to seek an inter-semiotic equivalent to this omnipresence in Québécois cuisine, it would be pork and maple syrup, and the resulting taste is as difficult to translate into words as the names that accompany many traditional dishes are to translate into English. For instance, a traditional cabane à sucre (maple sugar shack) meal might begin with slices of smoked pork jowl, deep-fried until crisp and possibly covered in maple syrup, and end with cookies made of piecrust rolled up with a mixture of butter and brown sugar. The former dish is known as des oreilles de crisse, which translates in English as “Christ’s or Sunofabitch’s ears,” while the latter, the traditionally French pets de soeurs would find an awkward English equivalent as “Nun’s farts” (or the euphemistic “Nun’s puffs”).
In her study of the works of theatre performed in Québec between 1968 and 1988, Annie Brisset observed predominantly domesticating translations of (mostly English) plays into joual, explaining this “paupérisation du significant doit mettre en relief l’aliénation du public québécois auquel est destiné le texte” (“This impoverishment of the signifier should highlight the alienation of the Québécois public for whom the text is destined.” – translation mine). For Brisset, translation conforms with / is an expression of the institutionalized norms of the society that produces it. I do not entirely agree with using the word “impoverished” in relation to a language register that has been infused with so much meaning beyond the referential; however, the weight Brisset gives the target culture in the reception of a text aptly explains the disconnect between joual texts and their non-equivalents in English. The linguistic norms and alienation expressed by joual simply do not exist in English Canada. Displaced from the context that begets the humour and thus the expressive beauty of the language, words fail where taste might offer insight (if the names of the dishes did not succeed in alienating one’s appetite – and indeed in the Martin Picard cookbooks, “oreilles de criss” is left in French). Where English falls painfully short of actual translation, the cooking of Martin Picard can be seen to step in. If joual is a kind of blunt and bawdy shorthand with hybrid linguistic constructions that mirror the fluid positions occupied by what Georges Bataille might call the sacred elements of its culture, then an argument can be made that in the brash and rich combinations of salty and sweet, there is a parallel to be drawn between joual and Martin Picard’s interpretation of traditional Québécois cuisine.
How relevant is a food metaphor to a discussion on translation (which in fact means “metaphor”)? In his 2005 essay “Qu’est-ce qu’une traduction relevante?” Jacques Derrida breaks down the many layers of potential meanings inherent to the word “relevant” as it is applied to translation, and tellingly, actually begins by invoking its association with food.
Relever first conveys the sense of cooking… like assaisonner. It is a question of giving taste, a different taste that is blended with the first taste, now dulled, remaining the same while altering it, changing it, while undoubtedly removing something of its native, original, idiomatic taste, but also while adding to it, and in the very process, more taste, while cultivating its natural taste, while giving it still more of its own taste, its own, natural flavor – this is what we call “relever” in French cooking.
Martin Picard speaks in very similar terms in relation to the menu for his “souper des filles” at which he served a full meal to the women on his staff upon an original painting by Marc Séguin.
Quand on intègre le sirop d’érable aux plats salés, il perd parfois son goût original, mais il influence tout de même le résultat final et révèle des saveurs jusque-là inconnues. Mais avant d’arriver à des plats réussis, il faut avouer que nous nous sommes énormément plantés dans nos expérimentations! Cependant, je crois que nous avons su nous RELEVER, pour mieux évoluer.
Languages do have a flavor. Accordingly, in his introduction to Au Pied de Cochon: the Album, Picard opines that “maple,” like grammar, should be taught in schools. Thus, in the previous quotation, Picard could just as easily be speaking about the relationship between “French-French” and “Québec French.” By conceiving of the taste of maple syrup as the sound of a Québécois accent, Picard’s statement could essentially translate to say that when a Québec accent is added to traditional French, it changes the flavour of the “original,” but produces a final product that reveals new layers of taste. Recalling what Brisset termed the “paupérization” of the language in some early joual translations for theatre, Picard acknowledges that adding maple syrup to salty dishes did not always work, indeed, they had to get it all wrong, repeatedly, before they were able to get something right, and evolve from there.
The bourgeois enclave that was “the theatre” in the 1960s finds a modern equivalent in today’s world of fine dining: to secure a reservation at Martin Picard’s Cabane à sucre which, like the limited run of a play, is only open for the two months in early spring when the sap is running in the maple trees, is an act of being in the know, luck and dedication. Picard’s office begins accepting e-mail requests at midnight on December first, and tables are assigned accordingly. Last year’s entire season was booked in 40 minutes. Thus the context for Picard’s cooking is decidedly high register, with a high price to match. The setting, however, remains a shack: floors and walls made of large wooden planks, picnic-style tables and benches, bathrooms visible behind the bar. The shack is not without its charms, and humour: exposed beams decorated with taxidermy coyotes, and a homemade smoker made of a repurposed barrel. Thus the stage is set for the blending of high and low registers, old and new, garbage and gold: the 12 course brunch menu literally incorporates bottom-feeders, tripes and edible gold leaf.
Because joual is a language register, it may be useful now to recall the Oxford dictionary’s definition of “register” and imagine its metaphorical application to the culinary arts, where the “vocabulary” equivalent would be the raw ingredients; pronunciation, their combination and presentation; syntax, of course, being the order in which they all appear. Martin Picard’s signature dish is maple foie gras where Québécois flavour (maple) is added to the classic French. Picard’s nose-to-tail presentation recalls old French haute-cuisine in a way similar to the way the Québec accent is said to be closer to that of Molière than current French accents. Indeed, “Rabelaisian” is the adjective Anthony Bourdain chooses to describe Picard and his cooking. The syntax of joual is the same as in other French registers: appetizer, main, and dessert, with Picard adding interludes of freshly-carved ham between courses, just to keep the beat, along with a healthy measure of decadent irreverence. “J’ADORE les carcasses!” writes Picard. “Jaime les gruger et les grignoter avec les mains et je ne sens aucune gene à m’adonner à cette activité en public.” Picard encourages a kind of medieval enjoyment of food: picture a maple-glazed pig’s head presented with a lobster emerging from its mouth, the pig’s tongue in its claw. Most importantly, however, Picard’s cooking translates the humour of joual in all its bold exuberance, salty and sweet, delicious and disgusting.
Un Cochon errant is but the introduction to Picard’s first cookbook, chosen to frame “the meat” of the content in a very particular political and linguistic context, and indeed, the mechanics of joual are operational in the recipes themselves. For example, tourtière is a classic French-Canadian dish, as integral to the traditional Christmas and New Year’s Eve réveillon as enormous family gatherings. Picard’s Tourtière du shack does not stand on ceremony, and has the classic ingredient list one’s grandmother might expect, nouns like: pie dough, egg yolk, potato, butter, onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Just as the verb is king in French, pork here is “conjugated” in the ground, braised, shredded, and – true to joual’s frank references to the body - trotter moods, and described by the “adjectives” white wine, cinnamon, clove, salt and pepper.
Then, occupying a column of its own and running alongside the “Tourtière” ingredient list, there is the “Garnish” which includes: a calf’s brain, veal sweetbreads, a slab of bacon, foie gras, Laracam (or other soft washed-rind cow’s milk cheese) and pecans, freshened by arugula and green onion. The garnish, then is a kind of “dangereux supplement” which challenges the foundational aspects of the original recipe, and supplants the origin. Indeed in the presentation of the Tourtière du shack the garnish literally explodes the centre of the traditional dish: the top crust which normally seals in the contents of the classic tourtière is instead precariously perched atop an entire wheel of Laracam, which serves as a base for the sautéed brain.
“Bien parler, c’est se respecter” (to speak well is to respect yourself) was the (can we call it) passive-aggressive dictum leveled against the people of Québec throughout the 1960s by a Liberal government looking to promote the visibility and “quality” of the French language in the province, all the while undermining the people who spoke it. Michel Tremblay’s response was rather that “Bien VIVRE c’est se respecter,” (to LIVE well is to respect yourself) and as part of the next generation of joual craftspeople, this is where Martin Picard takes the torch with his highly popular brand of culinary joual, “pour le plaisir de bien vivre et bien manger” (for the pleasure of living well and eating well). As mentioned in the introduction to this paper, rather than risk getting lost in English, Picard elected for the non-translation of the joual food names as well as the Un Cochon errant comic book introduction. In its stead, is an English missive from Anthony Bourdain. Upon spotting Bourdain at Montreal’s Au pied de cochon restaurant, Picard purportedly said to his sous-chef: “Kill him.” What followed was a “Dionysian orgy” of Bourdain’s favourite things. In his introduction to the restaurant’s eponymous cookbook, Anthony Bourdain writes:
Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal is a celebration, an ode to all things porky, ducky, fatty and wonderful… In an open kitchen, behind a long, customer-friendly counter, he has created one of the Western World’s few ‘Bullshit-Free Zones’, a place where it’s all about – and only about – what’s delicious, pleasurable and true – and where too much of a good thing is never enough.p.6
What Bourdain then experienced is a wonderful inter-semiotic illustration of the joual register dance:
...in addition to luxuriously generous, much-loved classics like cassoulet and coq au vin, Picard bombarded me with his own madly enthusiastic signature takes on Quebecois sugar-shack staples like poutine, heaping slabs of melting foie gras, foie gras sauce and foie gras fat on the already artery-clogging goodness of hand-cut frites, demi-glace and fresh cheese curds.p.7
Bourdain concludes his glowing recollection as follows: “Prior to collapsing into a blissed-out fugue state, I remember two maple-glazed roasted heads of suckling pig being placed in front of me. I woke up with a mouthful of perfectly cooked cheek and crispy skin between my teeth.”
Insisting on the fashionable terroir aspects of classic Québec dishes, while adding ingredients used in haute gastronomie, Catherine Turgeon-Gouin argues that Picard grants mythical status to Québec’s foodways: omnipresent and thus unquestioned, carnivorous gluttony and bourgeois excess are passed off beneath the cloak of Québec folklore. Turgeon-Gouin draws upon Barthes’ notion of myth, developed in his 1957 essay “Myth Today,” as a system of communication, not a narrative in and of itself but a means of conveying that narrative. I would argue that joual offers a direct illustration of the way myth operates, agreeing with Turgeon-Gouin’s application of myth to Picard’s cooking insomuch as it is a form of food joual. Take for instance, the omnipresence of foie gras in Picard’s cooking. The French luxury ingredient par excellence has come under fire elsewhere for its flagrant disregard for both human health and animal wellbeing: foie gras is in fact the engorged liver of a duck who has been force-fed butter, or in Picard’s case corn and maple syrup. Yet today Au Pied de Cochon is, by its own assessment, probably the biggest seller of foie gras in Canada, if not North-America. Among the sixteen recipes listed in the chapter entitled PDC Favourites, eight highlight foie gras, five of which do so by adding it to poutine, hamburger, pizza, and a signature hot dog pronounced, and thus spelled “Hot Doye.” Thus fat in both its high and low register forms are conflated in a single dish, the disgusting is elevated to the sacred at Picard’s temple of lard, and the criticism rightly leveled against foie gras is dissimulated by the down-to-earth aura of joual. Martin Picard even jovially transmutes himself into the position of the ducks, insisting:
I love foie gras so much that sometimes I think that my own liver must be a fairly decent size itself, and that I could perhaps whittle strips off of it to supply the restaurant. But, unlike the ducks, my liver has been mostly stuffed with fermented grapes and barley.
What better situation for myth to operate than the kind of blissed-out fugue state described by Bourdain, where the less palatable components of traditional Québec values are swallowed (for instance the blatant racism of the notion of “pure-laine” or the classist hypocricy in the fact the farmers responsible for this meal could themselves never afford to eat Au Pied de cochon) and the cheque is delivered.
It is not for everyone to love and appreciate the excesses of joual, and as with all “bending” practices between socio-political categories, both Picard and Tremblay’s aesthetic can tip towards caricature and camp, with all their political implications. Picard’s Sugar Shack cookbook sees the emblematic Canada Goose doused in barbeque sauce, and in his recipe for “Confederation Beaver” the animal is stuffed with its own tail. Martin Picard even has a recipe for squirrel sushi in which he specifies that the head, tail and feet be retained for presentation, lest we forget what we are consuming.
On the opening page of the Au Pied de Cochon: Temple of Lard cookbook are anonymous notes and messages. Among the accolades is the transcription of a telephone message from a caller recorded at 6:00 one morning:
Yes, hello… I just want to tell you that yesterday, Wednesday, I went to your restaurant, and all I can say is that your ad campaign is performing miracles indeed, seeing how you’ve got all those people standing in line outside your restaurant, like so many porkers waiting for their feed, and you managing to unload a pile of shit on them once they get inside. Congratulations! It’s so good! You’re all going to get rich just selling shit, with that fat pig with the three-day beard acting like a slob behind the bar… So À la di Stasio, keep up the good work. It’s all so good! It’s bound to draw quite a crowd. But what a pile of shit, eh! Foie gras with maple syrup and bacon… That’s really easy to digest at night. So, keep it up, you bunch of pigs, it all suits you right to the ground.p.9
Characteristically, Picard’s response in the French version of the book gets lost in translation: “L’homme cherchait sans doute une oreille attentive pour partager sa crise de foie” or “This man was undoubtedly looking for a sympathetic ear to share his…” but here is where words fail us: “crise de foie” literally means “liver crisis” and is the French for the indigestion that results from over-indulgence (there is, of course, no English-Protestant equivalent). Furthermore, “foie” meaning “liver” is homophonic with “foi” meaning faith: thus “crise de foi” also translates as a crisis of faith, the potential result of a different kind of over-indulgence.
With the differences between Canadian English language registers being less marked and politicized than those of Canadian French, there has been a kind of silence between Canada’s two solitudes. Early translations of Michel’s Tremblay’s Les Belles-soeurs were unable to recreate the shock of Québec audiences hearing THAT register (joual) spoken in THAT context (the theatre), and thus the point of the play was lost in English. Furthermore, English slang fell short of communicating the clever hybrid and register-bending aspects of joual. Thus, much of Tremblay’s humour was lost in English as well – that is until a more recent version saw the play translated into Glaswegian Scots by Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay, but that is material for another paper. Otherwise, the alternative to impoverished translations has been non-translation, examples of which we saw in comparing the French and English versions of Martin Picard’s cookbooks. But where language fails, other senses and cultural manifestations can come through. With a brief linguistic introduction to the key elements of joual, we can leave languages aside and allow the food to do the translation. Picard’s recipes speak a very rich and eloquent culinary joual. In these times where Québec is actively defining its patrimony, joual is an attitude being adopted in the naming practices of several of the province’s finest foodies, from the popular Unibroue brewery (home of Don de Dieu, La Fin du monde and Maudite) (God’s Gift, The End of the World and Damned beers), and the recent renovation of a Catholic church into hell-themed restaurant OMG Burger in Sherbrooke, Québec. The risk, of course, is that “joual” and “Québécois” or “Québec-French” all come to be used interchangeably, repeatedly striking a single note, not unlike the flavor of maple syrup in its cuisine, for better and for worse. The fact is that there is a myriad of ways to speak and play with register, just as there is a great deal of cultural and linguistic diversity in Québec.
Les Belles-soeurs is a two-act play set in working-class Montreal. It is the story of a woman, Germaine, who has won a million of the customer reward stamps grocery stores used to give away with purchase. When pasted in booklet, these stamps could be collected and put towards earning kitchen appliances, lawn furniture, etc. Thus, Germaine has invited a group of loosely-related women, friends and neighbours, to gather at her home and help her to paste the stamps in booklets. This action becomes the backdrop from which each woman, in turn, steps forward and presents a monologue, her truth about her monotonous, pitiful, repressed and wasted existence - her “maudite vie plate.”
Martin Picard, Au Pied de Cochon: The Album (Montréal, 2006) p.7.
This section does not aim to translate joual. In fact, it argues that English cannot properly translate it. This is why we turn away from language and towards food as vehicle for communication.
Michel Tremblay, “Michel Tremblay defends joual” CBC radio broadcast, July 5, 1972.
Nicola Danby, who translated the recipes from Au Pied de Cochon: The Album into English, said the turnaround time for this massive self-published undertaking was a mere 26 days. Anecdotally, Savoyane Henri-Lepage (a friend of Danby’s and partner of Tom Tassel, who wrote the graphic novel) recalls that Martin Picard thought it to be “too Québécois” for English audiences – though as a translator herself, she disagrees. (Interview with Nicola Danby, July 20th, 2015, Montréal).
The Gérin-Lajoie version was written after the Lower Canada (now Québec) Rebellion of 1837–38; the Acadians, suffered mass deportation from their Maritime homeland in the Great Upheaval between 1755 and 1763.
Inter-lingual translation is but one form of the art, which also includes intra-lingual translation (for example between standard French and joual) and inter-semiotic translation (from one form of expression to another, such as from novel to film, or in this case from ideology to foodways).
Annie Brisset, “Sociocritique de la traduction. Un corpus québécois,” in Cahiers de recherche sociologique 12 (1989): 59.
In the first half of the last century, the French College of Sociology elaborated a definition of the sacred based on this kind of bipolarity. In his 1912 study La forme élémentaire de la vie religieuse, Émile Durkheim writes that “the whole religious life gravitates around two contrary poles between which there is the same opposition between the pure and the impure, the saint and the sacrilegious, the divine and the diabolic. But while these two aspects of the religious life oppose one another, there is a close kinship between them… The (impure things) are no less forbidden than the (most holy things): they are withdrawn from circulation alike.” Durkheim also noted a dynamism in the sacred whereby the pure and impure frequently switch places: “the corpse, which begins by inspiring terror and aversion, is later regarded as a venerated relic.” Durkheim’s conclusion is that “the pure and impure are not two separate classes, but two varieties of the same class, which includes all sacred things… The pure is made out of the impure, and reciprocally. It is in the possibility of these transmutations that the ambiguity of the sacred consists.” (Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. Joseph Ward Swain, New York: The Free Press, 1965, p.456.) Georges Bataille also noted the double meaning of the Latin sacer: soiled as well as holy. Bataille theorized the notion of heterology, and used the terms heterogenous and sacred interchangeably, in his study of social life. Bataille writes of “an identity of opposites between glory and dejection, between exalted and imperative (higher) forms and impoverished (lower) forms. This opposition splits the whole of the heterogenous world.” (The Psychological Structure of Fascism p.144-145). Similarly, in his comprehensive analysis of the sacred, Roger Caillois wrotes: “(One pole) attracts, the other repulses; one is noble, the other ignoble, one provokes respect, love, recognition, the other disgust, horror and fright.” (L’Homme et le sacré. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1939, p.31)
Jacques Derrida, “What is a “Relevant” Translation?” trans. by Lawrence Venuti in Critical Enquiry 27 (Winter 2001) , p.195.
Martin Picard, Cabane à sucre Au Pied de Cochon (Montréal: Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon, 2012), p.234.
A language register is the degree of formality (as evidenced by the choice of vocabulary, pronunciation and syntax) deemed appropriate to the communicative purpose, social context, and standing of the user.
Au Pied de Cochon : l’Album p.358.
Catherine Turgeon-Gouin, “The Myth of Québec Traditional Cuisine at Au Pied de Cochon” in CuiZine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures Vol.3, No.2 (2012).
Picard offers a justification of the maligned force-feeding of ducks in his Au Pied de Cochon: The Album, explaining that it is only twice a day in their last 12 days before slaughter. The farmer force feeds them corn (not butter), with each feeling taking about 5 seconds. Thus, Picard assures us, the birds spend less than 2 minutes total being force fed – although there is no mention of how unwell their engorged livers may make them feel between feedings. (p.28)
Martin Picard, Au Pied de Cochon: The Album (Montréal, 2006) p.29.
Michel Tremblay. The Guid Sisters and Other Plays, trans. Bill Findlay, Martin Bowman, John Van Burek and Bill Glassco (London: Nick Hern Books, 1991).