Friday, 5 December 2014

Review: Canadian Doukhobor Foodways

This summer I was asked to peer review an article by a recent graduate of Simon Fraser University, B.C., Canada, who is now a graduate student at Oxford University, U.K., to be published in a British university journal. I did not know the student or the journal.

Shutek, Jennifer. ‘Though Undoubtedly Religious Fanatics, [they] have proved themselves good farmers' : Perceiving and Remembering the Canadian Doukhobors Through Foodways, HARTS & Minds: The Journal of Humanities and Arts, v.2, n.1, August 2014.

I was first offended by the title which presented Freedomites as Doukhobors. You know how I try to teach my readers that Doukhobors are not 'Religious Fanatics.' For over a century Freedomites have been falsely presented as Doukhobors. This seemed to be another example of name hijacking.

I emailed 9 corrections to the editors about misspellings, omissions, misunderstandings and incomplete explanations.

When I shared my note with webmaster Andrei Conovaloff, he found the article already posted on the HARTS & Minds website, and saw more errors. Only a few of my 9 corrections were used. Together we decided it would be best to post our own edited version of this article for people who now rely nearly entirely on the Internet for information. Many minor changes were needed.

Our revised article, Canadian Doukhobor Foodways, has a much shorter simple title, links to the original, edits and comments in red nest to original text, and links to nearly all the online references and technical words used. It presents a lesson in how easy it is to misinterpret literature while doing research. When possible a researcher should interview subjects.

The article is not bad for a college history senior. The mission of the journal HARTS & Mind is 'to give more postgraduate students a chance to have their work published, for their resume. Shutek did a good job listing 51 footnotes and 48 sources, giving a premise — 'delimiting communal boundaries, and in defining the Self and the Other' —, and describing how descendants of immigrants maintain their heritage through food. It appears that for convenience she selected her printed sources from one library and the rest from the Internet, which limited the scope of her paper.

We feel too much space was used trying to summarize a complicated, delicate history, which reduced space for the intent of the title — foodways. Of about 10 pages of text (2-11), 7 pages were mostly history which left 3 pages for discussing foodways and a conclusion.

Perhaps a better goal would be to compare foodways among several immigrant groups from Eastern Europe in Canada. But Ukrainians, Mennonites, Hutterites, Slavs, Bulgarians, Russians, etc., like Doukhobors, are not homogeneous groups. We all have many divisions, faiths, varied traditions, and people dispersed along a broad spectrum of isolation-integration-assimilation over time, which is difficult for an outsider to perceive.

A narrow approach would focus on one or a few food types. When searching for translations for sukhari (dried-bread), a variety of similar dried breads were found in many cultures. The same for pirogi and borshch. How these are spelled in English, preserved and altered, compared and contrasted, as heritage markers across immigrant groups and culture classes over time and generations, would be interesting research.

Update: Since this was posted, I have received correspondence from both the author and editor, to which I replied on December 12, 2014, and attached at the bottom of Canadian Doukhobor Foodways.


  1. Gunter Schaarschmidt7 December 2014 at 04:17

    Good work, Koozma. It always seems so much easier to use the principle "pars pro toto" when authors are trying to prove something. The literature on almost every ethnic, religious, philosophical, or other minority group is filled with such approaches - it would probably take a scholar's lifetime to correct all of this misinformation even when it comes to more practical matters such as foodstuff.

  2. Mary-Sue Haliburton7 December 2014 at 13:05

    Thank you Koozma for doing this service to university validity-in-research, and for sharing details about the process as well as your insights.

    Having written my MA thesis years ago, I am perhaps more aware than some people of the process of fact-checking, or as my prof Alvin Lee called it, Validity in Interpretation. Being in English Lit, the interpretation relied on the hermaneutical circle (the whole in terms of the parts and the parts in terms of the whole) rather than the externalities. The major aspect that is external to interpretation is the word-meaning evolution over time.

    I am curious about how you came to be invited to do this. What has been your previous contact or publishing history that the university would turn to you to verify the article?

    I was thinking about the term 'non-killing' and it strikes me as verbal double-negative. It's inadequate and weak, just like the opposite of 'entropy' (the dominance of the materialistic model of the universe is shown in the adoption of the term negentropy' instead of coming up with an expression indicating the 'Cosmic Life Force" or "Etheric Energy Universe" or some similar term.

    We need Positive Semantics. We have to express the idea that Consciousness is primary and material is suborinate thereto and secondary.

    1. You asked why I was selected to do a peer review? It was partly a matter of connections. Also it was a matter that I am knowledgeable on the subject because of my extensive writing and publishing works.

      As for the use of 'nonkilling', this was carefully selected to make the public discussion more precise and therefore more measurable. If you Google the Center for Global Nonkilling, you will see the strategic reasons why this term was chosen.

    2. RE: term 'non-killing'

      When I asked the same question, I was told: "There is:
      — KILLING peace and
      — NON-KILLING peace."

      This short lesson is hidden within extensive explanations.