Opinion » Editorial

Food for life and for the soul



As the snow begins to fall in earnest, everyone has that urge to nest and hunker down for the cold season.

Of course, part of this genetically programmed desire is to cook and eat delicious food to sustain us through those long winter months (along with all the winter sports we enjoy).

That is, no doubt, part of the reason that Whistler's annual festival of food and fun, Cornucopia, is ever popular as an attraction.

The resort is heading into the second and final weekend of Cornucopia with some of the most popular events — House Party, Night Market, Champagne By Night, Poured Grand Tasting and the Bearfoot's World Oyster Invitational — all set to take place. (There are dozens of other events — head to whistlercornucopia.com for more information and tickets.)

The festival is now in its 21st year. Originally a weekend festival, it grew to five days in 2012.

There was a general feeling that the festival was exactly what Whistler needed in its shoulder season and it made perfect sense for the resort to host an extravaganza of food and wine given its reputation for gastronomy.

Statistics proved organizers right.

In 2011, the Canadian Sport Tourism Association put Cornucopia under the microscope and concluded the event produced $4 million in total economic impact in B.C.; $2.3 million in Whistler. Chances are if this study was redone, this year the numbers would be far higher.

The festival was expanded significantly in 2013 — from five days to 11.

The change did not come without growing pains though, as various eateries struggled to host events midweek and draw enough people to make them worthwhile.

That first extended festival was a learning experience, and true to form the organizers met with stakeholders and worked on how to make the following year's event more successful for everyone.

In 2014, ticket sales paced 23 per cent ahead of 2013 and Tourism Whistler (TW) reported there was a 69-per-cent increase in ticket sales — the longer festival looked to be finding its way.

Said long-time festival organizer Sue Eckersley recently: "We've been on an aggressive growth curve for six years now, and so many events are now just coming home to roost. They've found their place, they're busy, and they're successful."

She went on to tell Pique that the growth of the festival has coincided with a wider rise in gastronomic tourism. "I think the culinary traveller has also expanded as we've expanded. Independent culinary travel is huge. We're just tapping into a market that simply exists right now," she mused.

This year ticket sales are expected to reach 10,000.

Over the years, the festival has received support from the Resort Municipality of Whistler through the Festivals, Events and Animation program. This year it received $40,000, as it did in 2016. At the height of its funding in 2013 it received $75,000. These funds flow from the provincial Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) money, which comes to Whistler from the province based on a hotel-tax revenue formula, which not only takes into account the number of rooms occupied, but also the cost of each room.

The RMI funds, about $6.6 million for Whistler in 2016, are under scrutiny by B.C.'s new NDP government and have only been secured until the spring of 2018.

The RMI funds are well spent on Cornucopia.

This is a festival that resonates with the very fabric of the human soul. We are all connected by food and the traditions around making and eating it. It is a focal point of our social and family lives across all belief systems and cultures.

No wonder it can draw us all together in celebration.

And with the Nourish offerings as part of Cornucopia, it also offers time for reflection on how we relate to food and how that food relates to the very Earth that grows it. It is a chance to think about sustainability in our kitchens.

To eat is to be human and that creates a connectivity between all of us. Cornucopia affords us an opportunity to try new foods, new experiences, to learn from teachers and even those we dine with. At its heart, it is about connecting with those around us to sustain not just our bodies but also our souls.

So... go out and enjoy the festival's final weekend!