A Canadian Specialty
Finding a Niche in a Tough Industry

By Andrew Tomkinson


From Tibetan tofu and spinach stir-fry to Jewish latkes and blintzes, the streets and smells of Toronto are as multicultural as the people who live in the city.  Street Eats highlights diverse cultures by showcasing local restaurants. Each week, a different culture and country are featured.  The show examines the smaller, lesser known restaurants and the owners who are for the most part native to the countries being showcased. 

An interesting point surfaces when Ali Rizvi, co-host of the show, describes the state of the Canadian television industry.  “We shouldn’t be afraid to put true Canadian content out on the global market,” he says with passion.  “By being honest about who we are, we can avoid the stereotype of being ‘America Light.’”  Sounds convincing enough, but there is a slight problem.  The industry is in a constant struggle to make a name for itself outside of the country due to a losing battle to produce Canadian programming internationally because of the costs involved and the shift in global interest.

In all this uncertainty, examples of shows that are produced locally do exist and have staying power.  Street Eats is a testament to programming that can find comfort within the industry and exemplifies what Canada has come to represent to the world; a multicultural and vibrant place.  Now in its third season, Street Eats has found a niche within the industry, with no plans for halting production.  “I think it’s a great representation of what the city has to offer,” Joy Olimpo, co-host of the show says.  “It just goes to show that this program has legs to stand on.”

Street Eats has explored Colombian, Italian, Persian, and Jewish culture. It provides a worldly feel that can reach a broad audience, something that should not be limited solely to Toronto viewers.    The show is on SUN TV, but Rizvi says he wishes that the show was on a much larger platform. He says his job is one of the best gigs in the world. “It’s great, man.  You get to eat free food and talk about it.”
According to a 2006 report from the Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA), there is “less money available to produce the quality Canadian content that will keep the eyes of Canadian viewers where we all want them: on the channels of Canadian broadcasters.”  Furthermore, production costs are rising and the funding from the government and private sources has remained static, the report says.  This is where the problem lies as many great shows are not being produced and exported.

The interest in producing Canadian television is still high, even though money is limited.  “In the face of a funding crisis, there has never been greater demand for Canadian television content. The increased demand has not been balanced by an increase in broadcaster contributions or indeed in public sector production subsidy dollars,” says the report from the CFTPA.  Rizvi agrees. “There is definitely a surge right now with Canadian producers and broadcasters to make shows that are distinctly Canadian in Canada, he says. “But not like maple syrup or Hockey Night in Canada, but a more accurate representation of what Canada is all about.”  Perhaps because Street Eats epitomizes this way of thinking, it continues to do very well in Canada.

Tess Loyson, producer for Street Eats came up with the idea for the show, and she describes the experience as unusual in that it came together very quickly.  “We’ll do a show that’s shot locally and that has a lot of ethnic content,” she says.  “The executives loved the idea and they didn’t have a show on the schedule like it.”

Both hosts say that Canadian-made television is important to the social landscape of our country.  “The world views Canada in a particular way, they don’t view it how they view America,” says Rizvi.  “Canada is a very multicultural, very cosmopolitan nation, and it’s great when a television show reflects that.” 








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