Monday, November 25, 2013

Food Sovereignty and Our Work

Food sovereignty is a very important, emerging concept and movement these days.

According to Wikipedia,
"Food sovereignty", a term coined by members of Via Campesina in 1996, asserts the right of people to define their own food systems. Advocates of food sovereignty put the individuals who produce, distribute and consume food at the center of decisions on food systems and policies, rather than the corporations and market institutions they believe have come to dominate the global food system.

Sometimes food sovereignty is spoken of by name.  More often, however, it is lingering just below the surface in the great work so many people are doing in the local, fair, organic, sustainable and good food movement.

Organic and sustainable farming organizations, community farms, farmers markets, school and college gardens and farms, home gardens, food policy councils, permaculture, cooking classes, community gardens and so much more are all essential ingredients of food sovereignty.

The incredible number of people who are working to get labels on food containing GMOs are also part of the movement for food sovereignty. Former Congressman Rob Simmons traces that sovereignty in this country to our Constitution which starts "We the People."  If the people want to know what is in their food, that is their right. The agricultural institutions and organizations which oppose labeling, roughly the same folks who have opposed organic farming for over 30 years, miss this point.  They are not friends of food sovereignty.

In September, Yale University hosted an academic conference on Food Sovereignty with speakers from all over the world.  (See the schedule and many of the papers that were presented here.)

The next day I was fortunate to hear one of those speakers, Eric Holt-Gimenez, the executive director of Food First who was also a conference organizer, at a Master's Tea at Yale's Morse College. His message and description of food sovereignty was powerful.
See one of his blogs here.

The next day there were two stories relating to food sovereignty on NPR's Morning Edition.

The first was about the idea of American farmers "Feeding the World." That phrase is especially common among those involved with industrial scale production of monocultures of genetically engineered corn and soybeans, the basis of the American Industrial Food System.

On its face that claim is ridiculous since 40 percent of the corn goes into cars and much of the rest of the corn and soybeans feeds confined animals in factory farms.  And the grain that is exported to poor countries often has the side effect undercutting prices for local farmers and driving them off the land into cities.  Be sure to follow the link to Mardi Mellon's blog on the topic.  She suggests "helping the world feed itself" as a better approach.

The second story was about the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) whose proponents would have, among many other things, Japanese rice farmers abandon their traditional rice growing for their communities and country and start growing fancy rice for export to China and then have Japan import cheaper rice from other countries.

The powers that be, the entire industrial food system, make that money-based decision sound so sensible.  But that approach puts large corporations between the earth and our mouths.  Those corporations have one mandate-profits. As they have followed that mandate, the results have been eroded and degraded soils all over the planet as well as degraded health in those who depend on the corporations for food.  We have never produced so much food and there has rarely if ever been more hungry people on the planet.

As the industrial proponents solve for just profit, and more sales of whatever they produce, even if it gives us diabetes, heart disease and obesity, proponents of food sovereignty and good local food solve for environmental restoration, slowing and adapting to climate change, for health, education and strong communities.

Keep up the good work. I welcome your thoughts.

Bill Duesing
CT NOFA Organic Advocate

Garlic planting at a Knox Community Garden in Hartford.
A step toward food sovereignty.

The opposite of Food Sovereignty, at Wesleyan University and most institutions of "higher" learning. Taking money out of the community and bringing in diabetes, trash and other problems.

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