As I move into 2021, the issue of food sovereignty comes forefront to my mind as an issue that has been presented to us over and over within the media, our grocery stores, government policy and the perceived food shortages we have experienced. It also strikes a deep resonance within, in regards to self sufficiency and being responsible for feeding ourselves and how important that is. Looking at eating as an act of survival, responsibility, and health, rather than a luxury, a convenience or a duty. Looking at food as our birth right rather than a commodity. What these times have highlighted so well, is our unequal access to food and our reliance on the system. Is the system healthy? Does it have our best interests at heart? We have created a domesticated diet, a standardization of what we eat, and most of it is made my machines or imported from other countries around the world. Very few of us know about the wild foods that are available to us within the areas in which we live. Wild foods have become a restaurant luxury and a food movement. Yet we are all hunter gatherers – still connected to the process of evolution and where our food system began. This is a deep dive into our food system, it’s sustainability and the changes that need to be considered in order for the system to be healthy and sustainable – for humanity to thrive, and for the Earth to be healthy once more.
The price of food is sky rocketing, and the price we pay for getting it to us in increasing. I’m talking about the price we pay, not only in money, but in carbon footprint, contaminated and depleted soils, excessive food waste when there are those that are going hungry, and the unhealthy state of our planet as a result.
What is food sovereignty?
This concept reflects the fact that food is sacred and is given to us from Mother Earth – Creator/Spirit/The Universe (whatever your terminology) gave us all that we need. Food should not be a commodity. Food sovereignty puts the control of food into the hands of local producers and supports the local food movement. Its focus is on food for the people. It is an understanding of the traditional knowledge of growing and foraging your own food and passing that knowledge down from generation to generation.
As defined by Food Secure Canada:
“Food Sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”
When we begin to look at eating as something we do for survival and as our brith right, our perspectives can truly change. We become grateful for every piece of food we eat, and in turn, grateful to the Earth for providing it for us. We become connected to our food in an intimate way.
Currently, we see food as a convenience, a luxury, a duty, and a commodity. We have turned to convenience foods because a lot of us no longer make the time to cook and prepare meals from scratch for our families. We have just made ourselves too busy. It is a luxury because we have access to expensive foods like lobster, crab and seafood, if we have the money to buy them, and on the other hand, for the hungry, food is luxury in the most literal sense. Food is a commodity. It is part of the system. And the system is drastically unbalanced. We consider food a duty when we complain about having to cook meals, or not bothering at all because it feels like a duty – it has become an obligation. A duty is grocery shopping, an errand on your list. So what do we do? We turn to fast food – convenient food. Yet ask someone who has limited access to food what their perspective is. They see food as a way to survive, and I bet they are grateful for every morsel. We can learn so much from having nothing.
We come from a time when we were all hunter gatherers. Our ancestors were dependant on the land for their survival, and they were very respectful of that. I grew up in my great-grandmother’s garden picking fresh veggies, sitting on her porch shelling peas, and digging in the root cellar for potatoes and carrots. We ate wild meat, picked wild berries – huckleberries were my favourite – and tapped birch trees for birch sap. My grandmother made only homemade meals, desserts, and treats. She canned her own fruits and vegetables, and she wasted nothing. She also workd a part time job. It takes a lot of time, effort and commitment. It is a way of life.
By losing our foraging roots and way of life, we have lost flavours in our diet that are essential for proper gut health and functioning. Let’s face it – few of us appreciate bitter foods. Bitterness was medicine, and still is, for those who choose the herbal path and traditional way of life. Often bitter foods stimulate our gut flora and digestive juices to properly break down the food we eat. Why do so many people need to take probiotics? Maybe because we have lost wild bitter foods.
Those of us that are aware of wild foods and are active foragers, know the rules of foraging: take 10% of what is growing in that area and leave 90% for others and for the plant to regenerate. However, if we start encouraging more food foraging and more and more people are out there doing it, now we have to consider how many people are picking from that area – and there is no way to know that for sure. So the first person picking in the season comes and sees an abundant resource of wild plants and takes 10%, the next does the same, and more and more people come, and before you know it, it has dwindled to a very small patch, of which 10% is still being taken. There are just too many of us for all of us to go back to living off of the land as our only source of sustenance.
Having said that, at this time, most of us, know little to nothing about the wild foods that grow in the area in which we live; never mind how to prepare or use them. Our food system has become so domesticated and standardized, and based on global trade, that we cannot see the food and medicine right in front of our eyes – in our own back yards.
We have become so dependant on imported foods – it’s normal in everyday life, and we take it for granted. We think nothing of it’s journey to get to us. Yet we live, most of us, in areas of the world where local food is abundantly grown. We live in a place that grows it’s own apples, yet we import apples from another country. Why do we do that? To keep the perpetual wheel of trade and commerce running smoothly?
We “raise” meat animals for consumption. And yes, there are ethical farms out there giving the animals a proper life, but the majority are not. Chickens are trapped in a cage all of their lives. Most cattle are not free grazing off of the land, eating their intended diet. They are medicated, given growth hormones, and goodness knows what else. And don’t even get me started on dairy cows. Point is, we are completely inconsiderate of the lives of animals. They too are a commodity.
This is not a statement in going back to wholly living off of the land, for as nice as it would be to do that, there are just too many of us for the land to be able to support us all locally and wildly. Firstly, travelling for our food to the berry picking patch on the mountain, now-a-days, seems far fetched for most. Also, wild food grows in often unpredictable ways. One year there is an abundant harvest of berries, and the next year virtually none. And this happens in cycles with all wild food, for it too needs time for rejuvenation.
And rejuvenation is what we deprive of the soils with mass produced food. Our solution is to pump it full of chemical fertilizers, that leach into the water system, and are, in effect, contained in the food we eat. After all, plants have roots that absorb everything we put into the soil. Winter is the season for rejuvenation – for plants and for humans. Yet we are so disconnected from the cycles of the seasons, and living such a fast paced life, that we don’t understand the hibernation that is required of us in the winter. It’s not just for bears.
These days, we plant over and over in the same plots of land, without giving back to the soil naturally. We can rotate crops, or plant crops that can be tilled into the soil as natural rich fertilizers, eliminating the need for chemicals all together.
So may issues exist with our domesticated food system, Another one is pest control and spraying chemicals on the plants to avoid or get rid of pests. Again, placing toxic compounds into our soils, our water system, and our food.
We need to rethink our ways of growing food so that it is sustainable and culturally appropriate. We need to remember our roots and combine that knowledge with current technology to create a system that is sustainable, environmentally friendly to the Earth, and rich in nutrients and flavour profiles. There just isn’t space anymore for the commodity system with food. We must focus on improving our local agricultural systems, supporting our farmers, and eating locally and seasonally.
There are so many other ways we can do this too: seed saving, growing and foraging a portion of our own food, permaculture, biodynamic food growing systems, and remediation of our soils, vertical growing systems that don’t utilize plastics, just to name a few.
We have a lot of work to do when it comes to making our food system accessible and healthy for everyone. And that involves the work we have to do with our relationship to food. Eating for survival, but also eating foods rich in good energy that comes from the Earth, and is rich in nutrients and life force.
When we consume convenience foods, packaged foods, fast food, foods full of sugar, we are consuming the energy of machines and industrialization. That energy is mechanized. We are feeding ourselves exactly what we are perpetuating in our society: work hard, play less, move through the motions doing the same thing over and over, get enough energy to get the job done, throw it all away and start again the next day with the same routine. That is exhausting and wasteful energy – these foods tend to drag us down or give us a short-term rush of energy followed by a burn out. Compare that to eating foods rich in life force energy, and nutrients from the Earth. We are then feeding ourselves more life force energy. We are giving our bodies fuel, connecting to the Earth and her energy. We are feeding ourselves inspiration, creativity, the ability to grow, change and be reborn again. These foods give us vitality and life. How powerful is that? Think of the shift in our society if we truly moved away from the mentality of eating and food as convenience, luxury, duty and commodity, to eating and food as life force, creativity and vitality – food as a birth right. What if we put passion and love back into our food? Made meals for ourselves and our families from the heart and loved every minute of doing it? What if everyone had equal access to food regardless of social status?
What if we gave back to Mother Earth for all the she gives us? What if we just spent a few minutes a day in gratitude to her? Or a few minutes of personal connection with the Earth in the wild or in your own backyard? After all, the Earth gives us everything. Our system is set up to take everything from her – give nothing back – it is ruthless. We need to remember how to extend our gratitude to all the plants and animals that live here with us as part of our circle of life. We need to see again our place in this world. We are not the central playing character. We are a part of everything and everything is a part of us.
There are many views one can take on the situations we find ourselves in when it comes to food, but the one I choose to stand by is that this last year has made us all understand our dependence on the system and maybe, for some, how broken the system is. It has forced us into going back to the old ways of preserving food, making our own bread, and storing the food of the season for the winter – the way of being self sufficient. There are old schoolers like me that grew up on doing this stuff and have always done it – it is just a way of life. And then there are others that are remembering their ability to provide for themselves.
As we move through this year, I have come to have an even deeper connection to what I do and a deeper understanding of how important it is to have the knowledge and skills that I have. I appreciate my garden, my homemade bread, my preserved food, the food and medicine I gather from the land, and my homemade medicine in so many more ways. I cherish it, and feel grateful every time I open a jar of last seasons peaches in the middle of winter, or using the pesto I made with fresh nettles. I have come to know that this is one of the most important things I can do for myself and for my family. Healthy, organic, sustainable food is important – more important that we may have ever realized in the past – in my lifetime anyway. This is my job. And the money I make is not paper – it is food and medicine that I provide for myself and others. I see a resurgence of the old ways where we grow our own food, make our own bread, preserve everything we can, hunt, and gather wild foods and waste nothing. And in combination with this, the creation of something new – a new system that is truly sustainable for all and provides equally for all, while respecting and giving back to the Earth, her plants and her animals. It is a transformation of the way we live – our way of life – the way we all “thrive” – not just the way humans survive.
This is the dream. Is this a dream? I don’t think so. This is entirely possible and needed. Can we take back our food supply system into our own hands? Can we change beyond everything and create something new in our lifetime? There would be a great decrease in processed convenience foods that’s for sure. But for me, that’s a good thing. We can take back our health while we are at it.
This is also something our children need to learn how to do. They need to learn how to provide for themselves. They need to learn where their food comes from and the work it takes to get it to our tables. They need a deeper respect for fresh healthy food and so do we as a global community.
Eating locally and seasonally is becoming ever more important. We lose the carbon footprint, and gain the sustainability of local business and farmers. We lose tropical fruits, but gain food sovereignty. For every lost there is a significant gain – so really there are no loses. The system is balanced. We eat what we grow in our region, and what grows and lives in the wild. Simple. Do you crave simplicity in your life? I literally get overwhelmed by a restaurant menu when there are too many choices! Give me 5 choices and I’ll make my decision from that thank you.
Organic or biodynamic producing methods of course are important. We cannot continue to pour chemicals and toxins into the Earth and onto the plants. This affects everything. What you do to one thing, equally affects something else. The chemicals travel through the Earth into the waterways, the birds and other animals eat fruits that have been sprayed with chemicals, and we ingest and absorb those chemicals into our bodies through consumption and through the air we breathe.
It’s time to take responsibility for our own food supply and take it out of the hands of our government. It’s time to disassociate from mass meat producers that have no ethics on animal treatment. It’s time to give the animals a voice at the table. It’s time to respect and honour the lives that are taken to sustain ours. Let the plants have a voice. If you asked – what would they ask for? It’s time to reinvent the wheel and make drastic changes to the system. Let’s go back to the drawings board shall we?