Review in Canadian Dimension

Food Sovereignty in Canada
Creating Just and Sustainable Food Systems

Edited by Annette Aurélie Desmarais, Nettie Wiebe and Hannah Wittman  

Where did the term “food sovereignty” come from and what makes it distinct from other discourses related to food? Food Sovereignty: Reconnecting Food, Nature and Community aims to explain the concept both as a system of thought and as practice. The editors have pulled together a truly exceptional collection with pieces from renowned activists and experts in food policy and politics including Miguel Altieri (professor, advisor to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and prolific author of more than 200 publications largely focusing on agroecology), Walden Bello (professor, activist, author and Member of Parliament in the Philippines), and Raj Patel (activist, academic and author of such titles as Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing). Chapter subjects range from political theory to case studies such as agrofuels and their effect on food sovereignty. One particularly excellent chapter (“Seeing Like a Peasant”) simply transcribes interviews with two farmers and leaders of La Vía Campesina, the movement of small producers, peasants and farm workers that is the driving force behind the food sovereignty movement.

As Madeleine Fairbairn, author of the second chapter, “Framing Resistance,” notes, frames for understanding and interpreting global food issues are always “historically contingent, rooted in the existing food regime and influenced by the dominant political and economic ideology.” In the case of food sovereignty, this frame emerged in the 1990s from the crisis caused by the neoliberal corporate food regime. The corporate food regime first surfaced a decade earlier, emphasizing industrial, export-oriented agriculture. As a result, peasant populations have increasingly been dispossessed and displaced, urban poor populations have skyrocketed, and those farmers who remain are increasingly dependent on transnational agrifood corporations whose practices continually degrade the environment.

Food sovereignty also emerged as a critique of past food frames such as “food security,” which were popular throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Food security focuses on levels of food production and distribution as the roots of past food crises, failing to question the underlying political, social and economic structures of the food system - who produces food, how, where and for whom. The solutions advocated by proponents of food security focused on maximizing food production and access opportunities - solutions that essentially support the status quo.

Past food frames have all been articulated by elites in developed nations. Food sovereignty is the first food frame created by the oppressed - peasants, farm workers, and indigenous communities. It has emerged as a “counter-frame” - a rejection of the corporate food regime and the food security frame - and attacks the systemic root causes of hunger and poverty while proposing radically different solutions. Food sovereignty activists advocate for collective rights and collective ownership of the means of production, focus on small-scale agriculture, reject the commoditization of food, demand state action and market regulation and value culture, bio-diversity and traditional knowledge. The neoliberal discourse is difficult to resist due to its ability to portray itself as natural and inevitable, and therefore apolitical. Food sovereignty challenges this by directly politicizing food and agriculture.

Food sovereignty lays bare the many linkages between food and agriculture, economics the environment, women’s rights and social justice. In doing so, it also reveals one of the necessary requirements to resisting and changing the current system: finding and building solidarity among people from all walks of life. Farmers and peasants, indigenous communities, environmentalists, workers, and labour activists, anti-capitalists, feminists, and human rights activists must all be united around food. Food, after all, is one thing we all have in common, not just as the energy necessary to fuel our bodies, but also as a far more integral part of our lives. - Ashley Titterton

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