Review in Rural Sociology

Food Sovereignty in Canada
Creating Just and Sustainable Food Systems

Edited by Annette Aurélie Desmarais, Nettie Wiebe and Hannah Wittman  

In recent decades, there have been periodic surges of protest against the globalized food system, which is based on large-scale, industrialized production and a neoliberal market framework. There are various approaches to creating viable alternative food systems, making books like Food Sovereignty in Canada: Creating Just and Sustainable Food Systems, edited by Hannah Wittman, Annette Aurélia Desmarais, and Nettie Wiebe, welcome for their provision of detailed information about specific approaches to alternative food, in this case food sovereignty.

The editors of this volume provide various reasons why a new approach to food production is needed in Canada. First, Canada has not successfully addressed the increasing problems of food insecurity, malnutrition, and obesity. Second, the export-focused and industrialized nature of the current food system places much financial pressure on farmers, leading to low net incomes and high levels of debt. Finally, industrial food production has a negative environmental impact through soil degradation, pollution of air and water, and decreasing biodiversity. The contributors to this volume believe a food sovereignty approach is required if Canada is to begin healing its food system, and this volume is offered as a step in that direction.

This book offers 11 chapters detailing why food sovereignty is important for Canada’s food system, how various groups are working toward this goal, and the changes required for the food sovereignty model to become more widespread. Food sovereignty is broadly defined as the rights of people (nations, farmers, communities, etc.) to have control over their own food system, meaning methods of production, types of markets, and means of distribution, among others. Food sovereignty exists in opposition to a food system controlled by the whims of inter- national food markets and corporations, thereby removing control from the producers and consumers of food in local areas.

Darrin Qualman summarizes the current state of agriculture in Canada, offering one of the strongest chapters in this volume. He compiles data concerning the levels of debt and income of Canadian farmers to show that, since the 1970s, as exports have risen and agribusinesses have gained more control, net income for farmers has dropped significantly, from nearly $13 billion to less than $0 (25). In other words, all of the profit from the markets went to various agribusiness corporations, and none to the farmers themselves. The burden of supporting farmers then falls on the taxpayers, who prevent a collapse in the farming sector by paying into various farmer-support programs. Farmers also need to take out loans to fund their production, which total $64 billion. The extremely precarious financial position of farmers in Canada is cause to worry about the future of the profession, as fewer young people are willing to take on the risks. The author argues that moving to a food sovereignty approach can help solve many of these problems by provid- ing farmers more control over their production, thereby better ensuring the future of the profession and the livelihood of those involved. Following Qualman’s essay are chapters that provide information about groups already working toward implementing food sovereignty in Canada, as well as chapters that show how food sovereignty can address issues of social inequality. Chapter 4, by Annette Aurélia Desmarais, Carla Roppel, and Diane Martz, is particularly insightful because it highlights the fact that although women are a major part of food pro- duction, distribution, and consumption they are too often neglected in policy conversations. To protest this, a group of farm women drafted a plan to implement food sovereignty in Canada, an approach they believe inherently works toward equalizing gender relations. Chapter 6, by Dawn Morrison, is similarly notable because it elaborates the distinct, and often negative, experiences of indigenous populations with global-

ized food production leading to high levels of obesity and food insecurity. This chapter presents the traditional indigenous relationship with food and the land as particularly well suited to informing a food sovereignty approach because it is based on respect for environmental sustainability, the inherent right to food, ubiquitous participation in food production, and communal self-determination concerning food production. All of these tenets are integral to a national food sovereignty approach, according to the author.

This volume also offers concrete advice for how to practice food sovereignty in Canada. I found the eighth chapter, by Rachel Engler-

Stringer, to be particularly constructive, as it deals with issues of social inequality within local food movements, many of which I analyze in my own work. Oftentimes, these inequalities are unrecognized by those in alternative food movements, who prefer to assume local food initiatives necessarily address issues of social inequality. Additionally, efforts to increase community food security often focus on changing individual food habits, instead of recognizing and addressing the root causes of food insecurity on a structural level. Engler-Stringer points to these weaknesses and offers suggestions, such as establishing urban agricultural endeavors that consider community health a main goal, to create a truly inclusive food system that emphasizes public health in addition to giving some measure of control back to the farmer in the form of food sovereignty.

This volume offers a wide array of perspectives and information about the food sovereignty approach in Canada, but it is lacking in some ways. For instance, I would like to have seen a stronger argument in the introduction for why food sovereignty is the best approach to altering the Canadian food system. Additionally, a concluding chapter that sums up the points of convergence and divergence among the contributions, as well as what the editors consider the “take-away” message of the volume, would help the reader come away with a strong grasp of the main points. I also wish the authors had offered a greater empirical analysis of the negative impact of industrial food production and the positive impact of food sovereignty, in addition to the strong theoretical discussion offered in many of the chapters. Such material would further substantiate their claims and would help convince those who are con-

ceptually skeptical of food sovereignty, but who may be persuaded by practical evidence of its feasibility and desirability.

Still, Food Sovereignty in Canada: Creating Just and Sustainable Food

Systems is a highly informative volume that offers a wide range of infor-

mation for anyone interested in the Canadian food system and potential alternatives to the conventional system. Its discussion of specific organi-

zations and activities currently geared toward implementing food sovereignty in Canada is especially worthwhile for those looking for ways to be more involved in alternative food systems. The variety of opinions represented is also a strength. I would recommend this volume for people with prior interest in and desire to become better acquainted with alternative food systems in Canada, but not necessarily for those who are just being introduced to alternative food. - Chelsea A. Bailey, University of Kansas

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