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Wins in the Long Food Sovereignty Fight

— November 16, 2017

More than ever, food sovereignty movements around the world are needed to reconnect us to the land and each other. Happily, there are victories to report!

If you want to eat a particular food, shouldn’t you have the freedom to do so? Especially if you believe it to be more healthy than the alternatives? That’s one question behind the long struggle for food sovereignty in communities across our country and around the world.

According to the 2007 Declaration of Nyéléni, “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. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.” That’s a mouthful! But it likely means the difference between health and sickness, for people, for communities, and ultimately, for the planet.

Generations of young Americans have grown up hearing the story of the first Thanksgiving. The first harvest of European crops would have been less than plentiful, but the locals kept the newbies alive with their bounty. Unfortunately, later colonists would go on to use food as a weapon, destroying Native foodways as they deliberately hunted the bison to near extinction and used the reservations as a dumping ground for industrial food products. The food sovereignty movement is one way that Native communities are healing the damage done to their land and health.

In the Alaskan Arctic village of Kotzebue, for example, the Inupiat elders in the local nursing home were required to eat only USDA-approved foods, such as bananas flown in from thousands of miles away. This didn’t sit well with the old timers, who were used to foods gathered and hunted in their rich environment. They were allowed only one potluck per month to feast on the foods they really loved, like seal oil, but which would make any USDA nutritionist cringe. Happily, Alaska’s then-Senator Mark Begich (D) stepped in. Recognizing the cultural and health reasons for eating traditional foods, an addition to the 2014 Farm Bill provided for “the service of traditional foods in public facilities.” Now, Kotzebue’s nursing home has an official hunter and fisherman, Cyrus Harris, who “cherishes the job that allows him to continue traditional subsistence activities and to serve his respected elders.”

Hands on the Land for food sovereignty and climate justice, posted by Transnational Institute.

Food sovereignty isn’t just about nutrition, it’s also about allowing small time food producers direct access to their customer base. On October 31st, Maine governor Paul LePage (R) signed a into law a bill that eased restrictions on some direct-to-consumer sales of certain homemade food products. Previously, if small producers wanted to introduce a new product for sale, such as pickles or applesauce, they would have to send the recipe (and a packaged sample product) to the State for testing, at their own expense. The new law allows small farmers, who might plant a diversified array of crops, and home producers greater flexibility to try new recipes and products, as long as they are sold directly from their farm or processing location.

Last month, Lafayette Circuit Court judge Duane Jorgenson ruled that the Wisconsin state ban on selling home-baked goods was unconstitutional. Not only does the ruling apply to the three defendants who challenged the ban, but to all home bakers in the state of Wisconsin. Judge Jorgenson found that the ban had no public protection value since there had never been an instance of someone falling ill from eating an improperly baked good in any of the 48 states where selling home-baked goods is legal. This Wisconsin food sovereignty win means that New Jersey is now the only state that continues to ban the sale of goods baked in a home oven.

As inequality increase and resource scarcity is felt in communities further up the economic ladder, we’re going to need to find more resilient alternatives to the industrial model we’ve become used to. Residents of communities with strong relationships between food producers and consumers are far likelier to remain afloat in hard times. When disasters hit, as in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, it’s the connections between community members that will restore stability. The closer we are to the origins of our food, the healthier we, and our communities, will be.

Related: Hunting and Gathering Poverty Food


Declaration of the Forum for Food Sovereignty, Nyéléni 2007
‘Food being used as a weapon’: The lasting effects of colonialism on Indigenous food
The Fight for the Right to Eat Seal Blubber
Revised food sovereignty law lets consumers buy from source
Judge Rules Wisconsin Home-Baked Goods Win Applies to All Bakers
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

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