Green Nevis Week 2 | Peppers, Potatoes and Food Sovereignty

Of all the routines I’ve been trying to get myself through this lockdown and pandemic, cooking (and eating!) is one that I’ve actually enjoyed – it’s the seasoning, the making, and the transforming of food from one shape to another that has been so fun, or at least fun enough to keep going. When you’re stood making various meals involving tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, you do also think about other things – what is the climate impact of our food?

Cocoa, palm oil, soy, and beef are the foods that contribute most to the UK’s demand for deforestation in the Amazon, Indonesia and the Ivory coast, for example, which every year removes an area of forest larger than the UK itself. In the water, our demand for fish is depleting the ocean of life, disrupting the life cycles of the species we hunt, and damaging the ocean floor through trawling. What’s more though, is that we don’t eat the fish that grow in UK waters – herring and mackerel is generally ignored in favour of salmon, cod, and haddock. Much of our other foods, for example ‘health’ foods like quinoa, are subsistence foods that due to demand from America and Europe are now becoming too expensive for the people who grow it to buy. Remember as well that those peppers and tomatoes probably didn’t come from the UK either!

All the places these herbs and spices came from (originally, and actual) are a little dizzying sometimes.

How can we stop this situation? How should we be eating? How should we be cooking?

It’s a really big question, but to begin to help give some answers, one of the terms I’ve learnt about recently is food sovereignty. Food Sovereignty is a phrase launched in 1996 by La Vie Campesina, an world-wide movement, made of local organisations for peasants and landworkers, agitating and organising for self-assertion, and preservation of their cultures and ecosystems.

I’m now going to hand over this post to these six principles from Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement)

“Food Sovereignty:

1) Focuses on food for people.
The right to food which is healthy and culturally appropriate is the basic legal demand underpinning food sovereignty. Guaranteeing it requires policies which support diversified food production in each region and country. Food is not simply another commodity to be traded or speculated on for profit

2) Values food providers.
Many smallholder farmers suffer violence, marginalisation and racism from corporate landowners and governments. People are often pushed off their land by mining concerns or agribusiness. Agricultural workers can face severe exploitation and even bonded labour. Although women produce most of the food in the global south, their role and knowledge are often ignored, and their rights to resources and as workers are violated. Food sovereignty asserts food providers’ right to live and work in dignity.

3) Localises food systems.
Food must be seen primarily as sustenance for the community and only secondarily as something to be traded. Under food sovereignty, local and regional provision takes precedence over supplying distant markets, and export-orientated agriculture is rejected. The ‘free trade’ policies which prevent developing countries from protecting their own agriculture, for example through subsidies and tariffs, are also inimical to food sovereignty.

4) Rejects corporate control.
Food sovereignty requires that women and men who provide food have control of land and resources such as water and seeds, to be used and shared in socially and environmentally sustainable ways. Privatisation of such resources, for example through intellectual property rights regimes or commercial contracts, is explicitly rejected.

5) Builds Knowledge and skills.
Technologies, such as genetic engineering, that undermine food providers’ ability to develop and pass on knowledge and skills needed for localised food systems are rejected. Instead, food sovereignty calls for appropriate research systems to support the development of agricultural knowledge and skills.

6) Works with nature.
Food sovereignty requires production and distribution systems that protect natural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, avoiding energy-intensive industrial methods that damage the environment and the health of those that inhabit it.’

A couple of things really struck me about this. Firstly, food sovereignty does not require a push global diets upon the world, but respects the cultures of communities. People have the right to define how they can healthily eat, whether omnivores, vegetarians or vegan, and maybe offers a good aim for people across those practices to improve our planet’s food life.

It also respects food as a culture – and this view food as cultural activity, like music, full of individual quirks and collective features, definitely resonates (sorry!) with my experience as musician. It’s not individual or homogenous, but collective.

The final thing I noticed is that technological solutions are only for one group to apply to their own work, not to others. The genetically modified foods and pesticides, which threaten ecosystems with degradation and collapse through loss of diversity and of farming practice, are not a viable solution to the world’s farming needs.

I’m probably going to write a LOT about food over the rest of #100DaysOfGreenNevis, so do keep checking this blog, as well as the other projects by other people in the Nevis family. Do also check out the work of La Vie Campesina, and maybe think about how Food Sovereignty would look like in our lives – I know I am. As always, please comment or send me an e-mail if you have any questions!

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