Paradigm Shift & Food Sovereignty

Food Sovereignty win in Maine; whyhunger.org

As a way to make better choices and have a greater impact, many Americans are asking where our food comes from. The ‘where’ of food is a critical place to start– how land is used, what sorts of crops are grown, carbon emitted from food miles and the water associated with cultivation. Indeed, it opens up more portals to ask who our food comes from– something that perhaps we don’t think about as often. 

Decision making around growing and distributing food happens on a multitude of levels. Farmers themselves have some power in what they grow, and many are responding to a certain market, meaning, who buys their food or where it goes. We can think about this in terms of farmers who cultivate thousands of acres for corn or soy for livestock or food processing; farmers who grow on a small scale for organic CSAs; underrepresented & migrant farmers who are the backbone of our food system; or plantations who grow bananas or palm oil for international markets. Intricate and complex decision making permeates the food chain on an almost unfathomable level, and understanding it more thoroughly can help us fine tune our personal and collective awareness and consumption habits.

These decisions are influenced by governmental policies as well, from local to federal and even international levels. Legislatures craft bills to decide where resources go in order to support certain markets depending on their constituency, sometimes drawing the need for strong advocacy work to support small entities who may not have as much of a say in resource delegation. Food justice, in response, is an emerging and essential tool to enhance community decision making, and support policies that reflect the needs and unheard voices of the people and the land.

Paradise Lot, Holyoke MA

As with most grassroots organizing, however, most would agree that when ordinary people and businesses themselves have the power to make important decisions, there is more opportunity to sense into how healthy, robust and resilient their communities can be, and solve problems as a response to this reflection. Seeing through the smokescreen if you will, and having community decisions reflect their needs in a sovereign manner. Though it is beneficial for policy makers to better understand and properly support local initiatives for healthy and well grown foods, what’s more is redistributing power, and having citizens actively decide and invest in where their food comes from, how it’s grown, where it’s going, and respond to the Earth’s needs and patterns as well. This is where we turn to food sovereignty as a regenerative systems solution:

“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.”

– Declaration of Nyéléni, the first global forum on food sovereignty, Mali, 2007

To be one with the land, our autonomy as stewards needs to be respected and highlighted; many times we don’t give enough credit to our people to be the facilitators of the reality we wish to lead. In fact, food systems and grassroots mobilization can be an amazing segway into solving many more problems we face as a society: health, inequality, purpose (employment), relationships, resource scarcity and environmental health.

The Western MA Regenerative Food System is approaching food systems solutions with this key principle in mind: how do we move away from a charity model into a model of true change? Shifting paradigms can take generations, but is nonetheless necessary for changing the ways that no longer serve our planet, and therefore our people. By collaborating with organizations such as the Common Good or Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory to revisit funding opportunities; or taking on new decision making structures such as Healthy Hampshire and their adoption of Sociocracy; listening to and learning from the PPLT and our indigenous neighbors; even looking up to revolutionary leaders and societies such as Vandana Shiva and the Zapatistas, we can learn from and support each other as we move to a bioregional and climate adapted food system.

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