The Interconnected Nature of Food Security and Food Sovereignty

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By Gabrielle Goldhar with Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation [1]
Edited by Samantha Mehltretter, Brittany Luby, and Andrea Bradford

In 1996, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defined food security as a state that “exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”[2] In contrast, food insecurity is when individuals “do not have sufficient physical, social or economic access to food.”[3] In Canada, the Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) classifies households into four different categories depending on their lived experiences with food insecurity: (1) food secure, (2) food insecure marginal, (3) food insecure moderate, and (4) food insecure severe.[4] In 2011, 1.6 million Canadian households with a total of 3.9 million individuals reported that they experienced a level of food insecurity.[5]

Food sovereignty, on the other hand, is an emerging term that is becoming more widespread. It is based on the idea that decisions about food systems, such as food access, should be made by those who depend on them. People should thus be given the right to define and decide their own policies and practices around sustainable,[6] culturally appropriate, and healthy food production, distribution, and consumption that guarantees equal access to an entire population. Therefore, food security can be seen as a goal with food sovereignty being part of the solution.[7]

Throughout Canada, Indigenous households experience higher levels of food insecurity than non-Indigenous households.[8] This is because of the ongoing consequences of colonialism.[9] Band members of Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation (NAN) who live along the Winnipeg River, for example, associate food insecurity with the historic installation of hydroelectric dams and their continued operation. Flow patterns, determined by the International Joint Commission and Lake of the Woods Control Board, have traditionally privileged industrialists and cottagers, resulting in major declines in manomin growth.[10] Knowledge Keepers at NAN estimate that their ancestors harvested 500,000 pounds of manomin from nearby fields. Today, oral testimony suggests that contemporary yields have declined by 99%. Dam developers have acknowledged that colonial priorities negatively impacted Indigenous wellbeing. For example, Sam Horton, the former vice-president of Ontario Hydro, informed the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples that “Ontario Hydro is really a company which failed to respect the Aboriginal people. . . . In short, we’ve pursued our own interests in our own ways and the result is that, while Ontario Hydro and its customers have enjoyed low-cost hydroelectric energy, the life sustaining capabilities of many of the watersheds have been destroyed in the process.”[11]

While colonial activity has complicated Indigenous harvesting activities, the high cost of food also contributes to food insecurity on reserves in what is now known as Northwestern Ontario. In 2016, the Canadian Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) survey revealed that the Northwestern Ontario Health Unit, which includes the Rainy River and Kenora Districts (Kenora is approximately 20 kilometres south of NAN), had the most expensive food basket in Canada.[12] The cost of nutritious food for a family of four in these regions was $1,018.20 per month. This means that families in the Rainy River and Kenora Districts spend $159.39 more per month or $1,912.68 more per annum on food than families in southern cities like Toronto.[13] In Treaty 3, dependence on expensive and low-quality store-bought foods – resulting from the decreased availability of ancestral foods – has aggravated food insecurity. Remember: food security is not a synonym for caloric intake. It references to “safe and nutritious food” that meets “dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”[14] Given that band members at NAN are unable to access preferred cultural foodstuffs and turn increasingly to store-bought foods, it is clear that Canada’s food system is not working for everyone in the way that it should.[15]

Luckily, there is a growing Indigenous food sovereignty movement in many Indigenous communities, such as the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty (WGIFS) in British Columbia. The WGIFS’s Indigenous Food Systems Network Website presents relevant information and resources about Indigenous food and land systems, and Indigenous food-related actions, e.g. Indigenous food sovereignty. It identifies four key principles to guide current food sovereignty movements in Indigenous communities. Firstly, maintaining and developing relationships with plants, animals and the land that provide food. Secondly, participating in cultural harvesting activities. Thirdly, independence and self-determination. Lastly, the establishment of policies that support Indigenous worldviews about food,[16] like food as a teacher, food as medicine, and food as a relative.[17]

In order to attain food sovereignty and reduce food insecurity in Indigenous communities, the Indigenous food system (which includes all structures and processes involved in feeding a population, such as the growing, harvesting, transportation, and consumption of food)[18] needs to be strengthened.[19] This can be accomplished by harvesting traditional foods like manomin.[20]

Traditional foods are rich in nutrients[21] and are an important element of food security and health in the Canadian North.[22] They are also a crucial part of Indigenous culture and well-being.[23] By growing, harvesting, preparing, and sharing traditional foods, a meaningful and necessary connection to Indigenous identity and ethics can be established.[24] In a gathering of 50 people in Treaty 3 to discuss the present food system from March 26-27, 2018, participants said that “[harvesting] more traditional foods,”[25] is a way to enhance the food system.[26] One participant stated that “the old ways of growing traditional food are being rediscovered”[27] and that this rediscovery is essential to “reclaiming control of our food system and traditional ways.”[28] Traditional foods thus represent a path forward in restoring food sovereignty to achieve food security in Indigenous communities.[29]

By analyzing the existing status of food security and sovereignty in Indigenous communities, the legacy of colonial policies and priorities comes to light.[30] Colonization has and continues to negatively impact food security (as seen by manomin decline in fields traditionally harvested by NAN). By making it difficult for Indigenous Nations to feed themselves on their own terms, past infrastructure decisions pose an ongoing challenge to Indigenous sovereignty.[31] By re-learning and re-connecting with the harvesting of traditional foods, a principle of Indigenous food sovereignty, Indigenous wellbeing can be strengthened at individual and community levels. In this way, food sovereignty is not just about nutrition, affordability, and access, but also about a connection to history, culture, and the Earth. Therefore, by Indigenizing food systems, food security can emerge as a dominant paradigm within Indigenous communities.[32] The challenge, moving forward, is to develop procedures that prioritize First Nations wellbeing while operating infrastructure that was designed to exclude them.


Notes

[1] Note: sections of paragraph 3 appear in an article by Samantha Mehltretter, Brittany Luby, and Andrea Bradford with Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation submitted to Arcadia for peer review and in Brittany Luby, Dammed: The Politics of Loss and Survival on Anishinaabe Territory (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, forthcoming 2020).

[2] Expert Panel on the State of Knowledge of Food Security in Northern Canada, Aboriginal food security in Northern Canada: an assessment of the state of knowledge (Ottawa, Ontario: Council of Canadian Academies, 2014), 10.

[3] Melissa Subnath, “Indigenous Food Insecurity in Canada: An Analysis Using the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey,” (Master’s diss., The University of Western Ontario, 2017), 1, https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/4459/utm_source=ir.lib.uwo.ca%2Fetd%2F4459&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages

[4] Government of Canada, “Determining Food Security Status,” Government of Canada, 2020, https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-nutrition-surveillance/health-nutrition-surveys/canadian-community-health-survey-cchs/household-food-insecurity-canada-overview/determining-food-security-status-food-nutrition-surveillance-health-canada.html.

[5] Expert Panel on the State of Knowledge of Food Security in Northern Canada, Aboriginal food security in Northern Canada, xiv.

[6] Ibid., xvii.

[7] Food Secure Canada, “What is Food Sovereignty,” Food Secure Canada, 2020, https://foodsecurecanada.org/who-we-are/what-food-sovereignty.

[8] Expert Panel on the State of Knowledge of Food Security in Northern Canada, Aboriginal food security in Northern Canada, 36.

[9] Amanda Sheedy, Understanding Our Food System, Kenora Food Gathering Report March 26-27, 2018 (Metalab, 2018), 3.

[10] Manomin, more commonly known as “wild rice” in English, is a cereal crop that is indigenous to North America. For more information, see Lehman, Margaret with Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation, “An Introduction to Manomin,” NiCHE, 1 November 2019, https://niche-canada.org/2019/11/01/an-introduction-to-manomin/.

[11] Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: Presentation by Sam Horton, Vice-President, Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Branch, Ontario Hydro,” Our Legacy, 3 June 2003, http://digital.scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/solr?query=ID:31496&start=0&rows=10&mode=results.

[12] A food basket is defined as the average cost and affordability of healthy eating. Eric Melillo, Setting the Table: Food Insecurity and Costs in Ontario’s North (Thunder Bay, Ontario: Northern Policy Institute, 2018), 5.

[13] Ibid.  

[14] Expert Panel on the State of Knowledge of Food Security in Northern Canada, Aboriginal food security in Northern Canada, 10.

[15] Sheedy, Understanding Our Food System, 3.

[16] Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty, “Indigenous Food Sovereignty,” Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty, 2020, https://www.indigenousfoodsystems.org/foodsovereignty.

[17] Stephen Penner, Indigenous Food Sovereignty in Canada: Policy Paper 2019 (Rural Policy Learning Commons, 2019), 2.

[18] Piper Donlin, “The Power of Food: The Ojibwe Food Sovereignty Movement, A Movement Towards Regaining and Restoring Indigenous Lifeways Through Food in Minnesota,” (Master’s diss., University of Oslo, 2015), 11, http://urn.nb.no/URN:NBN:no-48969

[19] Sheedy, Understanding Our Food System, 6.

[20] Donlin, “The Power of Food: The Ojibwe Food Sovereignty Movement,” 43, http://urn.nb.no/URN:NBN:no-48969.

[21] Jaime Cidro and Tabitha Martens, Traditional food upskilling as a pathway to urban indigenous food sovereignty : final report (Ottawa, Ontario: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, 2015), 4.

[22] Expert Panel on the State of Knowledge of Food Security in Northern Canada, Aboriginal food security in Northern Canada, 30.

[23] Karlah Rae Rudolph and Stephane Mclachlan, “Seeking Indigenous food sovereignty: origins of and responses to the food crisis in northern Manitoba, Canada,” Local Environment 18, 9 (2013): 1081, https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2012.754741

[24] Expert Panel on the State of Knowledge of Food Security in Northern Canada, Aboriginal food security in Northern Canada, xviii.

[25] Sheedy, Understanding Our Food System, 6.

[26] Ibid., 5.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Expert Panel on the State of Knowledge of Food Security in Northern Canada, Aboriginal food security in Northern Canada, xxi.

[30] Ibid., 3.

[31] Sheedy, Understanding Our Food System, 3.

[32] Michael Robidoux and Courtney Mason, A Land Not Forgotten: Indigenous Food Security and Land-Based Practices in Northern Ontario (Winnipeg, Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press, 2017), 9.


Bibliography

Cidro, Jaime and Tabitha Martens. Traditional food upskilling as a pathway to urban indigenous food sovereignty  : final report . Ottawa, Ontario: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, 2015.

Donlin, Piper. “The Power of Food: The Ojibwe Food Sovereignty Movement, A Movement Towards Regaining and Restoring Indigenous Lifeways Through Food in Minnesota.” Master’s diss., University of Oslo, 2015. http://urn.nb.no/URN:NBN:no-48969

Expert Panel on the State of Knowledge of Food Security in Northern Canada. Aboriginal food security in Northern Canada : an assessment of the state of knowledge. Ottawa, Ontario: Council of Canadian Academies, 2014.

Food Secure Canada. “What is Food Sovereignty.” Food Secure Canada. 2020. https://foodsecurecanada.org/who-we-are/what-food-sovereignty

Government of Canada. “Determining Food Security Status.” Government of Canada. 2020. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-nutrition-surveillance/health-nutrition-surveys/canadian-community-health-survey-cchs/household-food-insecurity-canada-overview/determining-food-security-status-food-nutrition-surveillance-health-canada.html.

Melillo, Eric. Setting the Table: Food Insecurity and Costs in Ontario’s North. Thunder Bay, Ontario: Northern Policy Institute, 2018.

Penner, Stephen. Indigenous Food Sovereignty in Canada: Policy Paper 2019. Rural Policy Learning Commons, 2019.

Robidoux, Michael, and Courtney Mason. A Land Not Forgotten: Indigenous Food Security and Land-Based Practices in Northern Ontario. Winnipeg, Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press, 2017.

Rudolph, Karlah Rae, and Stephane Mclachlan. “Seeking Indigenous food sovereignty: origins of and responses to the food crisis in northern Manitoba, Canada.” Local Environment 18, 9 (2013): 1079-1098. https://doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2012.754741.

Sheedy, Amanda. Understanding Our Food System, Kenora Food Gathering Report March 26-27, 2018. Metalab, 2018.

Subnath, Melissa. “Indigenous Food Insecurity in Canada: An Analysis Using the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey.” Master’s diss., The University of Western Ontario, 2017. https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/4459/utm_source=ir.lib.uwo.ca%2Fetd%2F4459&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages

Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty. “Indigenous Food Sovereignty.” Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty. 2020. https://www.indigenousfoodsystems.org/food-sovereignty.


Image made available by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash.

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