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The pandemic as a portal to food sovereignty

The pandemic as a portal to food sovereignty

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fragilities and inequities within the globalized industrial food system: ecosystem collapse through deforestation, loss of animal habitat, monocultural production, long supply chains dependent on fossil fuel based transportation, loss of access to land through trade agreements, lack of state support for small producers, forced migration and farm labour exploitation, food-related health issues among poor and racialized communities – all compounded by climate change.

Chandra Maracle explains Six Nations history

The crisis has also revealed and expanded many initiatives to transform the food system, in the Global North and Global South, where local communities are reclaiming practices of agroecological and regenerative food production in rural and urban communities, launching virtual farmers markets, promoting backyard and community gardening, developing mutual aid networks that address inequities and build communities capacity to feed themselves, learning from Indigenous food activists deeper understanding of our all our relations, and drawing on global and intercultural exchanges (often virtual) to learn from each other.

For five years now, Professor Emerita Deborah Barndt, along with co-editor and PhD alumna Lauren Baker and  co-director and PhD student Alexandra Gelis, has coordinated an intergenerational and intercultural exchange on food justice and food sovereignty through the SSHRC-supported Earth to Tables Legacies Project. It has brought together a small group of 13 collaborators across big differences – youth/elders, rural/urban, Indigenous/settler, and Canadian/Mexican. Local Haudenosaunee collaborators include PhD student and Mohawk food leader Chandra Maracle, U of T Mohawk instructor Ryan DeCaire, and Tuscarora historian Rick Hill. Collaborator Leticia Deawuo, director of Black Creek Community Farm, contributed to a video and photo essay on food justice.

Alexandra Gelis and Deborah Barndt film berry picking in the Gaspé

Applying participatory research-creation methods and popular education, the collaborative process has generated a book (to be published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2021) and a multimedia educational package that offers schools, universities, and community groups 10  lively videos and 11 photo essays, inspiring stories of its collaborators working toward food sovereignty in rural Quebec and Ontario, in Indigenous communities in Ontario, in Michoacán and Yucatán, Mexico; and in urban agriculture projects in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Toronto, focusing on food justice in Black Creek Community Farm.

The Earth to Tables Legacies interactive website – earthtotables.org – uses food as an entry to current critical issues, such as Indigenous-settler relations, food justice and sovereignty, and anti-racism in the food movement. The ‘soft launch’ of the interactive website offers facilitator’s guides for each of the videos and photo essays. A valuable online resource, it can be used as a series and works well on a cell phone. Feedback is welcome to improve and expand the site; an intercultural piece on the pandemic is in production.