A Reflection on the HLTD21 Symposium by OPF Member Alec Wills

OPF member Alec Wills wrote a summary of the “Cultivating Change: Pathways to Food Justice and Food Sovereignty” symposium and reflected on some of the key topics discussed by students in their projects, like targeted marketing, supermarketization, and community gardens.

When analyzing the political economy of food there are three key concepts which address hunger and issues with food distribution: food security, food justice, and food sovereignty. Food security attempts to reform the neoliberal food system through the implementation of both government and self-regulations, ameliorating the harmful effects of the corporate food regime while, nevertheless, maintaining its existence. Food justice is a progressive movement aimed at addressing systemic inequalities in food consumption and distribution, with an emphasis on racial disparities (Holt Giménez & Shattuck, 2011). Food sovereignty is a more radical movement, defined as “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 (What is Food Sovereignty, n.d.). On August 10, 2021, the HLTD21 class, together with the Open Praxis Forum, presented a symposium on these concepts, emphasizing the health inequities BIPOC people face in North America.

Exploring the roles of colonialism and slavery in creating modern agroindustry, the presentation provided a critical analysis of the corporate food regime. In the first video essay, the presenter discusses how targeted marketing and advertising of unhealthy food has deleterious effects on health in Black and Hispanic communities, such as higher obesity rates. The government has not taken meaningful steps to address this issue, and no policies have been enacted to mitigate the damage being done. The problem is that it is difficult to restrict advertisements due to their protection by the First Amendment. Sugar taxes are used in some places as an attempt to curb the sale of unhealthy products, but the policy does not address the root causes of the problem: systemic racism manifesting as racialised health disparities.[1] Although there are a lack of solutions coming from the government, local communities have undertaken bottom-up initiatives through food justice movements, one of which is discussed below.

The next presentation discussed the creation of community gardens for Indigenous people in the northern regions of Canada, showcasing community-based agroecological initiatives that reflect the concept of food sovereignty. Colonial legacies have shaped the modern corporate food regime, whose values clash with traditional Indigenous knowledge and agricultural practices such as Buen Vivir.[2]  The community gardens are an effort to give autonomy to Indigenous communities, allowing them to decide which foods are grown and how, and to return to sustainable and agroecological and Indigenous methods. Community-led initiatives like these are promising developments for food justice and sovereignty, and there are more institutionalized projects underway attempting to temper current disparities.

Aiming to mitigate the health risks associated with malnutrition – including obesity, cancer, and cardiovascular disease – Canadian schools have begun implementing meal and snack programs. With the importance of nutrition and its implications for academic performance, these programs deliver healthy and nutritious food to students in order to ensure that all children have access to the diet they need to flourish. The key takeaway for these kinds of programs is that they are capable of improving academic achievement, attendance, and the behaviour of young children belonging to marginalised communities. Combining these kinds of institutional approaches with community-based movements is the optimal way to ensure food systems are analyzed and developed through a holistic understanding.

The symposium concluded with a discussion on rooftop agriculture as a potential solution for the often-high prices of food. The presenter  argues that supermarketization has influenced rising prices in grocery stores, as a consequence of the neoliberal necessity for higher profits. Supermarketization is defined as “the proliferation and dominance of supermarkets” (Anand, 2009, pp. 66-67), in which smaller businesses are unable to compete and are subsequently phased out. A potential solution for urban areas is the creation of rooftop gardens, cultivating fresh and healthy produce at a much lower cost than purchasing from the grocery store. Appolloni, et al. (2021) find that rooftop agriculture is growing in popularity around the world and that it “can ensure multifunctional benefits (in the social, environmental and economic dimensions) while avoiding land use conflicts and additional pressure on urban land” (p. 11). Therefore, promoting rooftop agriculture is another promising way of circumventing the corporate food regime, as well as mitigating its negative effects.

In summary, the policies and movements discussed in the symposium are some of the ways in which people are fighting against what can sometimes be an oppressive and unjust food system. By actively seeking alternative solutions based on agroecological practices and promoting them through movements like food justice and food sovereignty, there is hope in reforming, or perhaps even revolutionizing, the way food is produced and consumed. Doing so actively deconstructs the colonial legacies determining these systems. As the symposium demonstrated, maintaining current practices does not bode well for the state of global health, and further action must be taken to ensure healthy and nutritious food is widely available. Whether through incremental reforms or a paradigmatic shift, the food justice and food sovereignty movements are paramount to changing how we think about food.

Works Cited

Akram-Lodhi, A. H. (2013). Hungry for change: farmers, food justice and the agrarian question. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing

Anand, J. (2009). Supermarketization, consumer choices, and the changing food retail market structure: the case of Citlalicalli, Mexico. Economic Development, Integration, and Morality in Asia and the Americas, 29, 63-88.

Appolloni, E., Orsini, F., Kathrin, S., Thomaier, S., Sanyé-Mengual, E., Pennisi, G., & Gianquinto, G. (2021). The global rise of urban rooftop agriculture: A review of worldwide cases. Journal of Cleaner Production, 296, 126556.

Bernstein, H. (2015). Food Regimes and Food Regime Analysis: A Selective Survey. BRICS Initiative for Critical Agrarian Studies.

Holt Giménez, E., & Shattuck, A. (2011). Food crises, food regimes and food movements: rumblings of reform or tides of transformation? The Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(1), 109-144.

What is Food Sovereignty . (n.d.). Retrieved October 2021, from Food Secure Canada: https://foodsecurecanada.org/who-we-are/what-food-sovereignty

[1] See Akram-Lodhi (2013) for more on how the structural aspects of political economy significantly influence both the supply of and demand for food, and how they cause malnutrition in contradicting ways: hunger in poorer countries, and obesity in richer.

[2] See Bernstein (2015) for a description of food regimes historically.