Decolonizing our food

Decolonization can’t be seen without the process of undoing colonization. It is the aim to recognize and erase the practices imposed during the domination of foreign countries, most of times overseas. But, how does it apply to our relationship with food? To decolonize our food we need to know what the loss of food tradition, capitalization and industrialization of food production means to our society.

Ethnic food is often said to be unhealthy, but reality is that most of those unhealthy ingredients were introduced by settlers. In the case of America, it was the Spanish who introduced beef, dairy or bread into the indigenous diet. It wasn’t only through language, culture or beliefs that colonization took place, but also by devaluing indigenous traditional food. Nowadays, the leading cause of death in racialized people in the US over 25 is directly linked to their diet.

When colonizers first arrived to North America, they operated under the Catholic Church’s Doctrine of Discovery. This doctrine meant not only the law enforcement by the European authorities but the application of agriculture technics. Converting the land meant improving its cultivation by importing products that were commonly consumed by European uppers classes.

The colonization and the later industrialization of agriculture have had a bad influence on diverse crises like rising food prices, poverty, climate change and biodiversity loss. They may have even caused them to appear. Industrial agriculture and the global food system contribute an estimated 44-57% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Food shows how racism is present at every level of society. Racism creates stigma around certain foods and leads to food gentrification. That’s when certain products as spirulina or chia seeds become trendy. It causes the price to rise with its popularity, meaning that the communities that were traditionally using those products have now difficulties to access them. This process of food gentrification is closely tied to racist policies in housing, employment, transportation and agriculture.

Food Sovereignty Project

800px Food Sovereignty Biodiversity

All these circumstances had an impact among the indigenous movements for lands and livelihoods in the global south. Their answer is the Food sovereignty project, defined by Zoe Matties, Canadian scholar-activist, as - the right of nations and peoples to control their own food systems, including their own markets, production modes, food cultures and environments. –

Food has always been a fundamental tool in colonization. Food sovereignty makes it possible to correct the imposition of the Western, gendered and racialized foodways. The project includes six guiding principles:

• Focuses on food for people

• Values food providers

• Localizes food systems

• Puts control locally

• Builds knowledge and skills

• Works with nature.

It allows us to rethink our conceptions of land, examine colonized spaces in the food movement. The idea of Food Sovereignty is rooted in the complex realities of producing, buying, selling and eating food. It is not a new idea, but rather it recognises all the dimensions of a healthy, ethical and just food system. The control over the food system needs to remain in the hands of farmers, for whom farming is both a way of life and a means of producing food. It ensures that food is produced in a culturally acceptable manner and in harmony with the ecosystem. This is how traditional food production systems have regenerated their soils, water, biodiversity and climatic conditions, for generations.

What needs to be done…

Indigenous foods are still present in the current diet of postcolonial cultures, as are European foods. Understanding the history of food and eating habits in different contexts can help us understand that the habit of eating is fundamentally complex.

The decisions we make around our diet are influenced and limited by cultural values, and these practices are an importance to the construction and preservation of social identity. In this sense, food does not simply represent the pleasant act of eating; Food is history, it is transmitted culturally, it is part of identity.

An individual effort of questioning our traditions around food is necessary. Why do we demand and eat food that it is out of season? Why do we expect to eat popcorn at the cinema? Decolonizing our diet means questioning it. Most of us don’t want to be a participant in exploitative food systems, but corporations make us confused through labelling their products to make us think they are sustainable when they are not. It also means advocating for policy changes that address these systemic barriers, to protect workers from harm. It means that there should be a reconsideration at national levels of what they accept as national cuisine, reselecting the ingredients that are truly valuable, and giving credit to those that created the cuisines we enjoy and profit off. If you want to go further, there are multiple international organizations that help on the development of projects to decolonize our diets. You will find more about this matter on the following websites:

AgroEcology Fund

First Peoples Worldwide

Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty

Indigenous Terra Madre

Ultimately, our food tells a story of history and power. We must pay attention to what the flavours, ingredients, and heritage of our food can teach us on the journey to creating a more equitable, anti-racist society for the future.

Nieves Patiño

Nieves is politiek wetenschapper, met een specialisatie in Conflict and Development. In het team van Gent Fair Trade is ze actief bezig met het organiseren van evenementen en campagnes.

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