The recent Occupy Wall Street protests got me thinking about the level of control major corporations have over our daily lives. A big part of this control has resulted from the public’s gradual shift from self-reliance to dependence on companies for everything from clothes to food to entertainment. For the most part, I’d say this is a good thing. I don’t want to spend all of my time sewing my own clothes or raising and killing my own chickens. This diffusion of responsibility gives people more time to do the things they want and advance society in their own way.
I think this position also has an inherent danger. People seem to be losing their ability to make or do anything for themselves. When you become dependent on corporations you become more susceptible to their influence. Pretty soon, you start thinking the only way to get your calcium is from dairy products. Save your bones, drink milk! Is this really freedom? Is this really Sovereignty?
When I hear discussions on food sovereignty, its generally in reference to some developing area of the word and groups like Via Campesina. I can’t help but picture resilient peasant farmers taking control of their land from evil, fat-cat landowners who have their pockets lined with corporate (or government) money. I seldom think of organizations like People’s Grocery in Oakland that echo the sentiments of food sovereignty in our own society.
Its easy to forget that self-reliance is an important part of freedom. Growing or raising your own food, even if its just a small vegetable garden or a couple of chickens in your backyard, is an expression of that freedom. Of course, this self-reliance comes with education and an understanding of what food means on a maco level. A population with a strong sense of self-reliance can keep large corporations honest by showing them that people have a choice whether or not to purchase their products. This could ultimately lead to a food system that works for the people’s benefit and does not profit at their expense. Perhaps this is what food sovereignty means for developed countries.
Two weeks before the Fall 2011 semester started, I had the honor of being part of a Food First delegation in Bolivia with the amazing new project Food Sovereignty Tours.
It is hard to summarize all the new information that was presented to me by Bolivian locals and from the wonderful professionals–now friends–that I met on the trip. Being the youngster on the trip, I did not feel ready to engage in the subject of Food Sovereignty and Climate Change. Even though I did not have much of a background in many of the discussion topics, it did not take an expert to see the shocking reality of the world food system in Bolivia. How the Global North uses beautiful counties like Bolivia in the Global South to aid their own food security. How food is no longer a human right but a commodity used to control populations and benefit certain wealthy nations. As an undergraduate in college, we read a lot about the injustices and unfair issues throughout the world, but lack the reality of experiencing it. I wish my school would had some sort of Study Abroad Program like this. Wake up tours. I wasn’t able to get a scholarship or university credit for the tour (I funded it with the rest of my emergency savings and donations from a few professors who believe in my future) yet it was worth it because I went in with just an interest in food security and left a food activist.