Toward Anti-Colonial Food Policy in Canada? A Reflection on the People’s Food Policy Project

This is the first blog post in a series of reflections about our research team’s experiences at the Canadian Association of Food Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, June 2016.

By Lauren Kepkiewicz and Sarah Rotz

From the leadership of the late Cathleen Kneen (who will always be a role model for us) to Food Secure Canada’s (FSC) hearty Screen shot 2011-04-19 at 3_27_37 PMendorsement of the People’s Food Policy Project (Kneen, 2011) and all of their work bringing together grassroots groups from across Canada, we have long been inspired by the work of FSC. We have also been encouraged by their work with the Indigenous Circle based on the “First Principles Protocol for Building Cross-Cultural Relationships” (2010) which looks “to Indigenous people for guidance” and aims to “work in partnership in changing destructive relationships” while building shared, caring and respectful relationships between each other and Mother Earth.

We went back to this document along with the People’s Food Policy after a lunch roundtable discussion co-organized with FSC about building a national food policy at the most recent CAFS conference in Toronto (2016). During the roundtable question period, an audience member brought up the need to consider how the 3 pillar approach to a food policy might be rooted in a colonial framework that fragments different parts of the food system. This was followed by other comments about the need to “include”, “give voice to” and “involve” Indigenous peoples in developing this national food policy. As the conversation wrapped up, one of the panellists asked, “how can we use conflict as a tool in process?” while another asked, “what are the conversations we want to have as Canadians across food?”, pointing to the opportunities the Truth and Reconciliation Commission offers to talk about Indigenous food sovereignty while linking it with other movements.

We would like to highlight the ways that these opening and closing comments speak to how we settlers might move forward – for example, by emphasizing the importance of process, of conflict/discomfort, and of recognizing how non-Indigenous frameworks are often rooted in colonial narratives. We also want to consider the ways in which the conversations in between these opening and ending comments make visible some of the tensions within Indigenous-settler relations (i.e. calls to include, give voice, and involve).

Inclusion

First, let us consider the language of inclusion. Anti-colonial and anti-racist scholars and activists have shown that the language of inclusion must be used with caution (e.g. Jodi Byrd, Kimberlé Crenshaw, bell hooks, Bonita Lawrence, and Lee Maracle, to name a few). On one hand, this language involves welcoming and working together. On the other hand, it is important to consider the ways that dominant groups, such as the ones that the two of us are apart of (white, settler, able-bodied, etc.), often use “inclusion” to call for the participation of nondominant groups, without engaging with the ways that this participation might require transforming underlying projects themselves. From our perspective, food justice work isn’t about including those who are marginalized in nation state related projects spearheaded by primarily white settler people, but rather, engaging in ways that support the work and resistance already happening within these communities. Moreover, food justice is about working within our own communities to understand how everyday actions make us complicit in—and help reproduce—the structures and institutions that marginalize certain communities in the first place.

More specifically, settler people such as ourselves need to consider the ways that inclusion has continually been used to coopt Indigenous peoples into the Canadian colonial project. For example, Lee Maracle explains that “Constitutional inclusion [of Indigenous peoples] has only served to maintain the colonial history and practice of dismantling Indigenous national governments by sanctioning colonial rule” (2003, 310). Jodi Byrd further explains that “As indigenous scholars have argued, inclusion into the multicultural cosmopole, built on top of indigenous lands, does not solve colonialism: that inclusion is the very site of the colonization that feeds U.S. empire” (2011, 10).

Giving Voice

Second, we want to address the common phrase of “giving voice” to marginalized groups. For us, this phrase and action fails to recognize the obvious truth that marginalized communities have long had their own voices and have continually articulated the most important and complex understandings of oppression. It also fails to recognize that dominant groups are often the root of the problem: that it is their/our ears who have refused (or are unable) to listen due to their/our positionality within the structure of settler colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy. “Giving voice” suggests that dominant groups are the ones with the power to produce liberatory politics, rather than focusing on the ways that marginalized communities continue to struggle for their own liberation (regardless of the fact that the ears of dominant groups remain plugged). In this context, we suggest discarding the move to “give voice” and instead suggest the possibilities of breaking down structures that deafen ears in the first place and taking action guided by the struggles and voices of marginalized communities.

Involvement

Third, we want to tease apart some of the tensions around settler calls to involve Indigenous peoples in developing governmental policies, such as a national food policy. In one sense, yes, as settlers it would be ideal to develop policy in collaboration with Indigenous nations. However, when settlers ask for (and increasingly expect) this kind of involvement, we need to be clear about the context and relation within which we are asking for Indigenous involvement. The Canadian government’s relation to Indigenous nations continues to be one of settler colonialism. This relationship is based in the logic of Indigenous elimination: settler colonialism “destroys to replace” (Wolfe, 2006). Indeed, settler colonial logics allow settlers to feel as though they have rightful claim over land and resources that are not theirs. Within this context, it is crucial to consider what it means to ask for Indigenous involvement in the development of government policies and strategies. For settlers, inclusion/involvement might feel like a step toward reconciliation. However, are we actually giving up power if we enter into the development process with pre-formed frameworks, scales, and limits in place? Additionally, how might these pre-formed frameworks, scales, and limits impact Indigenous work toward a decolonization that involves the repatriation of Indigenous land and ways of life?

Regarding Indigenous involvement in national food policy development, we think it is essential to continually ask: a national strategy for what and for whom? It is so often assumed that these kinds of policies address everyone’s needs, when in reality, that would be impossible without, for instance, demanding equal rights and citizenship for migrant food workers and repatriating lands to Indigenous peoples: demands that may feel indeterminate and uncomfortable for many white settlers.

Ways Forward?

So what does this mean for those of us interested in developing a national food policy while working within current structures? With this blog post, we advocate for beginning with the PFPP and First Principles Protocol in developing a national food policy strategy. No doubt these documents will change, as they are living documents, but we believe they provide an important starting place, particularly to continue relationships and conversations with Indigenous communities. We echo Indigenous activists and academics who emphasize the ways that process is vital. We also think it necessary to ask questions like: How do we work through this process in a way that respects nation-to-nation relationships between Indigenous and settler peoples on this land? And perhaps more uncomfortably, how do settlers continue to strive for good relationships, especially when decolonization becomes, as Tuck and Yang describe (2012), incommensurable with settler processes and objectives, and requires white settlers to cede power, land or privilege?

In thinking through these questions, we return to the First Principles Protocol and the People’s Food Policy Project (particularly policy discussion paper one on Indigenous food sovereignty), which offer a number of useful tenets. Specifically, the First Principles Protocol commits to engaging in ‘activities and policy creation that is not ‘about’ Indigenous peoples’ food systems but learns from and is informed by the experiences and expertise gained through a multi-millennia of practice.’ For us, this means that food work moving forward should be premised on the actions and resistance of Indigenous nations, and directed by their visions of liberation and decolonization. This might mean a policy that integrates both settler and Indigenous nations, but not necessarily; alternatively, it may mean creating a “national” policy for Canada that works together but separate from Indigenous nations and their frameworks for food sovereignty. The key point is moving forward in ways that respect Indigenous autonomy and nation-to-nation relationships.

As the People’s Food Policy Project stresses, Indigenous peoples speak for themselves, an assertion that applies to all aspects of the discussion. Also, the addition of a 7th pillar of food sovereignty – food is sacred – can guide our work through its emphasis on the ways that “food, water, soil, and air are not viewed as “resources” but as sources of life itself” (PFPP, 9). The priority recommendations in the PFPP (11-12) include that we “return to the original nation-to-nation agreements” and “heal and rebuild (reconcile) contemporary relationships.” To advance these recommendations, settler peoples have a particular responsibility to “deepen our understanding and work towards respectful relationships”—as identified in the First Principles Protocol.

These documents together provide space to consider how these conversations have developed, and offer a valuable framework for moving forward. The more difficult matter concerns how we, as non-Indigenous to this land, resist against the structures of settler colonialism that we all live within and that condition us in various (and often deceiving) ways. That is not to say that this conditioning is inevitable, but rather that as settlers we have a responsibility to have uncomfortable conversations and consider uncomfortable options, and further, to remain reflexive about how deeply privilege can permeate within us. Our hope is that through these personal and collective actions, settlers can move (and often stumble, buts that’s okay!) towards spaces that not only look and sound like, but embody, for Indigenous nations and peoples especially, solidarity, respect and resistance.

 

References

Byrd, Jodi. 2011. The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

First Principles Protocol for Building Cross-cultural Relationships. 2010. Indigenous Circle of the People’s Food Policy Project.  Retrieved from: http://foodsecurecanada.org/sites/foodsecurecanada.org/files/First_Principles_July_2010.pdf

Maracle, Lee. 2003. The Operation was Successful, But the Patient Died. In: Ardith Walkmen and Haile Bruce (eds.) Box of Treasures of Empty Box?: Twenty Years of Section 35. Penticton, BC: Theytus Books Ltd. 308-314

People’s Food Policy Project. 2011. Resetting the Table: A People’s Food Policy for Canada. Montreal, QC: Food Secure Canada. Retrieved from: http://foodsecurecanada.org/sites/default/files/fsc-resetting2012-8half11-lowres-en.pdf

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. 2012. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society 1 (1): 1–40.

Wolfe, Patrick. 2006. “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.” Journal of Genocide Research 8 (4): 387–409. doi:10.1080/14623520601056240.

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More Celebration, Less Self-Congratulation.

 

301122_1771208095024_1163782_nOne of the reasons I love researching food and food movements is because of the celebration involved in producing and eating food – harvest celebrations, family dinners, and communal cooking parties (in my case, these last two tend to involve perogies). At the same time, food movements in North America have been critiqued as self-congratulatory, celebrating dominant norms and assumptions around what ‘good’ food is, leading to the reproduction of structures of oppression relating to race, class, and other forms of privilege.

I’ve been reminded both of the necessity of celebration and the dangers of celebration/self-congratulation as a result of the recent flutter of news articles, facebook posts, and other popular media articulating pride and joy at the arrival of Syrian refugees in Canada these past weeks. Celebrating refugees and all peoples who continue to be resilient despite violence is imperative. However, it seems to me that much of the popular media is celebrating something rather different.

What comes across to me in many of these articles is the celebration of the benevolence of the Canadian state for ‘accepting’ a fraction of a much larger refugee population, when, in reality, it could open its borders to all refugees, it polices borders in a way that criminalizes certain bodies but not others, and it continues as the engine of the settler colonial project. Who is celebrating, who is celebrated, the intention and the outcome of the celebration all matter. Celebration can sometimes do more harm than good – particularly when the line between celebration and self-congratulation becomes blurred and discourses act to “exalt certain ways of being and disparage others” (Guthman 2011, p. 6) in ways that reproduce racism, sexism, colonialism, and so on.

Guthman makes this point in relation to food movements in North America – where ‘good food’ is often celebrated without unpacking assumptions behind what good food is or paying attention to who’s doing the defining. Using the movie Food Inc. as an example Flowers and Swan explain how the North America food movement often positions (and through this positioning, celebrates) certain people (i.e. white males), who possess the right kind of knowledge, as “the good knower.” (2011, p. 245). At the same time, ‘others’ (i.e. people of colour, consumers, food workers, single mothers) are presented as needing this knowledge and needing help to access this knowledge.

Celebrating and increasing consumption of certain foods as ‘superfoods’ by a largely white middle class portion of foodie circles has also been critiqued as ‘food gentrification.’ Mikki Kendall coined this term, arguing that “one of the perils’ of “elevating” foods away from their source cultures is that many things are not easily replaceable, or even accessible in all communities.” She asks: “as coconut, quinoa, mangoes, and other subtropical goods come into vogue in the West, how are the communities where those foods are staples faring?… As each gentrified food moves out of the financial range of those at the lowest income level, the question of what will be left for the poor to eat becomes more pressing.” (Read more from Mikki Kendall’s post and check out another solid piece on food gentrification by Soleil Ho here).

So, how can young (white) academics like me do research that is celebratory but not self-congratulatory? And how can those of us involved in food activism engage a movement that celebrates in a way that resists structures of oppression instead of reproducing them? A starting point might be asking questions like: who are we celebrating? What is our intention in celebrating certain people/peoples/groups? What is the outcome of celebration? Does it reproduce dominant structures of oppression? Patriarchy? White supremacy? Colonialism? A starting point might be asking these sorts of questions and celebrating accordingly – especially if this means changing how we celebrate, who we celebrate, and what kinds of celebrations we support.

References

Flowers, Rick and Elaine Swan. (2011). ‘Eating at Us’: Representations of Knowledge in the Activist Documentary Film Food, Inc. Studies in the Education of Adults. 43(2),234-248.

Guthman, Julie. (2011). Weighing in: obesity, food justice and the limits of capitalism. University of California Press.

Ho, Soleil. (2014). #Foodgentrification and culinary rebranding of traditional foods. bitch media. Retrieved from: https://bitchmedia.org/post/foodgentrification-and-culinary-rebranding-of-traditional-foods

Kendall, Mikki. (2014). #Breaking Black: 1 in 5 children face food insecurity. The Grio. Retrieved from: http://thegrio.com/2014/01/20/breaking-black-1-in-5-children-face-food-insecurity/