Strategies for Academic Solidarity: Responding to the Muslim Ban

On Friday, January 27, 2017, the President of the United States, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order halting all refugee admissions for 120 days and suspending entry to the United States for both immigrants and visitors from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen for 90 days, during which immigration processes would be reviewed and altered. This order, known to many as the Muslim Ban, came into immediate effect with little explanation of protocol, trapping people on either side of the border and others within the liminal space of airports. While the ban has been temporarily overturned and continues to be fought in the courts, the initial impact has already had devastating effects and many refuse to take the risk to travel to the United States in this climate of uncertainty.

In light of the ban, many in the academic community – individual academics, departments and several institutions – quickly spoke out condemning the ban. As a research collective, we at FEAST also want to explicitly state our opposition to this racist, discriminatory policy and the rhetoric of hatred and fear that it both utilizes and promotes. Considering that thousands of scholars are unable to enter the United States due to this ban, and many more Muslim and racialized scholars feel unsafe doing so due to fear of being similarly targeted or harassed, we have discussed both amongst ourselves and in larger forums what the appropriate action for academics on either side of the border should be, and how best to oppose this exclusionary policy and support those immediately affected.

An early suggestion in these discussions was an academic boycott. The United States is host to many important academic conferences that serve as a key forum for discussing ideas, collaborating and building connections within and between disciplines. If many scholars were going to be shut out as a result of these policies, then perhaps these discussions should not take place without them. As geographers who had planned to attend the annual conference of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) in April, this question is the subject of continuing debates in our department, but also within our research group.

In particular, we felt that the official statement released by the AAG was weak in comparison to those of other academic societies, and also its commitment in relation to those “affected” by the ban somewhat lacking in detail.

A boycott and withdrawal of academic labour is an important show of solidarity with those who have no choice in the matter. Done collectively, it also sends a clear message that business is not as usual and that there is widespread opposition to acts that affect our academic community. This kind of action can also be effective in spurring change, whether in the form of reallocation of funds or the creation of satellite meetings organized in alternative locations that allow for full participation for those excluded.

However, withdrawing from academic conferences also means that those voices are not present, and some argue that the sharing of critical academic work is even more important in an increasingly hostile political environment. By attending a conference, the opportunity exists for physical disruption and taking up of space, both inside the conference and in collaboration with activists and organizers in place.

Nonetheless, the risk remains that once in attendance, resistance will be reduced to a cursory acknowledgement of the ban and nothing more. These points are not easily tallied and each academic weighing this decision has different positionality and different stakes – personal and professional obligations vary, and not everyone stands to lose the same amount.  Finally, as has been pointed out before, this ban represents a new version of a long standing policy of hostile borders and exclusionary migration practices in the United States and elsewhere. Well before this ban, Muslim and racialized people have encountered discrimination and barriers to entry that are legal, bureaucratic, and financial. So while scholars may be definitively banned from attending conferences at this time, there are many who point out that attendance was never truly an option. How can a response address more than this particular moment, but fight these injustices more globally?

The students and faculty of the University of Toronto’s Geography and Planning department drafted  a statement to the AAG calling for specific actions that should be taken to improve upon their earlier stance, but also to make fundamental changes to the association over a longer time scale. The statement has been shared widely and currently has over 600 signatures from academics all over the world, both by those planning to boycott and those who plan to attend.

As members of FEAST, we agree with this call for action and have decided at this time to move forward with our planned sessions, understanding that there will be gaps in the program as some of our participants opt not to attend. However, we intend to use our time at the AAG (including some of our session time) to highlight how this is not a business-as-usual conference. We also intend to find ways to organize on the ground to make sure that those who are not attending are not forgotten. We believe that the AAG should be taking the necessary steps to reimburse funds to all those who are affected by the ban, not only those who hold a passport from one of the seven countries, but all those who due to personal convictions or unwillingness to submit to harassment are also unable to attend.

In this situation, we do not see the decision to boycott or the decision to attend and organize as existing in opposition to each other, but rather as varied strategies that each have a place in this struggle. There are different ways to be in solidarity with those affected and each person, perspective, and situation will warrant a different strategy. There is a clear need for meaningful long term change within the AAG. In one of the demands, the statement mentioned above also calls for the AAG to, “ support Indigenous sovereignty and social, racial, and environmental justice.” We maintain that this kind of systemic change requires multifaceted approaches from a range of actors. Resistance is not uniform, but if we continue to read the work of those who are directly affected, listen to the voices of those who are marginalized and follow the lead of the communities that are already organizing, it can be unified.

 

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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Growing Culturally Acceptable Local Food Systems

Photo by nunavut is licensed under CC2.0

Photo by nunavut is licensed under CC2.0

In most cases when I try to explain in a brief sentence the focus of my research to family or friends unfamiliar with food studies and the recent debates of the field, they walk away with the two words: immigrants and local food. Their follow up question often hinges on the question of how immigrants, particularly new arrivals from countries with distinctly different climates, geographies and cuisines can maintain their traditional diets in a new country. Does supporting locally cultivated and produced food in a new country require giving up traditional diets? The question is a valid one, how can local food movements in the basic sense of food provisioning accommodate for non-local diets? Asked differently, how can products that are not native to Ontario’s local foodshed be produced locally? In some cases it can be effectively impossible. Despite a variety of technological and scientific improvements and changes, Canada, even in its more temperate locations, does not have the appropriate climate to grow certain plants. (Coconuts, plantains, coffee, and mangoes are just a few that come to mind).  However, there are several edible plants that have grown in Canada for generations, but have never been farmed or sold widely for general consumption. Similarly many plants that have not traditionally grown in Canada can thrive in our climate and soil. What has been lacking is often information and political will. This has slowly begun to change and a variety of organizations and actors in Toronto have in recent years been working to research the viability of increasing local production of this produce, which is referred to as world foods, ethnic crops, cultural foods, among other names.

Research has been varied, but largely focused on identifying the barriers to increasing production of ethnic crops, necessary steps to increase support for farmers interested in growing these crops and consumer surveys to evaluate demand (Adekunle et al., 2012.; Feeding Diversity) The Worlds Crop Initiative, a joint partnership of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, The Stop Community Centre, and Vineland Research and Innovation Centre has researched the optimal growing and storage conditions of several of these crops and produced guides that are freely available for those interested in growing them. The McVean Farm Incubator Program run by FarmStart has offered new farmers interested in growing these crops the space and facilities required to get their projects off the ground. Increasing production of Locally Grown Global Crops is even one of the six broad projects supported by the Toronto Food Strategy team. Other initiatives have worked to increase the profile of locally grown crops of this variety, such as the Toronto Environmental Alliance Locally Grown Culturally-Specific Food Guides aimed at Chinese, South Asian, Middle Eastern and African/Caribbean populations. These initiatives show that providing locally grown global crops is definitely on the agenda in agricultural and political conversations about food in Ontario, but the conversation should not end here.

While it is extremely important that the local food system is able to provide a wider variety of produce to cater to the diverse population that lives and eats in Ontario today, to reduce the question of immigrant participation in local food to vegetables is to miss the larger picture. As stated by Hammelman and Hayes-Conroy, “When cultural acceptability becomes little more than access to ‘‘multicultural ingredients,’’ we risk losing sight of the original target—culturally sensitive food practice and policy” (2015, 40).  The local food system needs to move past the simple model of inclusion of immigrants through inclusion of new food items and actually restructure itself in a way that fundamentally represents the variety of people living in Ontario. New immigrants disproportionally experience food insecurity, with 19.7% of respondents compared to the national average of 12.5% (Tarasuk et al., 2013). Improving their rates of food security will require more than simply providing locally grown vegetables that are familiar. The initiatives listed above do not cease to be important, but need to be part of a larger strategy to reform the food system to represent marginalized populations, especially considering the continuing extremely high rates of food insecurity reported by Latin American, Aboriginal and black households. Fostering cultural acceptability in the food system must be seen as a process that is continually negotiated, not a list of produce. To better understand the ways in which the food system is currently failing certain groups, research needs to be conducted directly with these communities to record their stories and viewpoints. This research needs to move past analysing these groups solely as consumers and a potential market, but as actors with complex identities, experiences and viewpoints. Culturally acceptability depends on moving past diverse food provisioning to increasing representation of new immigrants, racialized communities and indigenous communities in the process of food system policy formation.

Read more:

Adekunle, B., G. Filson and S. Sethuratnam. (2012) Culturally appropriate vegetables and economic development: A contextual analysis. Appetite 59 (2012) 148-154

Feeding Diversity. Community Access and Commercialization of World Crops. (2013) Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Toronto Public Health and the Toronto Food Policy Council.

Hammelman, C. and Hayes-Conroy, A. (2015) Understanding Cultural Acceptability for Urban Food Policy Journal of Planning Literature 30(1) 37-48

Kelleher, S, C. Lam, M. Skowronski and V Vaidyanathan. (2009) World Foods, Local Production Report. Ed. Ellise Goarley, Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation

Tarasuk, V, Mitchell, A, Dachner, N. (2015). Household food insecurity in Canada, 2013. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF).

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/