Food Sovereignty is in Your Hands (Literally!)

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ~ Hippocrates

My pantry
My pantry

I’m just coming back from a nice walk (or I may say “jump”) into a Hazelnut Meadows Community garden, located in Newton (Surrey, BC)…the garden was locked and I don’t have the key, so I had no other option but jumping the fences, almost as tall as I am…
My visit had a laudable purpose: we were filming as a part of a short video for the Surrey/White Rock Food Action Coalition I am part of, and they wanted to interview me about my work on the past community food mapping workshops, the Food for Thought Community Garden I coordinate and the upcoming “dreams”: a more inclusive and wider scope Community Food Mapping project, Food resilience workshops and a Permaculture demonstration site for Surrey and/or White Rock.
Today’s post is a “come back” to one of my topics/passions: Food Sovereignty (I like this definition better than “food security” as the second is usually associated with poverty and this narrow view creates the delusion that those who are not “poor” are food secure…it also links food security with food banks and community kitchens for marginalized peoples..again, perpetuating the idea of “I’m OK, they are not”, the idea of fixing the symptoms instead of solving the causes and preventing more of the same…)
La Via Campesina ( ) defines Food Sovereignty as follows:
“Food Sovereignty is 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.”
In other words, food sovereignty is Permaculture applied to food production, consumption and management.
Permaculture teaches that we should all be responsible for ourselves and our children, and that one of the best ways to be “responsible” is to become food sovereign and grow our own food.
The various faces of food sovereignty:
Food sovereignty in emergency situations: Only those who have lived through financial, energy or social collapses, wars and similar situations know that food is one of the first things affected when the world stops being “normal”. While we can’t forget that 1 billion people are starving (that is 1 in every 7 people around the world!), a big bunch of us are used to relative “food security”: we think that because this has “always been like that” during our lives, it always will be: as long as we have a job, there will always be food in the supermarkets. And worst case scenario, we have food banks, right?
Supermarkets’ reserves last only 3-7 days (depending on the food, as meats, dairy, vegetables and fruits are replenished almost every day). Most of the food we consume in North America travels many miles before reaching our markets and is highly dependent on global issues such as war, social unrest, climate change and the sort. It is also dependent on fuel prices on both its production and transportation.

During natural disasters, food supply is affected. Even if nothing happens “out there” your household depends on income to acquire the food they consume. If for whatever reason that income stops or is reduced, food insecurity may affect your home.
So the first step to get closer to food resilience is what many households did for centuries before supermarkets were created: buy or exchange in bulk and store food “for the rainy days”
What to store and how:
Rice: rice last for long time, is easy to cook and contains carbohydrates. It is also difficult to grow in these countries and the first thing to go in case of a global collapse.
Sprouting seeds: best if you can pair-up with someone else as they are better bought in big quantities (they are usually not found in regular supermarkets and tend to be expensive if bought in small quantities): they would provide fresh food and they are a source of fiber, proteins and vitamins, easy to grow and pack with you (they just need water and no stove)
Beans: (all types of beans, lentils, etc) they are high in fiber, protein and antioxidants. As rice, they last long if preserved in cool, dry and dark spaces (I put mine in old store jars). They can be bought in big packages or by the pound
Honey: try organic, local honey. Honey can last for a long time and is full of beneficial sugars your body requires
Sugar: better if it is organic and brown, sugar may be needed for many things (not only cooking) and can last for years unspoiled
Hard grains like wheat, dry corn, buckwheat and millet (to make breads and enhance soups, etc)
Soft grains like barley, quinoa oat and rye (well sealed and stored can last for years)·
Flours and pastas: easy to cook and add to meals; may last 5-8 years
Salt: salt is necessary for many meals, last forever an can be used for other things around the house apart from eating (it can be used to preserve and cure meats, fish, etc)
Dried herbs: you can actually do this by yourself if you grow herbs (as I do) in containers all-year-long (some of them, as basil, may only grow during spring-summer, but you can grow enough in containers to dry it for use all year-long or even beyond)
Oils: olive oils may last up to 2-3 years, sunflower and canola up to 2 years
Dried fruits: you can dry your owns (better if you grow or exchange them, but if that is not possible, buy them in bulk from local farmers when they are in season (or volunteer for the harvest in exchange for fruits and vegetables) and they last long if well preserved (cool, dry and dark places)
Canned vegetables and fruits: start with the easiest ones: you can buy a canner among a few friends (or one for your household if you can a lot as I do) and do the same as above (go to the local farms, farmers’ markets, etc and buy or exchange work for vegetables and fruits you like: the activity is rewarding and fun and you’ll have fruits for deserts, breakfasts and snacks for an entire year or beyond (please make sure you follow safety guidelines, I’ll post some next time)
Nuts: nuts have a shelf life, so if you can find local ones is better. Some “nuts” (like peanuts) are really not nuts but legumes. Again, preserve them well, they are a source for protein and vitamins and most people like them.
Coffee and tea: may last 2-5 years if not open and can provide comfort and heat
Vinegar: it can also be used for cleaning and disinfecting and to preserve vegetables
Alcohol (beverages, suc as vodka, whiskey, rum, brandy…): alcohol can be mixed with different things, used as medicine and may comfort when consumed within limits
Don’t forget water; water is essential for our lives, I save mine in glass containers and change it every six months. Make sure the containers are located in different places of the house and other areas where you and your loved ones spend most of the time, and that the containers are disinfected and stored properly (plastic is toxic but effective if stored in cool, dark places and water replaced every six months…)
Growing Food:

The second thing you can do requires more skills, space and time, but with creativity and patience anyone can do it: grow part of your food (it is technically impossible to grow all the food you’ll need in a typical city/suburb home).

Food can be grown in community garden plots, back and front-yards, balconies, neighbour yards, common areas in complexes and neighbourhoods, public parks, schools, churches, workplaces’ patios, building entrances and parking lots…laws are starting to become more and more flexible about what, where and how you can grow food, so “I don’t have space” shouldn’t be an excuse:

Use your windows, balconies and patios or offer to garden a portion of your neighbour’s patio

  • Partner with others and ask around, you’ll find plenty of locations and groups eager to offer or share space or land
  • Be a pioneer, don’t wait for others. They will eventually follow
  • Use discarded or donated materials for up-cycling: if you don’t have old food containers, ask at the grocery store: milk, soda, yogurt and ice-cream old containers are perfect for herbs and small plants
  • Ask around for soil or make your own: composting and gardening are really easy (don’t allow others to convince you otherwise!)

Food can also be grown all-year-round: using cold-frames made of old doors or windows or even hard transparent plastic, using passive solar/heat by building your garden beds close to the sunniest walls of your house (or the building where you are gardening), mulching with autumn leaves, shredded papers or even stones, all can help to keep your soil warm enough and the plants sheltered.

When planning your edible garden, start with easy crops that you and your household love. Start with local crops that are already adapted and grow things seasonally.

Harvesting and Gathering Food:

The third thing you need to do to attain food sovereignty is to become familiar with the edible wilds around your city: plants in parks and common areas that may be harvested for their fruits, flowers or leaves for either food or medicine. Take an “edible walk” with a specialist or take a full course…you can also get a few books from the local library and start your own “plant ID” excursions…
Food Preservation and Preparation:

Another step toward food sovereignty is to learn how to preserve food and how to cook food from scratch: if there are not workshops on canning, use the Internet or books from the library and start with the easiest: fruits and tomatoes (for canning), fruits and vegetables (for freezing), herbs and tomatoes (for dehydrating) and so on…

Becoming Food Resilient
When scarcity hits populations, the most affected are usually the elder, the sick and small children. Another group that is strongly affected are people who for one or other reason have food restrictions: they see themselves suddenly unable to access the types of food they are used to eat and change is either dangerous (like in cases when the food restriction is caused by allergies or chronic conditions) or difficult (as in the case of people who have food restrictions due to beliefs, preferences or taste)
Try all types of food and alternatives for those foods you usually consume: make a list of the food you usually eat and list at least one alternative for each: then try it and get used to new flavours and textures.
Connecting with others

Finally, the best way to be “food sovereign” is to make connections with your community: local farmers, farmers markets, local grocery stores, other gardeners and people who care about food sovereignty in your community. Join or start clubs where you can exchange skills, recipes and food and groups of activists who advocate for food sovereignty…
Being food safe:

One of the secrets of being food “secure” or “sovereign” is to include food safe in your plans and processes:

  • Label all the food you store or preserve (year, type and any other necessary details)
  • Rotate the food: eat from what you are storing and make sure you are always rotating so food don’t go spoiled or wasted
  • Be extremely careful when handling fresh food and when preserving: food can be affected by all types of pathogens causing from mild to severe illnesses and intoxications and even death. If possible, take a food safe course and learn about the basic rules around food handling, preservation and preparation

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