Spirited Reflection: The values of food
The month of October brings many opportunities to reflect on the place of food in our lives.
For those of us in the Christian tradition, it opens with Worldwide Communion Sunday — a day when our sisters and brothers in faith gather at the table to share bread and wine. This act of solidarity — communion; with oneness — recognizes the place food occupies at the very centre of our relationship with the Holy and with each other. Whether it be sacramental or simply functional, there is intimacy in the sharing of a meal. It is no coincidence that the word “companions” literally translates as “those with whom we share bread”.
October continues into Canadian Thanksgiving. Again, food is at the centre of our tables, which now seat extended family and intimate friends. Food as a gathering element, rich with tradition and story, once again occupies that relational centre. But on Thanksgiving weekend that companionship is often assumed, and instead the conscious focus of our reflection is gratitude. Even beyond the harvest celebration, it is difficult to think about food without experiencing gratitude. Food itself springs almost miraculously out of seeds and earth, and is tended by many hands before reaching our table. To eat is to accept our dependence on the earth, and our interdependence with each other. There is no option but to be grateful.
Then, shortly after Thanksgiving in Canada, and in over 150 other countries, the founding of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is commemorated on October 16 as World Food Day. While officially an anniversary for the FAO, governments, religious and civil society organizations use World Food Day to highlight the presence of injustice in our global food systems. Hunger and malnourishment continue to be widespread, even though we grow enough food to feed everyone alive. One cannot seriously consider food without engaging in questions of fairness and equity.
Solidarity. Gratitude. Justice. These are the themes of food. They are bound together, each giving rise to the others. They are themes that enhance our healing and liberation.
These are also themes echoed in the 2007 Nyeleni Declaration; a prophetic statement that gave shape to the food sovereignty movement. According to the Declaration, 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 system. Endorsing and promoting food sovereignty is a means through which we can act in solidarity, express gratitude, and enhance justice. Taking food sovereignty seriously moves us from historic economic colonialism to mutuality and interdependence.
Food sovereignty is not just a frame for solidarity partners overseas, but for our own peoples and nations, as well. Whether in affirming the rights of indigenous peoples of Canada to culturally appropriate food, or in supporting community shared agriculture and farmers markets, or in developing a meaningful National Food Policy for Canada, the principles of food sovereignty should be our guide. Canada would be better and stronger for the enhanced Justice and resilience brought by a food sovereignty approach.
As we celebrate this World Food Day, take seriously the importance of food in our lives, and consider how your relationship to food gives rise to solidarity, gratitude, and Justice.
Martin Settle is Executive Director of USC Canada, a charity that builds food sovereignty by working in partnership to enhance biodiversity, promote ecological agriculture, and counter inequity. He is a member of Ottawa’s First United Church, serves on the Ottawa Food Policy Council, and is still trying to figure out how Halloween fits into this October food narrative.