Food Sovereignty and Security in times of Global Crisis

Food sovereignty and security are topics often relegated to those with lofty ideals and spare time. As the global pandemic ravages and fragments the entire planet, we see that this topic actually effects all of us right now. As the internationally run global food distribution network slowly grinds to a halt in some countries, even people in large cities with supermarkets all around them are no longer able to buy all the items they are typically accustomed to. Even foods that can and are grown locally become rare or costly when the local means to harvest and distribute them is reliant on externalities such as imported labor coupled to unrealistically low wages.

Local and regional food production and distribution often remain underdeveloped, underfunded, and underappreciated. Production systems have been reduced to a question of price above all other considerations, forced to focus on quantity over quality, and convenience over intentional participation. And this is despite the fact that local alternatives can often provide both quantity and quality at a fair price if enough people stop throwing their money at large corporations and instead invest it in their regional food sources and distribution networks, simply by buying local and participating in locally oriented programs. This change in habit may only require a similar amount of effort and time as that spent searching for a free parking spot at the local chain supermarket, or standing in a long line at the local big box checkout.

The fallacies of the dominant decision making paradigm are easy enough to see when one takes the time to dissect the current return on investment from a consumer perspective.

Industry pressure to lower food prices, while indirectly benefiting the consumer in some cases, are more often than not purely profit driven, at the cost of all other factors. They result in lower quality, higher environmental damage, increased chemical usage and harmful mono-culture practice, and the largely ignored waste production dilemma. They are sustained by higher hidden transport costs and a reliance on a global transport network that is both environmentally devastating and very susceptible to breaking down in times of crisis, leaving even the most profitable large supermarket chains with empty shelves.

Sacrificing quality for quantity has led to foods being produced that have little resemblance to their more natural and healthy counterparts. Tomatoes with no flavor whatsoever, vegetables that can sit in the refrigerator for a month without rotting, but never taste like they used to or still can when one buys an organic or local version that isn’t subject to the same requirements of needing to be shipped or stored for weeks before reaching the consumer.

The cost driven focus results in local farmers being edged out of the market and local consumers losing all control and say in how and where their food is produced, and under what circumstances. Quality is somehow relegated to the status of being a bonus in this larger, profit driven equation.

When a concentrated number of large corporations dominate the market, we are left with both an increasingly poor population facing hunger despite record profits, and an epidemic of obesity and declining health as a direct result of the quality and quantity of foods we are presented with, and lack of participation in those systems at the local level. When a minimum amount of local labor and involvement is required to provide high volumes of food to the population, the potential wealth is simply being vacuumed out of the area entirely rather than reinvested at its most direct point of interaction.

If enough people invested their shopping money in local systems, not only would the local producers be able to grow quality foods at a decent price, but they would have the resources and demand to develop robust yet simple production and distribution methods at much smaller cost to the environment, while also being more resilient to global calamities like those we currently face.

Practically every community or region has the capacity and means to provide a substantial portion of basic food necessities for their immediate populations. Shifting our support to such systems provides economic benefits to the local economy by providing jobs and potentially easier and more secure access to our daily food needs and provides further incentive to invest in and strengthen our commitment to our local communities.  A full circle at the local level is created: A system that works for people. Most localities already have at least some rag-tag framework of systems in place, be it community supported agriculture, food cooperatives, or community gardens.

They could all use our help via increased consumer involvement or even direct assistance and participation. Being involved in such a crucial part of meeting our everyday basic needs can be rewarding and enriching, it builds and strengthens local networks and solidifies community resilience. It empowers people to reclaim the decision making processes currently relegated to profit driven corporations and retool the system to reflect people’s values and needs.

Reach out to those in your community and see of there’s something you can do to bring some sovereignty and stability to your local or regional food chain. If nothing else simply paying attention to where your food comes from and choosing local sources where possible goes a long way.

It really can be that simple to make a big difference, not just for ourselves, but our entire planet. Think globally, act locally!