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  • Jackie Skrypnek

Feeding Ourselves Afresh

Let's get real for just a moment about what's going on with our food system – and then let's get busy fixing it.

Shock and anxiety over the price of everyday food items like butter and apples has become a mutual defining experience of our time. As I purchased olive oil the other day, a fellow shopper remarked with relief that the price didn't yet reflect the poor crop yield he'd been reading about. Meanwhile, I had it in mind to stock up on chocolate amid reports that its price tag may be set to triple.

grocery store notice about fresh chicken shortage
A common sight at a major grocer

It seems we're now seeing played out in real time what were once largely hypothetical concerns about our global industrial food system. Climate change patterns affecting crops from elsewhere, increasing heat and water shortage here in Alberta endangering our own yields, global conflicts, supply chain disruptions, pest and disease vectors, urbanization and loss of farmland, concentration of power all along the food chain – all of it adding up to a sense of unease, and rightly so. There are intrinsic vulnerabilities to a system that prioritizes corporate efficiency over human growers and eaters. So with today's financial squeeze and fickle food availability feeling very real, I figure it's time to remind ourselves how we can move into a more secure and sustainable way of feeding ourselves.

To me, building an alternative food system begins with the logic that we the people should have agency over our own sustenance – in other words, food sovereignty. The notion of sovereignty, while mostly associated with positive movements towards self-determination, is sometimes mistakenly used to eschew collective accountability. My own understanding of sovereignty is that it entails a healthy dose of responsibility – the desire and willingness to take responsibility for fulfilling particular needs, which can only truly be done in relationship with other humans and the planet. Food sovereignty, then, looks like reclaiming agency over our sustenance and planting it firmly within a matrix of community and place.

Self-serve veggie shack stocked with locally-grown produce

With that as the long game, what are the things we can be doing to inch (or propel!) us along this better pathway where healthy food is much more securely and fairly within our grasp? I offer this list as a brief review (for myself as much as anyone), because sometimes we already know the answers but just need to be reminded and re-inspired. Items could almost certainly be added, subtracted, or debated:

  • Grow your own food (anything from jars of sprouts to balcony vegetables to gardens to perennial trees & shrubs to chickens/rabbits...)

  • Learn to forage ethically (especially so-called weeds)

  • Learn to hunt or fish ethically (especially invasive species and those in need of culling)

  • Explore ways to exchange value outside of the monetary system (ie. barter, work exchange)

  • Salvage food (fruit gleaning, discounted produce, local food waste initiatives, freezing or otherwise using expiring items, etc.)

  • Build relationships with and support local producers (and retailers who do the same)

  • Save seed and purchase from small seed companies (to ensure seed sovereignty and local adaptability)

  • Finesse diet to make use of more local and seasonal foods versus imports (seek out fair trade for hard-to-replace items like coffee and chocolate)

  • Learn to cook and otherwise make best use of real, unprocessed food (fermenting, freezing, dehydrating, cold storage, etc.) – or teach these skills to others

  • Initiate or participate in community-scale solutions (food forests, gardens, greenhouses, kitchens, equipment like mills or fruit presses, etc.)

  • Consider becoming a producer yourself or filling another niche in the food system (delivery, butchery, plant nursery, etc.)

  • Share your food-related skills, knowledge, and challenges freely

  • Advocate for wise use of agricultural land (restricting development, regenerative practices, water stewardship, etc.)

  • Join a local food policy council to help guide regional decisions

None of us is going to take on every item on this list. But maybe there's one that seems do-able, dare I say even exciting, to you. And if the next person is working on another one and so on, we begin to form the foundation of a food system we can rely on – that can sustain us, come what may. I personally would like to deepen my habits on several fronts and be more consistent in the area of seed sourcing, given the increasing corporate concentration of power I've recently looked into. Our dominant food system may appear to be an intractable target for our energies, but if we take the oft-quoted approach of Buckminster Fuller: "To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”, then our efforts will not only benefit us in the short term, they may just leave that old "intractable" system behind.


Apr 21

Jackie, I just happened to be listening to a talk by Lyla June, an Indigenous scholar and artist, about traditional Indigenous ways of working with the earth to grow food. It makes me think that to encourage and support endeavors to revive or incorporate traditional approaches could be added to your list of suggestions. Much of what you've said actually is in alignment. Love your column, as always.

Apr 23
Replying to

Very true, Patti - I knew there would be alternative versions of this list! Thank you 😊

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