On Sunday afternoons, when my father was a boy, the family and neighbors would gather at my grandmothers’ farmhouse under a big maple tree. There, the adults would sip fresh lemonade and eat treats while the kids ran around playing in the sun. I wasn’t there of course, but I can see it almost as if I was. The long, gravel drive leading up the house surrounded by farmland. To one side was a garden for personal use. Behind the house, on the left, was the maple tree that must of felt like a redwood with cows meandering further back in the field. The kids, my father included, ran around playing tag, screaming and hollering while trying to see if they could climb into the foreboding maple. The adults sat chattering about the crops, animals, weather, and pie recipes.
My grandfather grew many varying crops and animals for sale. He also worked a night job. My father began working as soon as he was able on the farm and then in the city far-off. Many of the kids my father grew up with became farmers. We’ve watched their farmland and equipment grow in size to be able to stay afloat.
Food is one of those things that we tend to take for granted. It’s really quite easy to with all the grocery stores and markets and restaurants. Food is always around us with easy access (for the most part). As long as you have a car and money for gas and food, it’s incessantly there for you. It’s like my clothes, lamp, pens, paper, all the housewares – they’re just always there. It’s hard to think how my yellow antique lamp was anything but a lamp that just appeared on my table.
When I began cooking directly from my garden, I began to feel a sense of overwhelm as I realized what it took to make ketchup, mayonnaise, fava bean patties, or raise dried beans and getting the climate right for seeds to fruit. Nevermind the work behind tending to a small hundred square foot garden.
Food is an act in community and rebellion and, sometimes, war. We congregate around food during holidays, birthdays, dinner parties, and brunch gatherings (my favorite). Food becomes a catalyst for rebellion as we’ve seen with the Zapatistas in Chiapas or La Via Campesina across India and South America. Food has also been used as an activist tool in smaller ways in countries such as Africa where they are leading farmer-led documentation in villages. Food has been used as a weapon in war since the beginning of time by providing or withholding food during times of conflict.
Yet, unless you are being directly affected by food such as farmers unable to grow what they want and how they want, small farmers being pushed off land, massive droughts, poverty, dangerous working conditions in plants and on the field, it is simply spinning and doing its thing in the background. I heard an episode on The Bite podcast where they were talking about food issues taking a back seat to more important items like climate change or international issues and that people may feel that its frivolous to be concerned about food. Many, many groups and individuals would disagree.
Food production is an important factor in producing climate change and a key loss within it’s acceleration. Hunger is a consequence of poverty that is caused by war, conflict, racism, and structural barriers. In international issues food becomes something that is lost and hard to obtain whether by bombing or direct withholding.
Food may not take front and center of all these issues, but it usually becomes implicated in some way at some point. Most of memories attached to food. Some memories are sweet and remind us of a happy moment in time, while other memories of a certain food may surface feelings of fear or stress.
Food is a powerful tool in activism. Not just by focusing on the hopefulness, love, or community aspects that so many may try to focus on, but because food holds power. It holds power for those who can easily obtain it whenever they want; for the governments that withhold it; and for the activists that fight for it.
My grandmothers farm, which I’ve never seen because it’s now old mine fields, is how I began this road over a decade ago. My attachment to food (beyond simple survival) is that I think of it as a connector and an ignitor for activism. This is food sovereignty.