article and photos by Monty Caid
Food Sovereignty once existed all over the world where large, indigenous human populations thrived. Abundant foods once came from ecosystems that created foods naturally in a food forest, oak woodland, grassland, or wetland kind of ecosystem. These natural, sovereign, local food systems were comprised of diverse native plants and animals that grew together and depended on each other. These native plants and animals were also highly nutritious and very abundant, providing the needed foods, medicines and materials for large, healthy human and wildlife populations to thrive.
Today these ecosystems barely exist and abundant native foods are being lost, along with the wildlife that depends on them. Food sovereignty was lost by destroying native ecosystems and replacing them with monocrops and domesticated, non-native plants and animals which require much more labor, energy and resources to produce less nutritious foods. Because of the lack of native plants and poor land management, agriculture and urban landscapes are leading causes of the extinction crisis, loss of ecosystem functions, invasive species and climate change.
The loss of food sovereignty began when the kings of Europe destroyed the oak woodlands and created conifer tree plantations and monocrops, and took control of the remaining wildlands and made them off limits to the people. People were forced to work in farms and factories to make money in order to survive; their survival was no longer tied to nature. Large areas of land were cleared to grow annual grains that were used to produce bread, beer and beef. Food was no longer obtainable from nature and nature was quickly destroyed, forgotten, and considered unimportant; knowledge of the many uses of native plants was lost or forbidden. Control through the destruction of nature and unnatural food production was forced on the people. This time period marks the beginning of mass extinctions due to destroyed ecosystems and habitats, mass starvation due to lack of access to the food being grown and to traditional hunting and gathering lands, massive wars due to conflicts over land control, massive resource extraction to grow unnatural plants in unnatural ways. Today we have damaged soils, chemical pollution, depleted water sources, low food diversity and nutritional values, invasive non-native species and endangered native species, collapsing ecosystems and climate change. We are still practicing the same ways that were inflicted upon our ancestors by kings and then, in turn, inflict them today upon indigenous people of the world. Instead of kings it is now large corporations, or maybe they are just different perpetrators of the same idea.
Food sovereignty begins when we incorporate native plants and native foods into our urban landscape and local food producing system. Native plants and foods can restore the relationship humans have lost with nature. Native food restoration becomes native plant restoration, wildlife restoration, ecosystem restoration and global restoration. Native foods can also restore human health by providing more nutritious and diverse ingredients to our watered down domestic diet. Native plants and native foods can reconnect us to nature and release us from the belief that food comes from farms and nature does not produce abundant foods. Nature was intentionally destroyed to make us believe this; when Europeans discovered America there were abundant, diverse, delicious, nutritious foods on every square foot of land and water all growing in harmony with the local environment.
Food sovereignty can be achieved by restoring, growing, using and trading local native ingredients that are unique to your region. Native plants can be incorporated into our landscapes as drought tolerant foods, medicines and wildlife host plants for sustaining native bees, birds and butterflies. They can also be used as companion plants to domestic crops to build soil health, increase disease resistance, increase pollination and attract beneficial insects. By restoring native plants, we begin to notice them, know them, appreciate them, protect them,use them and restore our relationship with the natural world as we become a beneficial species to our local ecosystems.
Monty Caid is the founder of Lost Foods Sanctuary and Native Plant Nursery at Redwood Acres in Eureka. More information at lostfoods.org