Strong Indigenous Food Systems: Does Canada's Food Guide Deliver?

This paper was written for CSOC 808 Sociology of Food & Eating and received a grade of 100%.

Your submission demonstrates thoughtful application of a critical perspective on the topic. – Dr. Diana Appavoo
In 2019, Canada released its new food policy, Food Policy for Canada: Everyone at the Table (Food Policy). Fourth among six priority outcomes the Food Policy identifies, is "strong Indigenous food systems" (Item Four). This essay first considers the concept of "two-eyed seeing", which the Food Policy purports to promote in its guiding principles. It then examines Item Four through the dual lenses of food discourse and food sovereignty. Item Four is an important policy priority, however, interrogation reveals that as written, it has potential to perpetuate the harm that Canada's past policies have caused.
The Food Policy (2019) states that it "promotes two-eyed seeing to ensure that Indigenous knowledge and practices are considered alongside other forms of knowledge and evidence" (p. 11). Bartlett, Marshall and Marshall (2012) explain two-eyed seeing as "the gift of multiple perspective", that is, seeing from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges, and from the other with the strengths of Western knowledges (p. 335). As Indigenous food systems form the basis of all food systems and colonialism has undermined those systems (Kepkiewicz & Rotz, 2018, p. 17-18), it is unclear what benefit a Western eye, seeing as it does through on ongoing system of colonialism, can bring to the development of food policy for Indigenous people. Does Indigenous participation in this process, as Kepkiewicz and Rotz ask, "merely allow settlers to feel better about processes we control, lending legitimacy while soothing settler conscience?" (p. 20). Two-eyed seeing does not simply mean cooperation, but understanding that in certain circumstances "one has more applicable strengths than the other" (Bartlett et al., p. 335). Presumably, the Indigenous people of Canada, not settlers, have the best understanding of how to meet their own food needs and, as two-eyed seeing suggests, in this circumstance that knowledge should be deferred to. The following examination of food sovereignty and food discourse further reveals how the Food Policy can be seen as yet another tool to assert dominance over Canada's original nations.
Moving to a food sovereignty model that aligns with Indigenous ways of knowing would be more beneficial for both Canadians and the Indigenous people of Canada than seeking Indigenous participation in the Food Policy. According to Desmarais (2017), food sovereignty is a "path to socially just and ecologically sustainable food systems" (p. 364) and a "precondition to genuine food security" (p. 367). Importantly, it "is the right of peoples and nations to control their own food and agricultural systems, including their own markets, production modes, food cultures, and environment" (Demarais, 2017, p. 366). As Kepkiewicz and Rotz (2018) note, Indigenous food sovereignty "predates the Canadian government and its policies" (p. 13). They therefore caution against the language of inclusion employed in the Food Policy which may appear to settlers as moving toward Reconciliation but, in fact, fails to challenge the underlying social and political structures that would allow Indigenous people to participate in a meaningful way (Kepkiewicz & Rotz, 2018). Conversely, food sovereignty addresses systemic power issues by centring those who produce and consume food in decision-making (Desmarais, 2017). Noting that Canada has repeatedly failed to honour agreements with Indigenous people, Kepkiewicz and Rotz (2018) suggest that, "developing a national food policy may reify, rather than dismantle, colonial relationships", that "by maintaining a colonial structure and process, the policy will produce colonial (and in turn racist) outcomes" (pp. 13-16). Reconciliation requires the radical restructuring of power systems and is more likely to be achieved through food sovereignty than the Food Policy.
There are two discourses about healthy eating present in the Food Policy, both of which have the potential to harm the Indigenous people of Canada. Beagan and Chapman (2017) note that healthy eating currently forms the dominant discourse about food. Because the Food Policy clearly reflects this discourse, like Kepkiewicz and Rotz (2018), I question for whom does this national strategy exist? As pervasive ways of thinking, discourses eventually define and limit what can be said or considered possible (Beagan & Chapman, 2017). Over time, the discourse surrounding healthy eating for Indigenous people has come to be defined as eating traditional foods, those that have been hunted, fished, or gathered (Luppens & Power, 2018). Yet Luppens and Power (2018) found that, while these foods were obviously traditional, foods such as rice, potatoes, bologna, and soy sauce were often also seen as traditional because they had been consumed for generations. Further, participants told Luppens and Power (2018) that incorporating traditional foods was difficult due to high cost, concern about environmental contaminants, lack of access to hunting lands, and loss of the inter-generational knowledge necessary to harvest and process these foods. While Item Four states that First Nations, Inuit and Métis food systems will be "defined by communities themselves" (p. 7), the Food Policy also refers to the notions of co-development, partnership with Indigenous communities, two-eyed seeing, and "support" of Indigenous food self-determination. In my view, this is coded language that indicates that the dominant discourse on both healthy eating generally and what constitutes healthy eating for Indigenous people will ultimately assert dominance over Indigenous input. As Luppens and Power (2018) write, the dichotomy of categorizing foods as traditional and non-traditional "tends to freeze 'authentic' Indigenous culture in the past and delegitimize as 'inauthentic' the changes that vibrant and resilient cultures make to adapt" (p. 158). In its attempt to reconcile two discourses about healthy eating within the same strategy, the Food Policy runs the risk of subsuming Indigenous needs to the dominant culture.
Finally, the global COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced critical issues in our food system. Disruptions to food transportation have revealed how inherently precarious our access to food – and therefore food security – is under a globalized model. This underscores the importance of moving to a food sovereignty framework, but also calls discourses of healthy eating into question. Prolonged emphasis on fresh foods and cutting carbohydrates in our society ultimately left many with inadequate knowledge of how to prepare and cook food from a pantry when it came time to isolate. While these issues did not discriminate, as a marginalized population, it is likely that Indigenous people were disproportionately affected. Any steps toward Reconciliation are crucial as we move forward as a country post-COVID-19 and as such I firmly believe that Item Four is an important policy priority. It must ensure, however, that Indigenous people are centred in its development through honest practice of two-eyed seeing, and careful consideration of both healthy eating discourses and food sovereignty. Currently, this is not the case.
Bartlett, C., Marshall, M., & Marshall, A. (2012). Two-Eyed Seeing and Other Lessons Learned Within a Co-Learning Journey of Bringing Together Indigenous and Mainstream Knowledges and Ways of Knowing. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2(4), 331-340. doi:10.1007/s13412-012-0086-8
Beagan, B. L., & Chapman, G. (2017). Constructing "Healthy Eating"/Constructing Self. In A. Winson, J. Sumner, & M. Koç (Eds.), Critical Perspectives in Food Studies (pp. 64-76). Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.
Desmarais, A. (2017). Building Food Sovereignty: A Radical Framework for Socially Just and Ecologically Sustainable Food Systems (A. Winson, J. Sumner, & M. Koç, Eds.), Critical Perspectives in Food Studies (pp. 363-375). Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.
Food Policy for Canada: Everyone at the Table (Publication). (2019). Retrieved
Kepkiewicz, L., & Rotz, S. (2018). Toward Anti-Colonial Food Policy in Canada? (Im)possibilities Within the Settler State. Canadian Food Studies / La Revue Canadienne Des études Sur L'alimentation, 5(2), 13-24. doi:10.15353/cfs-rcea.v5i2.202
Luppens, L., & Power, E. (2018). "Aboriginal isn't just about what was before, it's what's happening now": Perspectives of Indigenous Peoples on the Foods in their Contemporary Diets. Canadian Food Studies / La Revue Canadienne Des études Sur L'alimentation, 5(2), 142-161. doi:10.15353/cfs-rcea.v5i2.219

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