When the pandemic hit America in the late winter of 2020, many folks found themselves pondering where their food comes from when they suddenly found grocery store shelves empty. Supply chain disruptions, combined with panic buying, led to shortages of many daily-use items from flour to meat. For most survivalists, concern about food supply isn’t new -- as we understand the importance of self-reliance and food independence (which is why we weren’t the ones waiting in long grocery lines).
However, when it comes to food independence, there are different opinions and philosophies. Some individuals stock several months of food in their homes; others learn how to forage, hunt, and grow their own food. Many do a combination of the two. Additionally, people differ on their end goals – they either hope for food security or food sovereignty.
Ultimately, food independence is achieved by not relying on the government or your grocery store to provide food. If we face another situation similar to COVID-19 or a different crisis, those who have found food independence will be the ones who do not panic and have the essentials necessary for survival.
Understanding the difference between food security and food sovereignty
When discussing the philosophies around food independence, there are two major ideas: food security and food sovereignty. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Those who are proponents of food security are fighting for everyone to have access to nutritious food.
However, food sovereignty builds on the technical definition of food security and molds it into a political philosophy. La Via Campesina defines, “Food Sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems." Essentially, food sovereignty takes the idea that all people should have access to nutritious food to the next level: all people should have autonomy over how they produce, obtain, and distribute food.
Global Food Politics explains, “The right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labor, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food-producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies. Food sovereignty means the primacy of people’s and community’s rights to food and food production, over trade concerns.”
In other words, food sovereignty looks like having the right to garden, hunt, and forage as needed. It is not only trusting that the food you purchase at your grocery store is safe and accessible (food security) – it is knowing you have the ability to obtain food without relying on the corporate food regimes.
Food regimes of the past
Whether you have acknowledged it or not, big money corporations control what food winds up in your fridge and on your table – unless you practice food independence.
Food First Backgrounder explains, “A food regime is a ‘rule-governed structure of production and consumption of food on a world scale.’ The first global food regime spanned the late 1800s through the Great Depression and linked food imports from Southern and American colonies to European industrial expansion. The second food regime reversed the flow of food from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere to fuel Cold War industrialization in the Third World. Today’s corporate food regime is characterized by the monopoly market power and mega-profits of agrifood corporations, globalized meat production, and growing links between food and fuel. Like it or not, virtually all the world’s food systems are tied into today’s corporate food regime. This regime is controlled by a far-flung agrifood industrial complex, made up of huge monopolies like Monsanto, ADM, Cargill and Walmart.”
COVID-19 has shown how dependent people are on today’s food regime, and many have had enough. As people became aware of their dependence on these global food supply chains, they looked for more reliable means for obtaining food. That’s why, in addition to hoarding toilet paper, people started panic planting, causing nurseries and seed companies to be inundated and exhausted of product.
Native Americans and the fight for food sovereignty
One group striving for food sovereignty is Native Americans. Learning how to survive on their land, forage for food and medicines, and hunt is something that indigenous people value. However, as Sicangu CDC argues, “The current industrialized food system is driven by markets and corporations, which is in direct conflict with the traditional values of most Indigenous cultures which (broadly speaking) prioritize relationships between people and the land.”
The food sovereignty movement is providing an opportunity for Native Americans to get back to their roots. For example, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians has started operating a mobile farmers market in Michigan with heirloom and indigenous food grown on Pokagon land, including maple sugar and wild rice production.
The panic of 1893
Beyond the political aspect, food sovereignty is also key when it comes to surviving a crisis. Take the panic of 1893, for example. According to Living Architecture Monitor, “In response to the recession brought on by the Silver Panic of 1893, Detroit Mayor Hazen S. Pingree exhorted Detroit residents to plant their own backyard gardens. While his efforts were initially mocked as ‘Pingree Potato Patches,’ urban gardens were a huge success—and actually ended up generating more income for participating families than those families received from nascent government assistance programs.” Moreover, at one point, “nearly 40 percent of all food produced in the United States came from these gardens.”
WWII victory gardens
In fact, the potato patches during the panic of 1893 paved the way for the WWII victory gardens. In an effort to lessen the public demand for food security, the United States government encouraged people to plant victory gardens. Deep Green Permaculture explains, “A victory garden, also known as a war garden, was a garden grown in people’s homes and in public parks to produce vegetables, herbs and fruit with the aim of aiding the war effort and boosting morale.” Victory gardens have appeared during wars in countries all over the world.
The rise of guerilla gardening
While victory gardens remind us that we can grow food at home in desperate times, guerilla gardening reminds us that we can grow food anywhere – a modern take on food sovereignty. The Prepper Journal claims, “The phrase ‘guerrilla gardening’ was first used in 1973 in New York City, when Liz Christie and her Green Guerrilla group transformed an empty private lot into a vegetable and flower garden for community use. While not legal it was not challenged, and eventually became part of the NYC Parks Department.” Today, this looks like planting crops in abandoned fields or planting seeds in unused land.
Food sovereignty for preparedness
Ultimately, you should stock your pantry with emergency food supplies, but it is just as wise to find ways to practice food sovereignty, such as purchasing sprouting seeds. Look for opportunities to plant, grow, and barter your own food, so that when the time comes, you won’t rely on anyone but yourself.
Feed yourself, free yourself, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply