Food sovereignty in 2022 and beyond

Food sovereignty has been a topic of conversation in the global food community for the past few years. From discussions at one of the biggest culinary events, Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, to the most recent Top Chef Finale, big names in the food and beverage industry are talking about food sovereignty.

What exactly is food sovereignty? According to the Declaration of Nyéléni, the first global forum on the topic, “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. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”

In short, food sovereignty is the idea that everyone has the right to healthy and culturally relevant food from a sustainable source, and at a reasonable price. It is the idea that communities should have the ability to independently meet their nutrition needs.

Does it sound like a dream? The reality is that unless we change our food ways, we will continue to do irreparable harm to the planet. In addition, continuing to trust global corporations to supply our food creates food deserts for oppressed populations and inevitably feeds into unstable supply chains. Instead of being dependent on supply chains (that are now starting to fail us), food sovereignty invites us to create new ways of growing and processing food that is self-sufficient. 

In this week’s edition of Weekly Bites, we summarize the stories of three trailblazers who are taking food sovereignty seriously, for a future where everyone has access to fresh, local, and sustainable food.

Reclaiming indigenous ingredients and history 

Bow & Arrow Brewery is the first woman and Native-American owned brewery in the U.S. 

Co-owned by spouses Shyla Sheppard and Dr. Missy Begay, Bow & Arrow is using beer as a vehicle for putting local indigenous ingredients back into the scene. Dr. Begay, who is Diné (Navajo), often includes ingredients local to New Mexico in their beers, including Navajo tea, blue corn, three leaf sumac, and prickly pear. 

“We wanted to explore our connection to this special place. The land, the people. Indigenous ingredients captured our imagination,” Sheppard says. Sheppard has heritage from the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara) of North Dakota. 

In addition to flavoring their beers with indigenous ingredients, Bow & Arrow are currently foraging for a unique subspecies of wild hops that is native to New Mexico. By using native ingredients, Bow & Arrow is increasing food sovereignty for indigenous communities who are in the process of reclaiming forgotten food traditions.

There is so much biodiversity in the United States, and you might be surprised to find local alternatives to popular ingredients and tastes. What are some ways you can look at local, non-threatened plants and animals as worthy additions to your menus? 

The heart of Appalachian preserves 

The world has not been kind to Appalachia. As the center of the “war on poverty,” media representation of Appalachia has painted a bleak picture — drugs, poverty, and “hillbillies”. 

This beautiful region — that spans from New York to Alabama and Georgia — has so much more to offer, and chef Travis Milton is on a mission to show the world what Appalachian cuisine has always been, and will continue to be. 

Milton notes that ways of preserving food, like canning and pickling, have been a part of Appalachian food traditions for generations, and reproduces those techniques in his restaurant, Hickory. The restaurant is on 480 acres of a farm, giving him a unique opportunity to grow the restaurant’s food. 

In his Food & Wine Magazine feature, he says “We have foraging opportunities, three different garden plots, a greenhouse, people growing heirloom varietals, stuff out of my seed bank, stuff out of [Nicewonder’s] family’s seed banks. We’re growing everything from an heirloom cucumber to pineapple trees… I get to work with the local growers who are still growing all of these things. A lot of people say that they’re forgotten or they’re about to be lost. If you’re in the region, you can find these people. That’s one of the most beautiful parts of it — being able to go to somebody’s farm and they’re growing their own greasy bean that’s been in their family for a while. The amount of pride that they take in it is another part of the story.”

Food sovereignty is not about imposing a morally pure concept of “farm to table” on people who can rarely afford to eat at restaurants, rather it’s about reclaiming sovereign food traditions that had taken a backseat to the mass-produced over the years. 

Providing local ingredients is a priority for so many restaurants, but how can you think about ways to do so without making “fresh and local” inaccessible to lower-income individuals? 

Farming for ALL

Out of 137,000 farmers in NY state, only 139 are Black

That statistic reflects an agriculture industry that tends to be conservative, and to many, non-inclusive. 

The farmers at Rise & Root Farm are working to defy those statistics, and create a model for an inclusive and sustainable farming practice that welcomes BiPOC (Black and Indigenous people of color) and queer farmers. 

Their farming practice has always been rooted in social justice, and aims to not only create a more inclusive farming space, but also to provide fresh produce for local communities. 

Individual and community-owned farms are critical to food sovereignty, because they provide an independent way for communities to grow their own food, without relying on agricultural conglomerates for survival. In order for this to work, however, farming must be viewed as an inclusive practice that is available to all. 

What are some ways you can think about intentional inclusivity in places like farmer’s markets, and even at your own tables?

Food sovereignty is an important conversation to have in the hospitality industry, because it affects us all. It has the potential to be a catch-all solution to sustainability, eating healthier, and reducing food costs, but only if there is buy-in from everyone. As costs go up, supply chains get disrupted, and our impact on the planet increases, food sovereignty isn’t just a dream — it is a real goal that we must start working towards today. 


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