FEATURED CONTENT: A Native Perspective: Food Is More Than Consumption

2018-07-05

A Native Perspective: Food Is More Than Consumption

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Rachel V. Vernon, CoFED, the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive, Oakland, California

Keywords: Native American, Food Justice, Food Movement, Culture, Food Sovereignty

ABSTRACT
Effectively engaging in food work with and among Native American people toward food sovereignty requires cultural competency, historical knowledge, and a more complex understanding of how food informs community well-being. Drawing on both personal and academic experience, this paper argues that Native Americans' food consumption is tied to land, place, relationships, community, and health. Native American relationships to food stand in contrast to American individualism and function as an intricate part of communities to maintain relationships, build cultural knowledge, and satisfy emotional and physical health. Food problems among Native people have developed over centuries of forced change, a history that provides insight into the way food has been utilized to colonize. As a result, many tribes and individuals have become food dependent on the U.S. government. Food systems research and outreach that focuses narrowly on consumption and access risk oversimplifying Native communities' relationship to food as well as their movement toward food sovereignty. Solutions that do not account for the cultural and historical realities of Native people are not real solutions to the problems confronting them. We must make room, therefore, in the food justice movement to envision alternative solutions that better reflect Native realities, cultures, and lives.  

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