Here is the text of my keynote address to Food Secure Canada conference in Montreal, Saturday, November 27.

It can be discouraging to learn how far we need to go in such a short time to set the world right, and the the world’s burdens can weigh heavily on our puny shoulders.

It can also be uplifting to see how remarkably far we have advanced in such a short timen and to feel a bounce in your feet from the surges of a global movement. The mandate and promise of the food movement comes from this.

In 1944, the world was abuzz with security — national security, social security, job security, union security — and some people put the word food beside security to create food security. It became the goal of the first UN department, the Food and Agricultural Organization, known today around the world.

In the mid-1970s, the whole world learned about famines in Africa and learned that problems of hunger had not been solved, not even in the rich North, where food banks were soon to emerge.

In the late-1980s, the words bio-diversity and sustainability entered every language in the world, and the scary news about a pesticide called Alar put organic into all debates about the future of food.

And early in the new century, local, sustainable and food sovereignty became new concepts and demands, galvanizing youth in both the Global North and South.

We are reaching a point where many people working on food issues agree with the democratic vision behind food sovereignty — that people should decide on the crucial food policies that govern them and their communities.

At this conference, we will work at figuring out what this generality means in practice.

If you want to go fast, go alone, it’s been said, but if you want to go far, go together. Food Secure Canada will go far with this. If you like the lingering pace and lasting fellowship of Slow Food,where the process is at least as important as the content — which may be as humble as a pea soup or ratatouille — you will love the slow process of digesting what food sovereignty means.

This is what practice is about — as in medical practice or yoga practice or piano practice. It is a commitment to learning by doing and always striving to do better. And it is the practice that makes perfect, not just the polish in the original idea. That’s what’s behind the old joke of a lost out-of-towner in New York asking: Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall. The answer: practice! Same thing with how we get to food sovereignty: practice.

Same thing with an all-embracing concept like sustainability, which is commonly presented as a journey, not a destination. Same thing with the academic concept of an iterative process, which refers to the fact that we keep improving rough drafts by sharing them with co-workers — thereby identifying collaboration and a fresh pair of eyes as indispensable to revision — literally a fresh new look at the topic — and improvement. Same thing, I think, with the Quebec notion of “co-construction” what comes when people from many backgrounds work through tough issues by remaining open to new approaches that still respect everyone’s particular needs and deep beliefs.

This is the first step in making progress to work on food sovereignty together: realIzing it will take practice.

The second step, I think, is to dig deep into the fundamental paradox of ecology and humanity. The more we understand about biodiversity — the million or so kinds of mites, the many millions of kinds of bacteria and insects, the hundreds and thousands of species of birds, fish and mammals — the more we understand anew the incredible commonality of all life forms. Likewise, the more we respect the differences between the sexes, the difference between First Nations who came to Canada some 10,000 years ago and the people who came a little less than 10,000 years later from Britain and France, and the people who came to Canada more recently from all over the world, the differences between Canadians and Americans, between North Americans and people on other continents, the more we realize how much common humanity we all share.

Is it unity or diversity, one or the other, some ask. Yes is the proper but frustrating answer, just as yes is the proper answer to the question: is food sovereignty about group or personal needs. Yes, it is. Or can mean either-or, or it can mean both-and;let’s not box it in.

Food sovereignty has the same unity and diversity in it. It will be practiced differently in Yellowknife and Windsor, Labrador and Newfoundland, or, within one city, Rosedale and Scarboro. But it will always respect a common human need for the physical, mental, cultural and spiritual elements of food.

The third step to making progress is to practice braiding and weaving different strands of sovereignty. There is national sovereignty, the cornerstone of different countries’ abilities to decide their own course. There is also popular sovereignty, the foundation of democracy. There is also the sovereign rights of the individual, the touchstone of liberty, free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of security of the person, including food security. Side by each, as some would say.

These rights are indivisible, as the Human Rights charter of the United Nations so brilliantly recognized in 1948. Sixty-plus years later, we practice to advance food sovereignty indivisibly by finding common ground wherever we can.

We practice it at farmers markets, where we shop in a public space we all own to get just the right carrot we want from our personal favorite of a farmer.

We also practice food sovereignty in the yards of homes and in common grounds of parks and rooftops, where we regain the rights to raise a wide range of foods.

We practice it when we shop and have labels that tell us what we are putting in our sovereign stomachs. And our children will choose good food because they have not lost their capacity for self-government to an unconscious kidnapped by marketers who receive tax deductions from governments for the cost of their ads to children, while the same governments give nothing to compensate children for the true cost of being manipulated by those ads.

We practice food sovereignty when we honor the right of all people to control their bodies with access to adequate amounts of safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, accessed in ways respecting their sovereign dignity.

And we will practice food sovereignty when we win anti-monopoly laws from governments that enforce the rights of farmers and processors that are being trampled on by supersized corporations.

We will practice it when our local schools and other public bodies buy mostly local and sustainable foods, and are not prevented from doing so by trade deals negotiated in secret, as is being done under our noses between Canada and the European Union, with no oversight by the sovereign people.

We practice in community centres dedicated to all aspects of foods, centres that are as much a part of niehbourhoods as schools, churches and libraries.

We practice it when we join food policy councils, which, like Food Secure Canada, have food in their name, and so bring people together — unlike agriculture, nutrition, safety and so on, which separate people by specialty.

We will practice it when we defend the sovereignty of commitments signed on to in international UN treaties respecting free labor and the rights of children, and when we uphold their sovereignty over trade rules established by unelected bodies such as the World Bank and World Trade Organization.

We will practice it when we respect the sovereignty of others by buying fairly traded foods, when we follow Europe by creating fair trade churches and unions and cities, and when we champion rights of nations in the Global South to protect their food systems.

And we will practice it when we gather to eat and celebrate what the world and we have provided, and when we take time to eat consciously, as is required of a sovereign people, and say, after the great poet E.E. Cummings:

We thank you for most this amazing day
For the leaping greenly spirits of trees
And a blue true dream of sky
And for everything which is natural, which is infinite and which is yes.


  1. Marsha Kirzner says:

    That was lovely and inspiring. Thank you Wayne.

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