Proclamation of the Food Republic

In the lead up to the real anniversary of the Easter Rising on 24 April, Food Sovereignty Ireland (www.foodsovereigntyireland.org) are asking people to share pictures of Food Sovereignty meals featuring food from their area, or not, as the case may be. Explaining why this matters, Ross Golden-Bannon, Irish Food Writers’ Guild member and independent candidate for the Seanad, NUI Panel, urges us to consider what we are eating and how it is produced.

Who decides what Ireland grows and eats? It seems like a complex question but the answer is simple enough: it’s government policy. Of all government departments the Department of Agriculture probably has the most clearly defined and unchallenged approach to their long-term goals.

How we grow, process and sell the bounty of this island is rarely under the microscope in the same way as Health policy. Of course, there’s plenty of mainstream critiques but these are essentially family arguments over the side roads to the same destination.

That destination is a mono-agricultural one where mega-farms deliver single products for a global market. It’s a short-term, fast-profit goal with built-in future failure. In the medium turn it will destroy small native businesses and in the long term it works against the lofty targets of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

We are not alone in this. The commodification of natural resources to the cost of the environment has been a feature of many business practices and international trade for years.

Most people pay little attention to all this as they swap wholesome food for today’s convenience and their place on tomorrow’s national health service waiting lists. But some pesky citizens think differently and have come up with challenges to this distorted worldview. They struggle to get heard but wherever they do they are making big changes.

Ron Finley started planting fruit and vegetables on scraps of abandoned land and on the land between the dual-carriageways running through South Central Los Angeles. After the financial collapse of 2008 he was struggling to survive and realised he was living in a ‘food dessert.’

This phenomenon has now reached urban Ireland’s poorest neighbourhoods too. Finley’s community had no access to healthy, nutritionally dense food so he decided to grow his own in his garden and on the strips of earth between the path and the road. Los Angeles City issued a warrant for his arrest though they’d previously paid no attention to the weedy bits of land. He fought back. He wanted a new way of helping to lift the local community where kids were saying to him: “We don’t dream.”

Finley persuaded the community to join in, to share and exchange food and seeds. Before long they had gained the support of local representatives and finally the law was changed. No permit is now required in LA to plant gardens in Los Angeles City parkways. It’s a far cry from Johnny Appleseed who planted apple trees across America in the 1800s. He’d be probably end up in jail today.

Similar stories are repeated across the globe. From low impact, sustainable farming undermined by land grabs for mono-crops like biofuels and sugar cane to the commodification of water as a profit source rather than viewing it as a precious global resource.

But what of Ireland? How far are we from reclaiming the earth our forbears’ fought so hard for us to enjoy. Ron Finley’s story is not that dissimilar from our own as the simple task of growing and harvesting in rural and urban environments face local and global legal barriers.

There’s no financial profit in communities feeding themselves and there’s no profit in healthy lives. Over the past 100 years the land has slipped away from our control to those who support an unsustainable economic model, one which many Irish people instinctively reject but feel powerless to change.

Enter stage left the Food Sovereignty Proclamation. It has not got as much coverage as other ideas around the Easter Rising Commemorations but it’s gaining traction as more and more people sign up to support its aims. The Food Sovereignty Proclamation is not just a radically different view of our agricultural and food supply, it’s also a challenge to how we consume and how we measure economic success.

Essentially the Food Sovereignty Proclamation is framed within the view that climate change is a direct result of endless global economic growth which in turn is built on fossil fuel consumption. It also links this to the wider geo-political problems our planet is facing. Conflict, drought and food shortages are the result of power struggles to gain control over fossil fuel resources. In reality there’s plenty of food. We just don’t know how to share it.

The Food Sovereignty Proclamation is an agroecological initiative. Ironically it’s not that dissimilar to the farming polices Irish Aid and other agencies want Developing World famers to explore: discouraging fuel-based production for export markets and encouraging low-impact farming.

It calls for a shift to a new farming paradigm which supports national and diverse food production to a polyculture of crops and animals instead of Ireland’s mono-grass crop of today.

The Proclamation is a wide-ranging statement by like-minded people from across Ireland who are side-lined by mainstream agricultural commentators. It offers solutions and pathways as well as a critique which include, amongst much else, the following:

-       The Proclamation seeks change because Ireland’s agriculture and food systems no longer nourish us. The policies are making us sick.

-       They seek to change the measurement of food costs to a value-based one and expose the high price of cheap food.

-       A new land commission should be created so unused land can be made available for food and produce for local markets.

-       The Proclamation calls for a cross departmental driver of the agri-food sector which would include agriculture, the environment, forestry, biodiversity, health, land, tourism, jobs, welfare, education and external affairs.

Much of what the Food Sovereignty Proclamation calls for has either already been signed away by us to the EU or will be through planned international treaties like CETA and TTIP.

But this governance from on-high is under pressure to truly reflect the needs of their populations. Change can happen. As we saw 100 years ago the actions of a very few, initially vilified by the Irish people, helped create today’s Republic.

In order to achieve change we need more people like Ron Finley. More people willing to take a stand and make a Proclamation for a Food Republic. On the lead up to the real anniversary of the Easter Rising on 24 April, Food Sovereignty Ireland (www.foodsovereigntyireland.org) are asking people to share pictures of Food Sovereignty meals featuring food from their area, or not, as the case may be. Take a picture and share it on social media with the hash tag #FoodSov.

How much of what’s on your plate came from across the globe? How much nutrition was lost in transit? What were the real costs to those who produced it, and how much did it cost our environment? Our present agricultural and food policies have no solutions to these questions, only a paradigm shift to a new way of growing, harvesting and production can bring about this change.

The full Food Sovereignty Ireland Proclamation is available on their website www.foodsovereigntyireland.org, where people can sign the Proclamation and find out more information about the campaign.

Ross Golden-Bannon is a member of the Irish Food Writers’ Guild and writes here in a private capacity. He is an independent candidate for the Seanad, NUI Panel. You can follow him on Twitter @Goldenshots or visit www.rossgoldenbannon.ie

 

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