Beyond food security: understanding access to cultural food for urban indigenous people in Winnipeg as indigenous food sovereignty.

Author:Cidro, Jaime
Position::Report
 
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Abstract

Access to safe, affordable and nutritious food is an obstacle facing many Indigenous people in the inner city of Winnipeg, which is known for having vast food deserts. While food security is an urgent social, economic, cultural and health issue for Indigenous people in urban areas, and particularly those living in inner city areas, there are some unique elements of food security related to cultural values. Access to cultural food in urban communities is a challenge for Indigenous people. This paper discusses the results of some preliminary research conducted which explored the experiences and meanings associated with Indigenous cultural food for Indigenous people living in urban communities and the larger goals of what is being called "Indigenous Food Sovereignty" (IFS) with regards to cultural food specifically. When Indigenous people have the skills to practice IFS, a whole range of positive benefits to their social and economic well-being can unfold. Three themes which emerged from this research include (1) growing, harvesting, preparing and eating cultural food as ceremony, (2) cultural food as a part of connection to land through reciprocity and (3) re-learning IFS to address food insecurity in the city.

Keywords: sovereignty, Indigenous, cultural food, inner-city

Resume

L'acces aux aliments nutritifs, sains et abordables est un obstacle auquel sont confrontes de nombreux autochtones dans le centre-ville de Winnipeg, qui est connu comme un des plus grands deserts alimentaire. Alors que la securite alimentaire est une urgence sociale, economique, culturelle et sanitaire pour les populations autochtones dans les zones urbaines, et plus particulierement pour ceux vivant dans les quartiers defavorises, il existe des elements uniques de securite alimentaire lies aux valeurs culturelles. L'acces a la nourriture culturelle des communautes urbaines est un defi pour les populations autochtones. Ce document decrit les resultats de recherches preliminaires menees explorant les experiences et les valeurs associees aux aliments culturels pour les communautes autochtones vivant dans des collectivites urbaines et les grands objectifs de ce qu'on appelle Souverainete alimentaire Autochtone (IFS). Lorsque les communautes autochtones acquierent les competences de pratiquer l'IFS, toute une gamme de benefices a leur bien-etre economique et social en decoule. Les trois themes qui ont emerge de cette recherche incluent (1) la culture, recolte, preparation et consommation de la nourriture culturelle en tant que ceremonie, (2) la nourriture culturelle comme liaison a la terre par la reciprocite et (3) le re-apprentissage IFS afin d'informer sur l'insecurite alimentaire dans la ville.

Mots cles: souverainete, autochtones, nourriture culturelle, le centre-ville

  1. Introduction

    Canada as a whole has achieved economic advancements, and many experience a high standard of living with little first-hand experiences associated with physical hunger. However this perception is very narrow and fails to address the essence of food security for diverse and marginalized populations. The economic advancement of Canada notwithstanding, food insecurity, which includes accessibility, availability and utilization of culturally adequate and acceptable foods, has been recorded and is a major concern especially among the economically vulnerable groups (McIntyre et al. 2000, Che and Chen 2001). Access to safe, affordable and nutritious food is an obstacle facing many urban Indigenous people (1), particularly in the inner city of Winnipeg, which is known for the vast food deserts. In recent years, Winnipeg's inner city, including the north end and downtown area has experienced the shutdown of the majority of the discount grocery stores, leaving people with few choices to access affordable and nutritious food. A feasibility study conducted in 2013 revealed that closure of grocery stores coincides with other development debates around the downtown area's potential for growth and momentum, suggesting that the limited supply of downtown grocery options is a potential barrier to future downtown growth--particularly residential development (Kaufman, 2013, p. 3). While food security is an urgent social, economic, cultural and health issue for Indigenous people in urban areas, and particularly those living in inner city areas, there are some unique elements of food security related to cultural values.

    In an Indigenous context, food security is mostly discussed for remote, rural communities. However, food insecurity also exists in urban centres for Indigenous communities. The Environics Institute found that 44% of Indigenous people in Winnipeg felt that it was important that future generations know about traditions pertaining to food (Environics Institute 2011). Food security, as defined by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations "exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life" (FAO 2010, 8). The four pillars of food security--access, availability, utilization, and stability of supply take on unique characteristics in an Indigenous (Power 2008) and urban (Mundel and Chapman 2010) context.

    This paper discusses the results of preliminary research conducted which explored the experiences and meanings associated with Indigenous cultural food for Indigenous people living in urban communities. The research found that Indigenous people in the city experienced food insecurity, but also were working towards larger goals of what is being called "Indigenous Food Sovereignty" (IFS) with regards to cultural food specifically. Research was conducted in partnership with the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre of Winnipeg to explore food security from an urban Indigenous perspective with a particular focus on maintaining culturally valued food in the inner city.

    The ways in which IFS is operationalized within an urban context requires further understanding. Relatedly, when Indigenous people have the skills to practice IFS, then a whole range of positive benefits to their social and economic well-being will unfold. Three themes which emerged from this research include: (1) growing, harvesting, preparing and eating cultural food as ceremony, (2) cultural food as a part of connection to land through reciprocity and (3) re-learning IFS to address food insecurity in the city. These three themes will be explored in more detail.

  2. Background

    Indigenous people and food are often explored within a deficit based construct, and most often in a traditional environment or rural and/or remote community. Food security has also been explored in the literature with a focus on urban Indigenous people, but less so with a focus on cultural foods (Zurba et al. 2012; Willows et. al. 2011; Baskin et. al. 2009). The topic of food security for urban Indigenous people requires an examination into several important theoretical areas including culture and food consumption, food security, food deserts and inner city food access, Indigenous food sovereignty, Winnipeg's Indigenous population and food, cultural food and health and urban Indigenous people and culture.

    2.1 Culture and Food Consumption

    The relationship between culture and food consumption is not well understood in academic literature besides a small number of research projects (Adekunle et al. 2010, 2011, 2012; Abdel-Ghany and Sharpe 1997, Wang and Fo 2007). Some literature has emerged in recent years attempting to examine the complex relationships between ethnicity (2), consumption and acculturation in Canada (Abdel-Ghany and Sharpe 1997, Adekunle, et al. 2010).

    Food consumption plays a central role as a cultural foundation for Indigenous people. Yukon First Nations people interviewed about their consumption of traditional food indicated that eating cultural food supported basic cultural values including keeping people "in tune" with nature, facilitating sharing, was a way for adults to display responsibility for their children and to practice spirituality (Receveur et al. 1998, 118). Wilson (2003, 88) noted that there was a strong link between food and medicine for Anishinabek people in Ontario. She indicated that: "certain plants, berries, and animals ... are not only consumed for nutritional reasons but can also be used in the production of medicines." Lambden et al's (2007) study of Yukon First Nations, Dene/ Metis and Inuit women found that they considered traditional foods to be culturally beneficial. In Toronto, work by Baskin et al. (2009) describes young Aboriginal women's lack of access to traditional foods as being problematic because they "tied their Aboriginal cultures to such foods and wanted to be able to pass this knowledge on to their children" (8). To date, though, there has been almost no substantial body of work on urban Indigenous people's preferences and attitudes toward cultural foods especially in an urban context.

    2.2 Food Security and Indigenous People

    The experience of food insecurity exists on a spectrum which ranges from "food anxiety to qualitative compromises in food selection and consumption, to quantitative compromises in intake, to the physical sensation of hunger" (McIntyre and Rondeau 2009, 188). Canada has expressed its commitment to the achievement of food security for all Canadians, with a particular recognition of Indigenous people through the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169 (1989). This convention recognizes that food insecurity amongst Indigenous people can be addressed through ensuring access to both traditional and market food. However, there has been a politicization of food security among this group. The focus has been primarily on rural, remote and reserve communities, not urban Indigenous populations (Cuthand 2012).

    According to Willows et al., (2011) 33% of Indigenous households are food insecure compared...

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