From the Field
A World Worth Saving: Reflections from the Food Futures Conference
In April, FIGC hosted its third annual food systems conference on “Food Futures” to amplify decolonizing and indigenizing movements that can shape the future of food.
Last spring, on April 7-8, three conference organizers from the Food Institute Graduate Council (FIGC) at Berkeley hosted its third annual food systems conference, “Food Futures: Ancestral and Contemporary Methods for Transforming Food Systems.” This third Food Systems conference culminated in another two-day conference whereby researchers, community members, and policy makers gathered to learn about various themes and topics centered around the term “Food Futures.”
“Food Futures” is a theme that we created to inspire food system stakeholders (that is to say, everyone) optimistic, hopeful, and resilient actions. To us, the term “Food Futures” serves as a temporal frame that pushes us to solve contemporary food system issues amid a climate changing world. Thus, the Food Futures conference attempted to explore various questions of how food might exist differently in future societies. Major questions that were discussed at the conference included: how could food be produced in the future in ways that do not depend on technocratic solutions? How have Indigenous and other historically marginalized peoples used food and land in ways that represent a model for the future of food systems? How can ancestral methods inform and shape the future of food systems?
Overall, the conference’s main goal was to connect attendees through varying critiques and discussions of food system practices and methods that interrupt existing systems of oppression, including colonization, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism. In doing so, the Food Futures conference critically analyzed contemporary food relationships, especially Industrial agricultural practices, in order to amplify existing decolonizing and indigenizing movements that may improve Food Systems across all Global Directions. Specific themes that were discussed included Indigenous and Black futurities, agroecology, and value-based commodity chains.
On the first day of the conference, held fully online over Zoom, there were two panels and a keynote presentation from Laura Harjo. The first panel, titled “Alternative Food Networks for Agroecological Transitions and Good Living,” was moderated by Dulce María Espinosa de la Mora and included five Mexican scholars conducting agroecological research across the country. This panel, held in Spanish with English translation, was the first panel of its kind for Food Systems conferences organized by FIGC since 2021.
“Procuring Sustainable Foods” was another highlight of the first day, where four wonderful panelists discussed how acquiring food in the contemporary moment is filled with various challenges that include respecting traditional ways of knowing, transitioning to a sustainable food system, and innovating new foods such as cannabis-infused products.
Dr. Laura Harjo’s keynote address, titled “Seeds of Mvskoke Futurity: Activating Possibilities for Our Future Relatives,” responded to the theme of Food Futures by discussing how Indigenous ways of knowing are critical to any societal future. During her keynote, Dr. Harjo presented Mvskoke traditional knowledge systems as critical for the revitalization of Indigenous food sovereignty in the Mvskoke nation, and as a principal way in which Indigenous sovereignty can be enshrined for generations to come.
The second day of the conference was held in person at the Multicultural Community Center in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union and the Native Community Center in Anthony Hall. Here, we convened for a delicious lunch before kicking off with a panel titled “Food Justice Networks: Decolonizing Foodways and Land Stewardship.” This panel was moderated by Dr. Vicky Chang, BFI’s Educational Programs Director. In this panel, Maria Villalpando Paez presented about tortilla making in rural Mexico. Maria brought together themes of food sovereignty, energy sovereignty, and gender and how these factors interact with each other in the tortilla making process. Her presentation was followed by Belinda Ramirez’s presentation about urban agriculture movements in San Diego and Tijuana. Belinda discussed struggles for autonomy in these movements by telling the story of Joe’s Pocket Farm in National City.
Lastly, Solaire Denaud presented Rastafari perspectives on food and decolonization by diving into the history of the Rastafari movement and the concept of Babylon. Solaire outlined how the Rastafari movement is anti-racist and anti-colonial in general and with respect to growing, cooking, and the markets of food. After this engaging panel, the film Gather was screened, followed by a keynote presentation from Dr. Charisma Acey. Dr. Acey’s presentation titled “Black Futures, Food Futures: Embodying Just Futures through Policy and Activism” connected Black liberation struggles with environmental justice.
As we start to think about what Food Futures mean to each of us, we implore our readers and attendees to critically think about methods and methodology as not just the way in which research is conducted. Rather, as Red River Métis scholar Max Liboiron would say, methods when viewed from an anti-colonial perspective can be a way to practice a way of living the world that is “tied up in obligation” (Pollution is Colonialism, pg. 1) to the Indigenous lands we live on.
To conclude, we repeat a few questions we asked to Food Future attendees: What does “Food Futures” mean to you? What can it mean to all of us if we take other ways of knowing seriously?
The Food Systems conference was made possible through support from the Berkeley Food Institute, the Native American Student Development Office, the Multicultural Community Center, the Native Community Center, the Big C Fund, the Graduate Assembly (GA), and the Green Initiative Fund (TGIF).