How food sovereignty creates a healthy planet

Food is one of the biggest climate solutions levers available to us and we're here to show you how you can play a role. Are you in?

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes 

We’ve all got to eat to live (and maybe live to eat). It’s no doubt that happy food = happy people = happy planet. But, that’s not always our existing reality, which is why food sovereignty is super important for the health of our planet. 

Our food system is like a big food puzzle we all share and food sovereignty is about making sure each community gets to decide how their piece of the puzzle looks. So, how exactly can we help build food sovereignty to create a healthy planet and a sustainable future for communities around the world?

Here’s what we’ll cover step-by-step: 

  1. READ: What is food sovereignty? Why is it important? 
  2. WATCH: How are Indigenous communities building resiliency for food sovereignty?
  3. ACT: Our food system is broken. Here’s how you can fix it in 7 ways. 
  4. REFLECT: What does food sovereignty mean to you?

Food is one of the biggest climate solutions levers available to us and we’re here to show you how you can play a huge role. Are you in?

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 7,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
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"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar,
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"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

What is food sovereignty? Why is it important?

🎯 Action step 1 of 4: READ — Let's start by looking at a few articles together.

The first step is understanding how we got to where we are today and what that means for our future. Before we dive deeper, read this War on Want article on food sovereignty and the struggle for a fair global system. Here's what you'll learn:

Q: In a nutshell, what’s wrong with our global food system? 🌰

A: By 2050, our world will have to feed 9 billion people. Plus, thanks to economic growth, prosperity has increased around the world. Population growth + economic growth = a need to double our crop production by 2050. Also, the agriculture industry as it exists is extremely harmful to the environment. The ag industry 1) emits more CO2 than all our vehicles and airplanes combined, 2) is the leading user of water resources, 3) drives wildlife extinction, and more.

Source: Explore to your heart’s content in this NatGeo feature.

Q: So… is agriculture bad? 🌽

A: Well, not agriculture as a concept, but the Bad Guy (surprise surprise) is the chokehold that multinational agriculture corporations have. Here’s a not-fun fact that shows extractive capitalism at its finest: “Companies like Cargill and Unilever continue to report record profits, whilst record numbers of people – 690 million – are going hungry. A further two billion people lack regular access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food.”

Source: The War on Want has an excellent breakdown of building the food sovereignty movement


Q: Well, don’t we need large agriculture corporations? 🚜

A: Far be it for us to say what we need and don’t need. We’ll let you decide: “Family farming is the main form of food production in developed and developing countries, producing over 80 percent of the world’s food in value terms, using only 30% of the world’s agricultural land. Whereas the corporate industrial agriculture system produces just 20% of the world’s food, using a vast 70% of the world’s agricultural land.” In other words, corporate industrial agriculture is extremely wasteful. Although the price tag is low at the grocery store, we are paying for it through deforestation, toxic pesticides, and more. 🤢

Source: War on Want

Q: What is food security? How is it different from food sovereignty?

A: Someone at the Community Alliance for Global Justice put it this way: we can get food security by putting a Walmart or fast food chain in every neighborhood. That’s not enough. Food security treats food as a commodity to be handed out as a form of social welfare. Food sovereignty positions food as a fundamental human right.

"Food sovereignty is an alternative to the conventional approach of food security. It is a practical solution that respects people’s right to food, ensures ecologically sustainable farming, and proposes an end to corporate control of the global food system. It is a comprehensive and grassroots solution that aims at reduce hunger and feed the world’s population with nutritious, healthy food, produced sustainably and sold at a fair price.”

Source: War on Want

Q: So, are we gonna run out of food in 2050 or nah?

A: That’s up to us. We have enough resources to feed the world (more than enough actually). There is not a global food shortage. There is a gross global inequality of how resources are distributed. Will we continue to accept multinational agriculture corporations controlling what we eat, or will we come together in our communities and take back power? The great news (and why food is one of our favorite things to write about at Soapbox Project) is the upside is huge. The momentum is here. Unlike some climate and social justice issues, everyone can do something about food sovereignty. 🥕

Source: Independent Science News on Agriculture’s Greatest Myth

When it comes to food sovereignty, we already know how to solve the problems we’re facing. We just need the will to do it. Learn about the 6 pillars of food sovereignty and decide what future YOU want. 

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 1 of 4: READ.

How this Indigenous tribe is building resilience and sovereignty in a food desert

🎯 Action step 2 of 4: LISTEN — we'll watch a short video or listen to a podcast to further expand on our topic.

It's easy to wake up some days (or many days, when the world is in crisis) with the sinking feeling that a better world is out of reach. To combat this, we’ve been seeking out news that proves otherwise. 

This video showcases the Indigenous-led permaculture movement for community resilience and food sovereignty.

While we normally summarize key takeaways, this video is powerful and stands on its own. Instead, we’ll leave you with this quote and a parting description of what you'll see in the video.

It is really hard to heal something when you get a wound and it scabs up and someone keeps coming, ripping it off. It is ongoing. It has not stopped yet. It has been going on for like 500 years. Since then we have been in survival mode, just trying to survive, and it is hard to really focus on anything else, like building happy communities and having healthy relationships with your children. - Wakinyan Luke Chief

Against the backdrop of centuries of extraction, the Indigenous people of the Pine Ridge Reservation and their allies are healing emotional trauma. They are:

  • Creating community-based projects from their annual IWPS Convergence event
  • Supporting food distributions across reservations
  • Covering fuel costs and expenses to make event attendance free for Native folk
  • Creating low-cost, alternative, replicable models for food sovereignty
  • Helping families become their own food producers to collectively put a dent in their food desert

To us, this is a lesson in never giving up on the idea that a better world is possible. When systems fail us, we have each other. Food for thought, as they say!

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 2 of 4: LISTEN.

Local and global actions you can take based on the 6 pillars of food sovereignty

🎯 Action step 3 of 4: ACT — Now it's time to do something. Let's go!

The cool aspect of food sovereignty is that it’s been a powerful global movement aiming to bring things back to a local level. (Translation: EVERYONE can take action here.)

A short and sweet backstory: we have been gifted seven pillars of food sovereignty from activists and organizers who came before us. The first six pillars were developed at the International Forum for Food Sovereignty in Nyéléni, Mali, in 2007. The seventh pillar was added by members of the Indigenous Circle during the People’s Food Policy process.

It takes hard work to distill something so complex into tangible pillars, so take a moment to consider gratitude for everyone who has been doing this work long before us. Here are 7 actions below that correspond to each pillar. 🥕

Pillar 1. Focuses on food for people.
This movement puts people’s need for food at the center of policies, insisting that food is more than just a commodity.

✅ Action: Take one minute before every meal to think about where your food might have come from, which hands from which places may have touched this food, and what types of work have gone into your ingredients. Talk about it at the dinner table. “What do you think happened to this can of chickpeas before they got to our table?” is a good place to start!

Pillar 2. Builds knowledge and skills.
Food sovereignty builds traditional knowledge, passes it on to future generations, and rejects technologies that undermine local food systems.

​✅ Action: Find out whose land you’re on and support Indigenous educators. You could also buy this cookbook by Sara Calvosa Olson as a gift to yourself or others!

Pillar 3. Works with nature.
The food system we dream of optimizes the contributions of ecosystems and improves resilience.

✅ Action: Start your own garden or participate in a community gardening project to build your relationship with food and nature. Nothing is as powerful as seeing this for yourself. There are urban garden shares, community garden planning and resource guides, and how-tos on container gardening. All you need is a container, seeds, soil, and some love to give!

Pillar 4. Values food providers.
We must have a food system that supports sustainable livelihoods and respects the work of all food providers.

✅ Action: Donate $24 to organizations like Agricultural Justice Project or Farmworker Justice. If you donate through @soapboxproject on Venmo or on Paypal your donation will be doubled thanks to members who work at companies that match donations!

Pillar 5. Localizes food systems. 

Food sovereignty rejects distance between food providers and consumers, rejects inappropriate food aid, and resists dependency on unaccountable corporations. Fork yeah! 🍴

✅ Action: Sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) box near you. It’s as simple as typing in “CSA near me” in your search bar. You can also use these links for the USA, UK, and Australia. If you have a local farmer’s market, you can ask them directly!

Pillar 6. Puts control locally. 

Food sovereignty places control in the hands of local food providers and rejects the privatization of natural resources.

✅ Action: Schedule a curiosity trip to a local farm or farmer’s market. Most local farms will let you volunteer with them and share some education on the work they are doing. Search “local farm near me” — you may find urban farms, family-owned farms, and gems you never knew existed! Understand who your local food providers are and how you can support them.

Pillar 7. Food is sacred. 

Food is a gift of life, and this seventh pillar asserts that food cannot be commodified.

✅ Action: Make a reduced food waste commitment. Do a food waste audit with your family/roommates and set a goal. Let’s treat food as the gift that it is and cut down on unnecessary waste! Ends+Stems can help you with meal plan ideas.

Taking action on something as big, interconnected, and opaque as the global food system can be tricky indeed! Well, good thing today (or any day) is NOT a day for getting tricked. We’ve got you covered.

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 3 of 4: ACT.

Food for thought: What does food sovereignty mean to you?

Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable. Pledge here!

🎯 Action step 4 of 4: REFLECT — what can you commit to? What fresh perspectives can we look at?

Food is one of the biggest levers to solve the climate crisis, and it's our favorite one because anyone can make a difference here.

As we embarked on our reflections, we went into a rabbit hole of how food has been used as a method of controlling humans in the past and the present. We dream of a system rooted in food sovereignty where we won't see horrifying examples like:

It's so important to carve out time to reflect on everything we've learned about food sovereignty, so we leave behind a better future. We must remind ourselves of our power and what we can do.

Set your timer for 3 minutes. You can reflect on your own, but here are some questions if you are looking for structure:

  1. Imagine, 10 years from now, that our future has surpassed our hopes and dreams. What are you eating? Who grows your food? Where does it come from? Who is in charge?
  2. In the present day, how do you think about YOUR role in the food system? Are you a consumer, a producer, a policymaker, or all of the above? How does that fit into (or not fit into) food sovereignty?
  3. Who in your community can you partner up with to have more discussions about food justice and food sovereignty? What would you want to talk about? What's a fun idea you can implement together, whether it's volunteering on a farm or having a food scraps party? Reach out to them!

If you're tempted to skip this REFLECT module... don't. 😉 We need more critical thinkers like you in the climate movement, and as always, email if you want to share your thoughts/responses!

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 4 of 4: REFLECT.

Check out our membership community for more resources like free weekly events with social justice experts, sustainable product discounts, pre-written email templates, a social impact job board, and in-person hangouts with new friends. Thanks for taking action with Soapbox Project!

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 7,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar,
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

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