Decolonizing the Food System

Thursday, February 1, 2018 // Lydia Fermanich

Winona LaDuke

Now is the time to evaluate the paradigm with which we look at food.”
-Winona LaDuke, Community Food Systems Conference, Boston 2017

Winona LaDuke issued a strong call to action to attendees of the 2017 Community Food Systems Conference held in Boston. For three days, over five hundred foodies, farmers, and activists from all parts of the country gathered to share ideas on food security, social justice, and sustainable agriculture. LaDuke, a resident of the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, spoke passionately about agrobiodiversity and food sovereignty, themes that ran throughout the conference. LaDuke is executive director of Honor the Earth, a Minnesota-based organization focused on native rights and environmental justice.

According to LaDuke, though our current food system is built on colonization and structural inequality, farming is a way to challenge this colonized economy and protect our sacred environment. For her, food justice and environmental justice are intricately linked. Her work with the Indigenous Corn Restoration Project is a great example of her holistic approach to both. Through this project, LaDuke and her collaborators have re-established native corn varieties around the Upper Midwest and helped indigenous communities develop the skills necessary to grow the traditional foods of their ancestors. They worked to expand production of Bear Island Flint corn, a variety that indigenous peoples historically grew on islands to keep out deer. Not only does this project provide agency to populations typically marginalized by the industrialized food system, but it also increases production of climate-resilient, highly nutritious crops that maintain the health of the land around them. Arikara squash, another crop LaDuke grows, has a 20:1 antioxidant content compared to other varieties of squash.

At the end of her speech, LaDuke reminded audience members that “you can have an entire worldview that doesn’t have to do with empire”. To her, food is one of the most powerful tools we can use to reshape our collective worldview. By taking concrete steps towards a sustainable and inclusive food system, we can establish community values that will shift us towards a more just society. Some concrete steps Duke laid out include:  planting diverse crop species, using compost to maintain soil health, purchasing in-season and local produce, supporting indigenous farmers and farmers of color.

Throughout her presentation, Winona LaDuke’s message was clear. Food is medicinal; it can help heal human illnesses, environmental degradation, and socioeconomic inequality. We can all affect change by investing in our local food system and in regenerative agriculture. By working towards food justice, LaDuke thinks that we can “make America great again”.


To see a livestreamed segment of LaDuke's presentation, click here.

To learn more about LaDuke's environmental justice projects with Honor the Earth, click here.

To learn more about White Earth Land Recovery Project and their food sovereignty initiatives, click here.

To read more about the Community Food Systems Conference, click here

Related Program(s):