From Local Food Actions to Systems Change: Experiments in Social Movement Governance through the National Food Policy in Canada

May 2019

By Charles Z. Levkoe and Amanda Wilson

Over the past decade place-based alternative food initiatives have had a range of successes in their aims to promote healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems. More recently, these initiatives have become part of diverse networks that connect a range of actors across sectors, scales and places. Many of these movements in Canada have adopted a vision and goal of food sovereignty that aims to put control of food systems in the hands of communities and to change the dominant power structures of food systems, based on the experiences of farmers, fisherfolk and Indigenous peoples. Despite a growing interest in food networks, little attention has been given to how these movements engage with governments to scale-up experiences and learnings from local projects to impact related policy while also maintaining goals of social, ecological and economic justice.

In our chapter, “Policy Engagement as Prefiguration: Experiments in Food Policy Governance through the National Food Policy Dialogue in Canada”, in Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governancewe explore the efforts of social movement organizations to promote empowerment and food systems transformation through engagement in government-led policy making processes. We ask how social movements can advance food policy, while also modeling alternative food futures through processes of policy engagement. We pay particular attention to the ways that different aims of organizations coexist, teasing out the tensions, possibilities and the overall complexity of their interactions.

To illustrate these opportunities, we draw on a case study that examines the engagement of a diversity of social movement organizations in the development of a Food Policy for Canada between May and September 2017. Initiated by the Federal Government, the Food Policy for Canada consultation period included the participation of a wide range of different stakeholders to establish a national vision for the health, environmental, social, and economic goals related to food. Both in response, and alongside this policy consultation process, Food Secure Canada (FSC), a pan-Canadian food movement alliance, led a series of activities involving more than 70 member and partnering organizations in an attempt to model participatory food governance and strengthen the capacity of Canadian food movements.

Representatives of food movement organizations pose with then Minister of Agriculture and Agrifoods Lawrence MacAulay following the Ottawa Food Summit June 2017
Representatives of food movement organizations pose with then Minister of Agriculture and Agrifoods Lawrence MacAulay following the Ottawa Food Summit June 2017

We draw on the concept of prefiguration (i.e. putting into practice the desired future in the present) to explore how food movement organizations negotiate and maneuver within the complex terrain of government-led policy building, simultaneously being grounded in current realities while working to create alternative food futures. Using this perspective, the end goal is not whether policy was affected, but a focus on the processes of collective action. Our research uses primary document analysis, participant observation and reflects on our personal experiences being involved in this work.

We argue that social movement networks have an ability to prefigure collaborative processes of engagement to advance policy change while strengthening social relationships, deepening their knowledge and advancing collective strategies for change. Our findings show that, while FSC and its partners attempted to prefigure grassroots, democratic processes that embedded social and ecological justice into policy, this process was at times complicated by limited resources, conflicting ideals and power dynamics at play. Despite efforts to the contrary, these kinds of activities risk limiting a more radical and visionary politics by pressuring social movement actors to prioritize language and approaches that fit within pre-existing government frameworks and are most easily translated into policy. However, participants were under no illusions that a government-led food policy making process would be transformed into a tool to achieve food sovereignty, rather they saw the policy-building process as a strategic opportunity to address both short and long-term challenges in Canada’s food system.

Contributors

Charles Z. Levkoe is the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Food Systems in the Department of Health Sciences at Lakehead University. Charles’ community-engaged research uses a food systems lens to explore connections between social justice, ecological regeneration, regional economies, and democratic engagement.

 

Amanda Wilson is an Assistant Professor in the School of Innovation at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. Her research is focused on food movements and alternative food networks, cooperatives, and collective organizing, and questions related to prefiguration and enacting a politics of possibility.

 

 

Citation

Levkoe C.Z., and Wilson, A. (2019). Policy Engagement as Prefiguration: Experiments in Food Policy Governance through the National Food Policy Dialogue in Canada. In: Andrée, P. Clark, J.K., Levkoe, C.Z., Lowitt, K. (Eds.). Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governance. Routledge, Series on Food, Society and Environment. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429503597


The Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance Blog Series showcases the chapters and themes from the open-access book. Follow along as we explore the governance of contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements.

Previous posts in the series:

Traversing Theory & Practice and the Governance Engagement Continuum

April 2019

By Kristen Lowitt, Jill Clark, and Peter Andrée 

Food systems are in crisis. For social movements and organizations working at the front lines to build more sustainable and just food systems, this crisis also represents an opportunity. Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance provides an array of examples from the Global North of how members of food movements are attempting to make change by getting involved in food system decision-making, or ‘governance’, both inside and outside governments. Local government engagement is exemplified in the case of Correns, France, where organic food advocates have harnessed municipal government to further sustainable community development in their rural community. Formal government engagement at the national level is examined in a case study of participation in the national food policy consultation process in Canada. While another chapter highlights the case of social movement engagement in the World Committee on Food Security. 

Food governance is about more than simply working with governments. Governance refers to all of the relationships, processes, rules, practices, and structures through which power and control are exercised and decisions are made, whether by companies, organizations, governments, Indigenous authorities or international institutions. The case of the YYC Growers and Distributors, a new food producer’s cooperative in Alberta, exemplifies the creation of collaborative food system governance mechanisms outside of government, though the chapter on YYC also shows how local and provincial governments had to be engaged to ensure success. 

These are examples from just four of the ten chapters covered in this new book, which can be thought of as a primer for food system activists working to strengthen alliances and governance around their own innovations. Published in February 2019, Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance includes chapters featuring case studies from Canada, the US, Europe and New Zealand. Most chapters are grounded in research supported through the FLEdGE project, and were discussed at a project workshop in September 2017. 

To set the scene for the on-the-ground case examples that follow, the book begins by introducing the concept of neoliberalism, or the predominance of the private sector and markets as prime concerns, as a defining feature of contemporary food systems. We also review the range of ways that social movements characterize the food system and seek to make change – from food security, to right to food, to food sovereignty. 

In addition, we present an original framework for thinking about the variety of forms that social movements engage in food system governance. We suggest these forms may be situated along a continuum, emphasizing how social movements experience and work with power. 

Governance Engagement Continuum: The role of food movements

This collection illustrates four main ideas:

  1. Food movements are increasingly engaging in governance to have a wider, systemic, impact.
  2. Food movements engage in governance at a variety of scales, though there is an emphasis on the local scale.
  3. The variety of forms that governance engagement takes can be placed along a continuum when considering the power that social movement actors wield.
  4. Building relationships with other actors based on mutual trust and commitment is central to achieving change. This volume highlights how many of the relationships built through local food  initiatives  may become the foundation for broader collaborations.

By examining and comparing a variety of ways social movements engage in decision-making, at a range of scales, the book offers insights for those considering contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements. Alongside the cases featured in this book, we hope that the framework presented in Chapter 1 will be helpful for other communities and researchers to examine what is happening with food in their own backyards.

Civil Society and Social Movements in Food System Governance is an open-access book. You can read it online or download for free here.

Chapter Contributors

Peter Andrée is Associate Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University. His research focuses on the politics of food systems and the environment. He practices, and teaches, community-based participatory research methods.  Prof. Andrée is co-editor of Globalization and Food Sovereignty: Global and Local Change in the New Politics of Food (2014) and author of Genetically Modified Diplomacy (2007).

 

Jill K. Clark is an Associate Professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University. Her research interests include food policy and practice, centering on community and state governance of food systems, the policy process, and public participation.

 

 

Charles Z. Levkoe is the Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Food Systems in the Department of Health Sciences at Lakehead University. Charles’ community-engaged research uses a food systems lens to explore connections between social justice, ecological regeneration, regional economies, and democratic engagement.

 

 

Kristen Lowitt is at the Department of Geography, Brandon University, Canada. Her research looks at the interactions among food security, communities, and natural resource management in rural and remote regions.

 

 

Carla Johnston is a Ph.D.  Candidate and a Doctoral Fellow at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Her research interests include the governance of sustainable food systems in northern Canada as well as using Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology to work directly with civil society groups to create meaningful actions that help them reach their goals.

 

Chapter Citations

Andrée, P., Clark, J., Levkoe, C., & Lowitt, K. (2019). Introduction – Traversing theory and practice. In P. Andrée, J.K. Clark, C. Z. Levkoe, & K. Lowitt (Eds.), Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance (1-18). London: Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429503597

Andrée, P., Clark, J., Levkoe, C., Lowitt, K., & Johnston, C. (2019). The governance engagment continuum: Food movement mobilization and the execution of power through governance arrangements. In P. Andrée, J.K. Clark, C. Z. Levkoe, & K. Lowitt (Eds.), Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance (19-42). London: Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429503597


The Civil Society & Social Movements in Food System Governance Blog Series showcases the chapters and themes from this open-access book. Follow along as we explore the governance of contemporary food systems and their ongoing transformation by social movements.

Wilfrid Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems project receives funding for project: “Testing on-line farmers’ markets in food insecure neighbourhoods”

June 11, 2018, OTTAWA – Today, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority announced 28 organizations from across Canada who will receive a grant from its Community Investment Program. This program provides roughly $1 million annually to Canadian not-for-profits, charities and academic institutions doing good things for and through the Canadian internet. To date, CIRA has provided $5.45 million in grants for projects that improve digital literacy, internet infrastructure, access and online services.

“We are excited to embark on the fifth year of CIRA’s Community Investment Program by funding 28 new and innovative projects,” says David Fowler, vice president of marketing and communications at CIRA. “CIRA has an ambitious goal to build a better online Canada and we know this can’t be achieved on our own. The Community Investment Program is one of the key ways we invest in Canada’s internet and we’re proud of the many organizations we’ve funded over the years, including these latest recipients.”

Among the recipients of the CIRA grant is Wilfrid Laurier’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems for Dr. Theresa Schumilas’ project, “Testing on-line farmers’ markets in food insecure neighbourhoods.” This project brings two under-represented groups (urban food insecure communities and isolated rural ecological farmers) into the rapidly expanding digital food economy using open access tools. These new tools can improve efficiencies for small-scale producers and enhance the internet experience for urban food consumers. Continue reading “Wilfrid Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems project receives funding for project: “Testing on-line farmers’ markets in food insecure neighbourhoods””

Thoughts on the Food Secure Canada 9th National Assembly

On October 13-16th, 2016 Ryerson University in Toronto hosted one of the most vibrant conversations on food movement and national food policy: Resetting the table, Food Secure Canada’s 9th assembly. This annual gathering brought together a wide range of actors who are involved in food policy discussion, including community activists, policy makers, food movement leaders, and many other stakeholders.

This year’s assembly focus was on building capacity to get involved with federal government’s initiative on developing a national food policy. There was an exciting mixture of pre-assembly meetings and tours, plenaries, exhibitor showcases, break-out sessions, and open space for dialogue during the four days. Programs were designed to cover several themes of importance for the food movement community including: agriculture, climate change, food security, food justice, food policy, healthy school food, food system, local food economies, and indigenous food sovereignty. Continue reading “Thoughts on the Food Secure Canada 9th National Assembly”

CALL FOR BOOK CHAPTERS. Indigenous Food Sovereignty: Concept, Cases and Conversations

Indigenous food sovereignty is more relevant in the era of reconciliation for First Nations/Metis and Inuit peoples in Canada and North America.  The alarmingly high rate of food insecurity among Indigenous peoples in Canada and resulting poor health and well-being outcomes compares very poorly to the rest of the Canadian population. According to recent available estimates, and 55% of First Nations households as compared to 7.7% of average Canadian households experienced moderate to severe food insecurity (Health Canada, 2012).  There are multiple and complex factors for such disparaging rates of First Nations Food insecurity in Canada. At the same time, the cultural values and Indigenous perspectives on food security has been recognized as an essential pre-requisite for conceptualizing and designing food security issues among Indigenous communities in Canada ((Power, 2008). Food sovereignty, and in particular Indigenous Food Sovereignty challenged the dominant perception and intentions of food security, that emerged as a ‘big-tent’ and multi-faceted concept (Patel, 2009). The semantics and ideological debates between food security and food sovereignty by scholars and practitioners still persists (See a dedicated issue by ‘Dialogues of Human Geography’, Volume 4, Issue 2, 2014). Indigenous food sovereignty, adds another layer of complexity, evolved in Canada (Morrison, 2012) to position and support Indigenous self-determination and reclamation of traditional food systems and cultural identify of Indigenous communities from Canada (Morrison, 2012). A traditional food system is defined as “all food within a particular culture available from local natural resources and culturally accepted. It also includes the socio-cultural meanings, acquisition, processing techniques, use, composition and nutritional consequences for the people using the food” (Kuhnlein & Receveur 1996, p. 418). Largely as a result of Indigenous efforts, Indigenous or traditional foods and associated knowledge systems have been rediscovered by scholars (Kuhnlein 2014), governments (Council of Canadian Academics 2014) and international agencies such as United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO 2013) as a viable strategy to improve well-being and mitigate complex challenges of achieving food and nutritional security for Indigenous communities in Canada and elsewhere.  In this period of reconciliation, therefore, it is imperative to acknowledge and celebrate the role of Indigenous food systems in preserving, nurturing and protecting health and food security of Canadian communities and beyond.

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