“Uncomfortable, important and compelling”: Food Sovereignty presentations at Food Futures 2022

A close-up picture of Themeda triandra (Kangaroo grass) with a background of trees

Christina Pollard, Melanie Parker, and Food Futures Conference Advisory Committee

Over 170 delegates attended the Food Futures Conference 2022, held Wednesday 16 to Thursday 17 March. Expert speakers presented on a range of topics, on the Conference theme of transforming food systems for the planetary and public good.

The third plenary session, named ‘Food Sovereignty’ is summarised below. Stay tuned for a third and final blog summarising day two’s plenary sessions.

Third Plenary Session: Food Sovereignty

Joshua Gilbert, a Worimi man, farmer, and Higher Degree by Research (HDR) student at Charles Sturt University, began the session with a live presentation.

Mr Gilbert spoke of his family, and how they’ve found “a congruent section between Indigenous agriculture and Western farming systems.” He noted his father’s ancestors and how one of his ancestors used a combination of Indigenous knowledge and Western knowledge, to both evade police and look after their family. Mr Gilbert, added that he believed that,

“Our conversation regarding Indigenous agriculture in Australia is about 40 years behind the thinking of the U.S. and Canada, and this is a bridge that we need to cross very quickly.”

Mr Gilbert also noted the concerning lack of information on Indigenous farming’s size and scale, and the limited amount of proceeds from Indigenous foods going to Indigenous people.

“One of my biggest fears is that we continue to have a system that denies Indigenous people our rights to agriculture,” Mr Gilbert said.

“And we know that agriculture is a colonising act. The very nature of Western farming systems were kind of designed to push Indigenous people off their land.”

Mr Gilbert suggested that Indigenous farmers should be able to set the agenda of research, be heard by government, and protect their Indigenous trademarks.


Assoc Prof Christina Pollard said,

“Mr Joshua Gilbert highlighted the congruency of agricultural knowledge that is needed for modern transformation of food systems. He offered us advocacy recommendations such as the formation of an Intertribal Agricultural Council or other ways where the Indigenous voice is heard in government conversations regarding agriculture. There was also a clear need to map and understand the size and extent of Indigenous agriculture and to supported it. This means supporting Indigenous farmers through university, a common workforce theme echoed in other workforce areas related to food systems, e.g. Indigenous researchers, dietitians, farmers etc.”


Professor Bruce Pascoe, a Bunurong, Yuin and Tasmanian Aboriginal man, and a Melbourne Enterprise Professor and Australian writer, recorded his speech on food sovereignty and food systems.

Uncle Bruce emphasised the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ food systems knowledge, and “including Aboriginal people in the benefits from the occupation of Aboriginal soil.”

He noted the political nature of this topic, stressed how essential it is to talk about Australian soil, and “Australian foods that have Australian Aboriginal names.”

Uncle Bruce challenged us all by asserting that, “You can’t eat our food if you can’t swallow our history.”

“By accepting the benefits of 100,000 years of … Australian Aboriginal knowledge and the soil, you have to also accept the people that acquired that knowledge, and you have to accept the history of those people who acquired that knowledge, and accept that history, warts and all,” he explained

“It’s a way of growing up in Australia, of accepting the fact that the continent was stolen by the British, no treaty was ever made, and Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were murdered in order to acquire the land”.

Uncle Bruce continued by noting that Australians needed to love their country, and that this will lead to healing and will “also get us out of the environmental mess that we’re in.”

Associate Professor Christina Pollard, the session’s facilitator, said that Uncle Bruce’s speech was a must watch for everyone, and his message that “You can’t eat our food if you can’t swallow our history” was uncomfortable and important.”


Professor Malek Batal on ‘Indigenous Food Systems, Food Security and Food Sovereignty Initiatives of First Nations in Canada’

Prof Malek Batal of the University of Montreal spoke about food sovereignty, food systems, and food security involving First Nations Peoples in Canada.

Prof Batal respectfully described how his research team performed a study detailing Canadian food insecurity predictors in over 6,000 people from First Nations communities. Prof Batal noted the factors that affect food security, including employment, gender, children, income source, traditional food activities, and the effects of industry and climate change.

The journey of the First Nations Food and Environment Study 2008 -2018 highlighted the spiritual and cultural importance of food and the pride that people have and how food is sacred,” Assoc Prof Pollard summarised.

“Malek presented on the definitions of food security and food sovereignty, and described many First Nations peoples’ understanding of these concepts. One was ‘A life free from stress from food.’

“He showed that the high cost of healthy food and poverty is an issue across numerous cultural groups. We need to advocate to build capacity to eliminate the barriers to proper nutrition. This involves taking a wholistic approach to food that involves addressing poverty and support for communities to rely on traditional food systems; improving partnerships, collaboration and communication between First Nations people and all levels of government; support continuing research, education and public awareness; and create a joint taskforce to operationalise recommendations.”


Q&A session

There was a lively Q&A session featuring Mr Gilbert and Prof Batal, who woke up at 3am to participate. They both agreed that there are barriers for Indigenous people in undertaking tertiary agriculture training. Prof Batal also noted the limited number of Indigenous people working in nutrition, and nutrition research.

Increasing the capacity for Indigenous people to undertake this type of training in food sovereignty and food security is a key advocacy priority.

There were also questions around advocacy, and what the public health workforce can do to help create transformation of food systems in this area.

Dr Penny Love, PHAA Food and Nutrition Special Interest Group member, chaired this session, with A/Prof Christina Pollard as the session facilitator.

Recordings of the plenary sessions are now available for registered attendees on the Food Futures Conference 2022 portal.

Read the first of our Food Futures recap blogs here.


Image: Peripitus/Wikimedia Commons

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