Published November 19, 2018

What did food sovereignty look like in Virginia prior to the arrival of Europeans?  Why have Native American foodways changed so dramatically? And how are Indigenous communities building healthy, just, food systems today?

In October, our Food & Community project set out to explore these questions through a series of workshops with leaders in Indigenous Food Sovereignty from tribes around Virginia and beyond. The workshops culminated in a feast of precolonial foods for 200 people attending the 2-day food symposium Our Evolving Food System: From Slavery to Sovereignty, which our Food & Community Project was a partner in designing and hosting at the University of Virginia.

Workshop participants gathered and harvested native foods and prepared them over fire, using traditional methods. Together, they created a meal based on ancestral foodways that showcased what food sovereignty can look – and taste – like.

David Perry (far left) a local forager and David Rico (far right) a member of the I-Collective and Indigenous chef, lead one of the many small groups into the forest to forage.

As participants foraged hickory nuts, wild persimmons, wild onion, violet leaves, dock, they  rocked back on their heels and about identity, indigeneity, naturalization, the human impact on ecological evolution, social constructs around food, and what “food sovereignty” means. At the first global forum on food sovereignty in Mali, in 2007, the Declaration of Nyéléni was written, stating, “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”

During the meal, the chefs spoke about their work in food sovereignty while a photo essay of the foraging, gathering, processing, and cooking of the food being served was displayed. (See gallery below.)

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.

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