Transnational and Local Feminisms: The Who and What of our World Food Concerns
The United Nations Development Fund for Women claims: “Women’s economic empowerment works. We can prove it” (www.unwomen.org). And they are working to do so by empowering women’s entrepreneurship, access, and connections between food security and agricultural production. Women are known to be the primary food growers around the world (although not often landowners), making issues of food security & sovereignty an important issue for transnational and ecological feminisms.
Sovereignty (the right for self-authority and control) is important for farmers to be economically successful and healthy, especially because they are the foundation of food systems within local and national regions. The ability to trade and grow what works best for individuals and their culture and environment, as well as own and work the land for a sustainable, self-reliant livelihood should be a human right and world trade standard. For more information about food sovereignty policy framework check out the following: http://www.agriculturesnetwork.org/magazines/global/women-and-food-sovereignty/theme-overview-women-and-food-sovereignty
However, women (especially indigenous women) have struggled to gain the freedom and support they need. These food issues are thus a part of transnational feminism, which (along with global and postcolonial feminism) focuses on “the various ways in which women from different cultures, ethnicities, races, and classes experience patriarchy and oppression” (Rosemarie Tong, Feminist Thought, 231).
Vandana Shiva, a leading transnational feminist, works to protect farmers through initiatives such as Diverse Women for Diversity (strengthening local movements while opposing globalization) and the Global Movement for Seed Freedom: “a network of individuals and organizations committed to . . . protect[ing] the biodiversity of the planet by defending the freedom of the seed to evolve in integrity, self-organization, and diversity.” This movement includes protecting individual farmers’ rights against the power of companies like Monsanto, which she links to neocolonization (wealthy countries exploiting resources from less powerful ones). For more information about her affiliated campaigns and efforts visit the following: http://www.navdanya.org/diverse-women-for-diversity; http://vandanashiva.org/
However, women and food connections are not just far away or isolated concerns. Organizations like American Agri-Women (http://www.americanagriwomen.org/) also support the important connection between women and food, weighing in and supporting issues regarding sustainability, environmental, economic, legal, and other matters. Additional influential groups include the Women’s Agricultural Network, the Women on U.S. Farms Research Initiative, and the Women, Food & Agriculture Network.
Along with transnational groups and individuals like Vandana Shiva, groups and various media outlets within America are also focusing on debates over GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Although this matter is complex, a simplistic way of thinking about this issue is that selective breeding or cross-pollination could occur naturally within plant and animal species, while genetic modification is done artificially. Many are concerned about the prevalence of this genetic modification in food products and question the regulation of this practice, including feminists. While some are focused on whether or not GMOs should be labeled, others are concerned about whether they should be allowed at all. Various countries, including within the European Union, oppose GM crops because they feel they are unsafe for human consumption or that not enough is known about their long-term effects on humans and the environment (according to a Huffington Post article by Marjorie Olster). However, others argue that GMOs can help combat world hunger (as expressed in the “United Nations Statement Regarding the Use of GM Foods as Food Aid in Southern Africa”).
So why should feminists around the world care about these debates? Although women and girls are more likely to be impacted by hunger and poverty, they are also more likely to be affected by toxins in the body. Elaine Lipson’s article in Ms. Magazine, for example, (http://www.msmagazine.com/summer2004/organicfarming.asp)
declares: “Women take the brunt of the many toxic chemicals used in conventional agriculture” due to having more fat stores within their bodies and the connection to birth defects and residues through breast-feeding. The article therefore praises organic product standards: “Organic standards don’t just prohibit the use of toxic and persistent chemicals; they also forbid irradiation, genetic modification . . . . [and] growth hormones and antibiotics [in meat].” Organic foods and products are therefore healthier for women and girls here and abroad, and without the use of chemicals and hormones, safer for animals and the environment as well.
Women’s involvement in local food systems here in Iowa and specifically at Iowa State University is a part of these types of health and sustainability efforts. For example, Iowa State University has its own Organic Agriculture Program (http://extension.agron.iastate.edu/organicag/) and specialist, Dr. Kathleen Delate. Along with specifically organic programs, a wide variety of educational resources and opportunities to connect to local food systems as well as fund your own food initiatives are offered through the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Not only are there numerous women involved within these organizations, but many women are also involved as food producers. In order to learn more about local food systems in the Ames area, support these local farmers, and connect to sustainability and other food justice issues, check out the ISU Extension’s local foods website (www.extension.iastate.edu/localfoods) and/or Ahna Kruzic and Corry Bregendahl’s publication: http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs-and-papers/2015-01-supporting-local-food-system-development-your-community
As a daily part of our lives, food is all around us and can connect to much deeper issues such as sovereignty, security, and access to healthy food. These links to local and transnational initiatives and resources can help as you learn more about the vital connection between women and food and maybe even encourage you to search out a local farmer at Wheatsfield Co-op Grocery or next year’s local food festival and farmers’ markets.
By: Sarah C