As part of the Smithsonian Earth Optimism program, I am tasked with learning about new problems facing our environment. As part of this program, I recently had the opportunity to participate in a discussion led by Alecia Lennie, Samuel Lopze and Mariah Gladstone. The discussion centered around the documentary “Gather,” which covered the idea of food sovereignty, a concept I had not previously known about. Food sovereignty is the idea that those in charge of food production and distribution should be able to make decisions concerning how the food is distributed and cultivated. Even if you’re not a farmer, food sovereignty means that you have the freedom of choice when it comes to buying food. No one can force you into only buying food from a certain place. Food sovereignty is important in assuring not only good quality food, but also good quality of the environment where the food is grown. For Native Americans, food sovereignty is especially important and vital to their way of living.

Most Native American nations today live on reservations. For the most part, these reservations are considered “food deserts” by the USDA. A food desert is an area where grocery stores, or other options to buy fresh food, are scarce. For example, the Navajo Nation is both the largest and most populated reservation in the United States. However, the reservation only contains one grocery store per 15,000 people, and for this reason it is considered to be a food desert. There is a strong correlation between food deserts and common health complications among Native American nations. With that being said, the concept of being able to control how food is cultivated and transported is important to the nations in creating sources of food that aren’t grocery stores. With food sovereignty, Native American nations have the option to revitalize food systems by restoring traditional foods and agricultural practices. This is an important step in fighting the health pandemic facing reservations and having food security in order to sustain good health. In addition to improving the health of Native American nations, food sovereignty also plays an important role in restoring the land of reservations to its original quality.

Logan Stephens