Bottom up organising for food sovereignty – An interview with Javier Sanchez-Rodriguez

Bottom up organising for food sovereignty – An interview with Javier Sanchez-Rodriguez


By: Dan Iles
Date: 12 February 2016

javierIn October 2015, I went to the food sovereignty gathering in Hebden Bridge with Global Justice Now. I was really interested to capture the stories from some of the amazing people who came along. Javier Sanchez-Rodriguez, one of the facilitators of the event, was perfect to interview as his stories link the struggle in places like Colombia to here in the UK.

Marsha: How did you first get involved in food issues?

Javier: I was born in it. My Parents are peasants; their parents were peasants we are of indigenous background, we are Pijao people. I am of mixed race – descendant of African and indigenous people of Colombia.

M: What do you see as being the biggest food challenge in the UK? 

J: In the UK the biggest challenges for the food sovereignty movement is recognising the colonial history.

Every food system has been based and created on top of slavery, on top of xenophobia, on top of misplacement of indigenous people from Africa, Latin America, Asia.

The biggest challenge that I see in the food movement in the UK, a movement which is mainly made from white middle class people, is to recognise that food is based on those things.  They need to be historically researched, understood and disseminated so that we don’t keep on talking about food without taking them into account.

M: What can be done about it?

J: We can use critical teachings proposed by indigenous people, African people, African descendants, people of the Caribbean and the people of United States and Africa. On how to analyse our realities because if we are talking about food and land we have to talk about bottom up organising and not just top down. We need to build a new way of seeing and relating to food. A vision that is about earth, not as a material thing that can be exploited (as Europeans and American mostly think), but as something that is a living entity, that’s where we all sprang from, as a mother. That is one of the ways to approach this and also to study history critically.

M: Give me an example of a local project you been involved with that changes the food system?

J: In Colombia we have a farm. We discovered that we needed to start planting food organically for our consumption, as we couldn’t keep eating things that were contaminated with chemicals. So people in areas that weren’t eating food that is contaminated were healthy. We discovered that we don’t grow as much as other people, we are not eating the right amount of food, and we not eating enough protein.

Sometimes our children die of malnutrition so we actually started exploring what is lacking in our diet. Most people in our area they didn’t know what broccoli or cauliflower was even though we lived in the countryside. They were mostly eating rice and potatoes. What changed was our way of approaching food and consciously starting to plant food in our vegetable gardens that was nutritious. We also learnt to use wastage to feed biogas digesters. These made gas so that our mothers and grandmothers, those who are mainly the ones cooking, don’t end up with of eye and lung disease from so much smoke from the badly built wooden stoves

M: Things like farmer’s markets are often perceived to be a thing for more affluent middle class areas. How can we make food issues more relevant to wider and more diverse communities?

J: Go to them. Go to the ghetto, go to the council estate, stop being afraid of black people and foreigners. They are the people that are the poorest in this country. Go to Bermondsey to the white working class people. Talk to them, educate and take the markets there. Make the food available and cheap so that it is accessible to them so they don’t need to go buy tinned food. Take the markets there.

If we are conscious that we are producing food to nourish and to change the way the food system works, we probably should be thinking about a free market for people that can’t afford it. So let’s take the food for free to places and educate people, give it to them prepare it with them show how to deal with issues of nutrition.

Currently many set up trendy places where the trendy people come and eat. No lets go to the council houses, let’s talk, let do door knocking, lets invite people to meetings to talk about this. Let’s do bottom up organising to reach out to the people.

The church is very good at going out to the people and saying “come in”. Let’s call people to sit in meetings and talk about food and the importance of eating good food and we take food to them. We cannot keep talking amongst ourselves its silly; we cannot keep trying to convert the converted. We need to preach to the people that are not converted yet. Let’s recognise our privileges and stop being scared of the ghettos and council estates otherwise we keep talking to ourselves.

M: What does food sovereignty mean to you?

J: A beginning, a start of a journey, which has many questions that needs to be addressed and answered. It means hope that people do want to start doing this. It means hope that we are going to think outside of the box, because by planting organic food doesn’t mean we are thinking outside the box we are doing it within it or on the edges of the box. So it gives me hope that we are not just going to be reformist. We are going to make our own laws from the people; we are going to create a movement that is about disobeying the status quo. Civil disobedience to the corporations who create laws.

At the moment the people who are creating laws about food are corporations who manage governments. So why do we want to change them, they are not going to change so let’s create our own thing, lets disobey, it’s our responsibility to disobey oppression not to try to work within it.

M: What do you hope to come out of the food sovereignty gathering?

J: A movement that is about making sure that everyone is included, that we make sure all our knowledge, traditions, and scientific ideas are included and I invite this movement to think outside the box. That another world is real and possible.

Sit down and eat food. One thing we have in common is food, lets share food and eat have a conversation. And be a community again.