Radical and Relational Approaches to Fermentation and Food Sovereignty

Radical Fermentation Dialogue Series

Indigenous communities regard traditional foodways as core components of community health and wellness, yet traditional foods such as those made by fermentation practices are threatened by settler capitalist nation states that continue to legislate away Indigenous People’s rights to ancestral lands and waters. This goals of this transcollege research cluster includes curating a year-long series of convergence research activities that center radical and relational Indigenous knowledges and ways of fermenting foods. Ultimately, our cluster seeks to unsettle and expand dominant modes of knowledge production in food science research in ways that advances food sovereignty, an issue of urgent global significance for all peoples. 

Through curated gatherings and guest expert presentations, participants engage in collaborative projects that demonstrate how Indigenous food fermentation practices exist in relation with nature (rather in control of) and how Indigenous scientific knowledges demonstrate deeply rooted, or radical, relationships between human, environment, and more-than-human entities. Our radical and relational analyses of fermented food and food sovereignty discourse and praxis are guided by the following questions: What is the significance of radical and relational perspectives in food science research? How are Indigenous fermented foods represented across different disciplines and how might we critically address issues such as sub/conscious bias? Whose stories matter and who decides? Instead of proposing singular truths or facts, this cluster invites participants and audiences to consider the existence of multiple simultaneous truths, all of which are culturally constructed, performed, and in some cases politicized and policed.

Our cluster aims to rethink common sense understandings of the term radical, not in terms of extreme or peripheral perspectives, but to recuperate its revolutionary potential in alignment with its Latin derivation radix, meaning “root.” Since scientific knowledge production is shaped by prevailing norms of dominant cultures, other equally-valid perspectives are frequently excluded. This point is particularly important to consider in scientific research, where facts are shaped by sub/conscious biases and hold concrete implications for how nation states legislate the fate of Indigenous Peoples, lands, and waters.

Our cluster aims to focus on relational rather than isolated outputs. Within scientific research on food fermentation and the human microbiome, researchers use various techniques to isolate specific microbes as potential therapeutics. As a consequence of this research, Indigenous communities have become sites for extraction of so-called ancestral microbes. This research reaffirms negative tropes within scientific literature of Indigenous people as “windows to the past” rather than communities thriving in the present. By foregrounding Indigenous perspectives on foods and microorganisms, this cluster will bridge microbiology with critical work in Indigenous Studies and Science and Technology Studies to lay the groundwork for a more equitable study of the relations between bodies, foods, and microbes – and away from the extractive practices of modern technoscience.