Deborah Barndt

My Place

I grew up in an Ohio rural farming community, where we harvested vegetables from our garden, reached out from our treehouse to pick pears, camped out in meadows with cows, and shared fresh produce and animals at community potluck dinners. The year of my birth marked the end of World War II and the beginning of the corporate industrial food regime. Like other globalizing migrants, I moved to cities – in Europe, Latin America and Canada. Living in Toronto since the early 1970s, I have tried to recreate community through common political and artistic passions, often bringing an extended family and diverse friends to share a meal around my table. My kitchen looks out through a big window on my wooded garden, so that as we cook and eat, the garden is in my kitchen, is at my table. A garden that I hope will be my burial ground.

While I still try to grow a few vegetables in my downtown Toronto backyard, my main interest in the past 25 years has been to research and document the global food system and its impact on the environment, health, biodiversity and cultural diversity, and our relations – with food and with each other. This journey often took me across borders to Central and South America, gathering stories of people most affected by an unjust and unsustainable food system. I usually told these stories with photographs, making visible the women workers on the front lines of the NAFTA tomato food chain, for example. With the Legacies Project, I focus instead on the stories, images and voices of those who are resisting corporate food and reclaiming their own food production and cultural practices.

My Perspective on Food Sovereignty

Most of us urban dwellers have become disconnected from the land, from other living beings, and thus from ourselves and each other. The reclaiming of this connection and of community control of food production has been led by the millions of Indigenous peoples and peasants who can still remember and recover this relationship with ‘all our relations’. A transnational coalition Via Campesina adopted the term food sovereignty, in resisting corporate control of food, neoliberal trade agreements, and environmental devastation. They remind us that food is not a commodity to be bought and sold, but rather is medicine that can sustain and heal us physically, culturally and spiritually.

My Participation in the Legacies Project

This project is a continuation of a life-long journey connecting people in the Americas…and a culmination of other intergenerational and intercultural projects around food and community art that I’ve coordinated with over the past 25 years. This has been both a very personal and a very political process. I am challenged at this stage of my life to keep learning, in particular as an ally with Indigenous communities and global food movements. Food is an entry point to a settler-Indigenous dialogue that has no road map.

I loved working across generations, cultures and borders on the videos and photo essays. As an educator, now I’m most interested in how they get used, with the facilitator’s guides, in both schools and communities.