Valuing country food: Commons, social economy, and food security in Arctic Canada

Authors: Eleanor Stephenson*, McGill University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Canada, Polar Regions
Keywords: Inuit, food, commons, policy, subsistence
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Iris, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper brings two strands of literature into conversation, connecting commons scholarship to theoretical and empirical work on Inuit subsistence and food sharing in the Circumpolar North. Here, recent academic work has highlighted the presence of persistent mixed economies, showing the potential robustness of social economies of food production and sharing even in the context of expanding of capitalist modes of production. As tropes of fading Inuit subsistence culture continue to circulate widely within both academia and policy spheres, this literature provides a counterpoint to better recognize community economies and ways of valuing life outside the capitalist market. Drawing on this literature and key informant interviews undertaken in Nunavut, Canada with both policymakers and community members, I contemplate what is at stake in different and contested concepts of value surrounding traditional (country) food production and sharing, and ask how this social economy is accounted for within policy. Country food is widely understood as a medium of affective ties and source of ongoing connection between people, with animals, and with the land. However, concerns about access and abundance of country food are widespread, and today, this relational ecology of production is juxtaposed against ‘food security’ policy strategies rooted in market-based approaches, including the commercialization of country food. In examining these concepts of value, I endeavor to connect lived practices of Inuit subsistence with theoretical insights concerning relational ecologies of production and living in common.

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