What does food mean to me, you, us?


Food is a central unifying theme to life which takes upon itself multiple expressions. Food is what we take in, in order to survive, thrive and also to keep ourselves in balance with the environment we live in. When what we take in becomes out of balance, it becomes toxic: a poison to us and also, in a state of imbalance it poisons our relationships with all those we ought to share an interdependency upon this One Earth.

~ Mama D Ujuaje, Community Centered Knowledge


Food is so much more than just fuel: it is history, identity, sovereignty, culture, belonging, resistance, health, nourishment, love. And so much more. As the global pandemic that is COVID-19 continues to flex its muscles, existing inequalities of health, wealth, race and gender are being brought only further into the spotlight. According to the International Planning Committee on Food Sovereignty (IPC), ‘local markets are being closed and peasants, livestock keepers, animal breeders, shepherds and fisherfolk are often not allowed to get their products to consumers’. Large scale corporate food enterprises are being prioritised however, despite their modus operandi relying heavily on low paid, insecure (often migrant) labour, not to mention the quality of the food itself. It’s thus more important than ever to construct, and maintain those food, farming and production systems which support human health and thriving, community wellbeing and self-determination and protect the natural world. 

During our GEN In Conversation Series event in July, Constanza, Mama D, Gary and Merelyn in conversation shared their journeys and the transformative experiences which sculpted and informed the approaches they now take with food issues they engage with. Through the lenses of biocultural heritage, critical food advocacy, Community Centred Knowledge, local product commercialisation and Farmer Field Schools, our speakers weaved stories and experiences which sit at the intersections of justice, power and resilience. Rather than outlining the seemingly endless ills of industrialised agriculture, chemical farming, the dismantling of community food systems (the list goes on), Constanza, Mama D, Gary and Merelyn focused more on actions and solutions for the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.


Reading and resource list (recommended by event speakers)


Audio recording of the full event:


Constanza Monterrubio Solís

Being a food lover and specialized in biodiversity conservation, I focus on seeds and food as the expression of biocultural heritage exploring how local foodways thrive in these turbulent times. Currently, I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Pontifical University of Chile looking at the ways small-scale farmers, especially women, keep resilience of the food heritage through biocultural memory in La Araucania region of Chile. Conversations by the fire, walks through the forests collecting edibles, cultivating homegardens, sharing seeds, cooking and eating are the means through which I learn from the keepers of biocultural memory and share their struggle to keep it alive and vibrant.

Mama D Ujuaje 

I am a great and grand-daughter of both Africa and the Americas who has studied and explored agriculture and horticulture, lived and worked within its agro-ecological practice in East and West Africa, the Caribbean and in the UK and delved into the psycho-social interfaces of lifelong learning. I now turn my hand to cultivating the minds and hearts of people to grow agency and affirmative occupation of each life and each community by weaving stories at the intersections of justice, power and resilience to rise beyond the present challenges. I am, as my name suggests, a mother. The word ‘mother’, according to the traditional knowledge of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, depicts the place located between Orun (Heaven) and Aye (Earth): a place of transactions and transitions, transformations and transcendence. I facilitate interactive processes of learning and exploration on matters concerning how power is both constituted and wielded, on privilege and inclusion as modernity’s constructs and diversity as a way to negotiate our relationships with Earth. I also work on food histories, food justice issues and knowledge exchange between different knowledge institutions (university and community collaborations and exchanges) including advocacy for community markets and food sellers.

Community Centred Knowledge, of which Mama D is a co-founder, has curated an immersive performance: the Food Journey© which has taken us across the UK and into Europe. The experience is renewing a deeper communion with the Earth and a drawing closer to an understanding of ‘Ubuntu’: the Bantu concept of life’s inter-dependence. I have encountered a wealth of souls along the way: people, places and their stories. Each one of these brings a richness, and insight into the complexity of how coloniality shaped not only place, but also people. We are now moving into a phase of developing our learning to shape our understandings and teachings around systemic justice and the processing of trauma.

Gary Martin 

Gary is the Founder of the Global Diversity Foundation and was its Director from 2000 until 2017. His applied research and teaching on conservation and ethnobotany has taken him to more than sixty countries over the last thirty years. Twice a Fulbright scholar, he has a PhD in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley and an undergraduate degree in botany from Michigan State University. From 1992 to 2000 he was a coordinator of the People and Plants initiative on ethnobotany and the sustainable use of plant resources, a program he founded with colleagues from World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), UNESCO-MAB and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. He is the author of Ethnobotany, a reference in the field that is widely used around the world. Gary was a lecturer in the School of Anthropology and Conservation at the University of Kent from 1998 to 2011 and a Fellow of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society from 2010 to 2012. While a Carson Fellow, he founded the Global Environments Summer Academy and the Global Environments Network. Partly resident in Morocco since 1996, he works with local farmers to produce and sell organic fruits and vegetables in Marrakech. In 2019, he co-founded EthnoBotanica Shop and Café, a social enterprise that features local products that are authentic, derived from traditional and contemporary cultural practices, fairly traded and traceable. During the COVID-19 lockdown, he organized the distribution of produce boxes to a diverse group of people in confinement.

Merelyn Valdivia Díaz

Merelyn is a Peruvian national, a system thinker who has been working for 8 years on how to enhance resilience at local and regional level through multidisciplinary and bottom-up approaches. She is currently a climate resilient consultant at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). She worked with CGIAR centers (CIP, ICRAF and CIFOR) from 2013-2017. There, she focused on developing several methodologies related to Agrobiodiversity Monitoring System, Gender-Sensitive Agroforestry and Ecosystem Services Assessment (Wild Plants and Cultural Ecosystems Services). Therefore, she has multi-year’s experience in research, knowledge brokering and the facilitation of multi-stakeholder dialogue and workshops, connecting public and private sectors in relation to ecosystem services, food and climate change. 

In 2017-2020, Merelyn worked at FAO, at the Plant Production and Protection Division (AGPM). She developed a methodology “Bridging the traditional ecological knowledge and the practices on climate change adaptation”, that is in the process of becoming a “Climate Smart Farmer Field School platform”. At FAO, she also actively participates in discussions about food systems and indigenous people (as part of FAO’s Indigenous People Team). These experiences and methodologies allow Merelyn to develop a broader set of analytical skills, relevant at different scales, from the local to global policy processes. This is key for instance when discussing the use of increased resource efficiency and reduced dependency on external inputs for food production for the benefit of food system resilience. She has also developed solid ground experience about specific local food systems and their nexus to climate change, including within rainforest, desert, andean and semi-arid ecosystems, both in Latin America and Africa.

A food tray assembled by Constanza during The Food Journey. Photo courtesy of Constanza.

Following this public event, we collaborated with the Community Centred Knowledge Collective to hold the first iteration of The Food Journey online, allowing participants to delve deep into the history and travels of food, plants, people and traditions. Read about the event here.












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