What is food sovereignty?
The international peasant’s movement La Vía Campesina first defined food sovereignty in 1996 as “People’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” The fight for food sovereignty is about democratizing the food system. This means putting people—not corporations—at the center of decisions about the food that we grow, cook, and eat every day.
La Via Campesina, an international coalition made of over 148 organizations, has carried out countless campaigns, including those to protect farmers’ seeds, stop violence against women, recognize the rights of peasants, a global agrarian reform, and many others. The global movement for food sovereignty stems from these campaigns and the everyday work of communities around the world to build resilient local economies rooted in healthy, sustainable food.
Food Sovereignty Tours are educational and experiential tours that offer participants an opportunity to travel to US and international destinations to experience local food systems and the food sovereignty movement first-hand. Food Sovereignty is an important political concept throughout the world that is still unfamiliar to people, particularly in the US. With this in mind, our tours hope to deepen awareness and strengthen this important movement through education, cultural immersion and solidarity.
Food Sovereignty Tours include meetings with key food system players such as local producers, agricultural and development NGOs, movement leaders, representatives from unions and producer associations, schools and educators, researchers, activists, journalists and policy-makers.
On each tour, local hosts provide an overview of their country’s history, culture, politics, ecology and agriculture. We also meet with specialists to provide background on specific topics relating to the tour’s theme(s). Through these encounters, Food Sovereignty Tours provide you with the tools to understand what you are seeing and experiencing as you travel. The educational talks and presentations, given by prominent local experts, aren’t meant to give you all the answers, but rather to help you ask the right questions as you meet new people and experience a new place.
We are currently organizing tours to the Basque Country, Cuba, Bolivia, Italy, South Korea and Oaxaca, Mexico. Sign up for Movements, our e-newsletter, to stay in the know about new trip announcements.
Alternative, educational travel is a way to replace feelings of apathy and hopelessness with deeper understanding and empowerment. Relationship building is essential to this transformation. Thus, every tour seeks to establish people-to-people ties by introducing you to individuals and communities that most travelers would never meet on their own. Through both formal and informal interactions, participants come away with an enriched understanding of the hopes, struggles and accomplishments of the people we meet.
Each delegation gives you the unique opportunity to travel to various cities, towns and villages to speak with local people involved in projects and struggles related to food sovereignty. In addition, tours often include participating in local festivals, workshops, conferences, cultural activities and celebrations. These experiences offer the chance to learn about new cultures, meet with people from various walks of life, and establish meaningful friendships and professional relationships.
Food Sovereignty Tours endow participants with a new vantage point from which to view US foreign policy and understand the corporate food regime. Our tours aim to contribute to an enhanced understanding of the global food system—and the way people around the world are working to make it more democratic and sustainable—to bring back to your own community, family and workplace.
Food Sovereignty Tours are educational tours for travelers interested in making genuine, face-to-face connections with people, places and cultures and who don’t mind getting their hands a little dirty. We provide a standard of 3-star accommodations when in urban areas, staying in locally owned hotels, not international chains. Most tours also travel off the beaten path for a few nights, in places where 3-star hotels are not available or where more rustic accommodations offer an important lens into rural culture. We work to ensure that all accommodations are clean, safe and secure. The types of accommodation are listed at the bottom of each tour description page, and you can contact us for further details.
The tours are structured, usually with very full days of travel, meetings and activities. This requires that travelers be disciplined about wake-up and meeting times, and respect the itinerary so as not to disrupt the group schedule. Some free time is scheduled on each tour, but we recommend travelers arrive early or stay later than the tour dates if they hope to spend a lot of time relaxing, shopping, visiting museums, etc. We are happy to extend your hotel reservation, at your own expense, to accommodate your trip extension and recommend site-seeing activities that are not part of the tour.
Food Sovereignty Tours are not culinary tours. Generally speaking, we will not eat at fine dining restaurants, though there are often free evenings when participants can explore these options on their own. Rather, many of the meals will be prepared by local people, proudly sharing their most valued local dishes. In poorer areas, these foods may be very simple and require us to be gracious and open-minded. In some cases, vegetarian options may be limited, though tour personnel will always advocate on your behalf to obtain a vegetarian or vegan option—keep in mind, however, that this may not always be the most pleasing or diverse dish, as vegetarianism is not practiced or well-understood in all places. We recommend bringing non-perishable snacks with you or purchasing food as we travel just in case. Wherever possible, we include cooking demonstrations using local ingredients or opportunities to prepare food with local people.
However, Food Sovereignty Tours do not present idealized versions of “authentic” local food. Global economic forces have advanced the industrialization of food and the homogenization of consumer tastes. None of our destinations are untouched by Coca Cola, McDonalds, Monsanto and other multinational brands. Many cultures’ diets have been transformed by decades of “food aid” making wheat bread and white rice staples in urban and rural households. Likewise, small farmers may use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. While all of our tours celebrate native foods, culinary traditions and sustainability, they also seek to expose travelers to the realities of the global food system.
Food Sovereignty Tours are not about providing charity or food donations. The cost of the tour includes compensation for the people we meet with, and often a donation to their organization or group. However, our purpose is not to offer paternalistic solutions. Rather, Food Sovereignty Tours allow you to meet and forge solidarity with people and organizations that are working to solve food insecurity in their communities using local resources.
Finally, Food Sovereignty Tours are not “fair and balanced.” Food First is a research institute and advocacy organization that supports social movements working for progressive change in the food system. We encourage people to travel with us in solidarity with these movements. Nonetheless, we do our best to expose you to a broad diversity of perspectives on each tour and encourage openness to the wide range of ideas we encounter.
Our public, educational tours are open to anyone who has a genuine interest in learning about food sovereignty in the destination country, and who demonstrates adaptability and sensitivity toward different cultural realities. Our delegations often consist of a fascinating, diverse group of people, including professionals, teachers, students, activist and foodies. Prior experience or knowledge of food sovereignty is not required. The diversity of our groups often offers a rich learning experience in and of itself for the entire delegation.
How is Food First related to Food Sovereignty Tours?
Food Sovereignty Tours is a project of Food First/the Institute for Food and Development Policy. As part of its mission to end the injustices that cause hunger, Food First has been bringing farmers, activists, students and educators on educational trips for decades. Previously, these trips had been organized internally as a way to educate members of the Food First community on a broad range of issues related to land, sustainability, social movements and food sovereignty. In early 2010, Food First launched Food Sovereignty Tours, its official educational travel program, to provide the same kind of educational and solidarity travel experiences to the public.
The idea for Food Sovereignty Tours came out of recognition of the incredible dynamism around food system activism in the United States and throughout the world, and the importance of creating awareness and solidarity among those movements. Over its 39-years of work, Food First has forged relationships with some of the strongest movements for food system change around the world, and has become an authoritative resource for helping people understand the root causes of hunger, poverty and environmental degradation. The combination of our vast network and our experience in education and analysis come together in Food Sovereignty Tours to provide you with an unparalleled opportunity to explore your global food system.
We offer partial scholarships for select applicants. We strongly encourage young food activists, farmers and people of color to apply. For more information, and to fill out our scholarship application form, click here.
Our trip prices reflect fair compensation for the many groups and individuals who contribute their time, energy and expertise to the delegation. However, we recognize that for some people the cost of a Food Sovereignty Tour can be prohibitive.
We want to make our travel opportunities accessible to as many people as possible from diverse backgrounds and income levels through our scholarship program. For those who are able, we encourage you to donate to our scholarship fund to help connect young food activists, students and farmers to the global movement for food sovereignty. Click here to make a secure online donation.
For most tours you are welcome to bring your child; however, we have no special arrangements for children on our tours. We only ask that you seriously assess your child’s maturity level and tolerance for traveling with a group of adults for 8 or more days.
On most tours there will be some free time, but there are many structured activities, including farm and market tours, and meetings with organizations and individuals involved in the food movement. On past tours, these meetings involved up to two hours of presentation and discussion. You and your child may want to skip some of these meetings if they get too long. Not all children are alike. Some may be perfectly fine on a tour, but others could get extremely impatient and worn-out. We trust your judgment.
Please contact us to discuss tour specific itineraries and pricing if you are considering bringing your child,
2175 La Mirada Drive
El Sobrante, California, USA 94803
The US government restricts travel of US citizens to Cuba except under a special license agreement. Food First has been leading licensed educational delegations to Cuba for over 10 years. For every Cuba delegation, Food First partners with an OFAC licensed Travel Service Provider who will obtain your visa, health insurance, and arrange charter flights from either Cancun or Miami to Havana, Cuba. Depending on the tour, we travel either under a General License or a People to People license, and often partner with a co-sponsor to make this possible. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org regarding your tour of interest to learn more about the required qualifications to join.
Prior to departure on every tour, participants receive an Orientation Packet detailing airport logistics, packing lists, health updates, weather conditions and cultural traditions within the country. In addition, participants receive a Food First tour-specific “Reader” consisting of educational materials that give a foundation of the history, culture and politics of the destination country. Participants also have open communication with their Tour Coordinator in the months leading up to the tour. These materials, along with communication with the Tour Coordinator, are meant to help prepare participants for all aspects of their trip. However, we also stress the need to be flexible, as conditions in our destinations are always changing.
Food Sovereignty Tours recommends that all participants make an appointment at a travel clinic or with your physician to determine what immunizations are most important and appropriate for you and your destination. Note that some destinations require proof of certain vaccinations, such as yellow fever, in order to enter the country. It is best to schedule your visit for travel immunizations and advice at least two months prior to your planned departure. You can find a list of travel clinic locations in your area by visiting the CDC website.
Participants travel with us at their own risk. However, we do take every precaution to ensure that accommodations, transportation and general tour conditions are safe. We recommend leaving your valuables at home, and paying close attention to the safety and security instructions outlined in your destination-specific Orientation Packet. Your Tour Coordinator will also outline any concerns (such as walking at night, taking taxis, etc.) during your in-country orientation meeting. In the event of a major environmental or political disturbance, Food Sovereignty Tours and our partners on the ground will determine whether conditions are safe for travelers. If we cancel a tour for security reasons, participants receive a full refund.
Most of our tours do not include international airfare, and program costs cover “in-country,” land-only transportation. Even tours that include all or part of the international airfare may require participants to secure domestic flights to specific departure sites. If you need assistance arranging your international flights, contact us and we will be happy to recommend some travel agencies so that you may consult with a professional travel agent, but please note we have no formal business connections with them and these are only suggestions to assist you. We do provide assistance for arranging charter flights to Cuba only—please contact us for details.
We love to stay in touch with our past participants, and encourage you to stay involved with us by sharing your tour photos, anything you’ve written about the tour to be shared on our blog, and letting us know what you’re doing to advance food sovereignty in your work back home—even if it’s writing a letter to your local newspaper or starting a backyard garden!
After you return from your tour, you will receive a contact list of the groups and organizations you met with on the tour so that you can follow up and stay in touch. There are always ways to stay involved with the movements and organizations you will meet on your tour, such as: giving a presentation about your experience to your friends, families, schools, unions, churches and community groups; writing letters to your local newspaper or congressperson; creating videos about the issues; sharing any solidarity campaigns from groups you met with; raising financial support for grassroots organizations you met with; organizing a follow-up trip with a private group; or hosting a Food First speaker in your community.
By participating on a Food Sovereignty Tour, you become a member of Food First, meaning you are part of an extensive global network of people working to end the injustices that cause hunger. Numerous fruitful collaborations have emerged among Food Sovereignty Tours alumni and Food First researchers. We encourage you to stay in touch with us, and to see Food First as a resource and platform for your ongoing work and activism.
We organize private tours to our destination countries for groups of 8 or more people. Whether you are part of a student organization, church group, professional delegation, or simply a group of friends interested in sharing in a meaningful cultural exchange and learning about food sovereignty—we can recommend a trip and theme that fits your needs and put you in touch with the key individuals working on the food issues that you care about.
Food Sovereignty Tours Coordinator:
2175 La Mirada Drive
El Sobrante, California, USA 94803