The most important message of this film is the recognition that food degradation is an example of colonial violence. At this point in time, people are consistently complaining about food shortages, but not enough people are considering that the shortages are often artificially created by not respecting the socioecosystem under which the original crops were developed. For example, when working to take over Indigenous lands, colonizers destroyed food sources to starve tribes away from locations. I can still remember history textbooks explaining that bison were almost extinct when I was a child, and I was confused because the same textbooks mentioned that tribes relied on bison to feed themselves. Of course, once the tribes had been devastated and stripped of their resources, people suddenly “discovered” that everyone could eat bison and there were multiple benefits to eating the naturally lean meat, and more farmers were looking to invest in buffalo. Just like injecting sugary foods into BIPOCQ communities and then complaining that BIPOCQ people have too many diabetics, the United States lives to lie about how it destroyed the food practices of the people who cultivated entire cultures around preserving their surrounding environment and food sources.
Food and culture are inextricably linked because despite the insistence of capitalism, we cannot grow or nurture everything everywhere. Frequently, the dominant narrative finds reasons to “restore” cash items like bison and salmon, but because of its methodology, ignores the methods that kept those species regenerative. By placing Indigenous tribes on reservations, the government also worked to destroy the possibilities of food sovereignty, making the tribes dependent on the same capitalist system as everyone else. Within the film, “food desert” was defined as a place where Indigenous cultures lack access to cultural foods, instead of “healthy” as defined by the dominant narrative. Even though the tribes existed for thousands of years, the dominant narrative demanded that science “substantiate” Indigenous culture so that agriculture could change. Such narrowmindedness is the reason that everyone is terrified of losing meat in their diets, but failing to consider the effects that high-volume agriculture, food waste, and monopolies have on their diets. Had science developed in a less colonial matter, we would all have a much more balanced diet that would allow international cultures to flourish–meaning not just the United States, but avoiding oceanic destruction.
In the film, tribal members of the Yurok tribe explained that the tribe was one of the last contacted due to the fervor of the Gold Rush, since the government decided it was “done” with treaties, but was very interested in the salmon fishing. Very few people consider that if people are familiar with an animal’s habits, those people will work to maintain the existence of that animal, instead of excessively hunting and producing, so that they can continue to enjoy said animal in the future. The Yurok people went on to explain the violence against cultural expression, both through the boarding school destruction and the attacks on cultural hunting practices of salmon; it is also interesting that there were no Indigenous subtitles for the film, continuing to normalize English as the only language one should understand. Before and during the Civil Rights movement, the government repeatedly attacked Yurok members for fishing salmon without licenses, despite the placement of their reservation and the words of activists. One of the Yurok goals now is to work towards a more sustainable salmon industry due to the mental health destruction on both cultural and economic levels, and they described protests against Klamath dams to preserve their tribal practices around catching what the tribe needs.
As we observe the problematic nature of countries, we should also consider how tribal relations could work in a futuristic concept without inspiring violence. When we consider the barren grocery shelves at this time, we need to ask ourselves how the problem can be fixed in a sustainable way, which includes developing areas where people can both live and cultivate food in self-sustaining communities. On a national level, we also need to develop another culture which eats different levels of the ecosystem instead of obsessively searching for meat and carbohydrates, i.e. balancing our diets so that we can enjoy all foods, just less in the way that we understood. Gather demonstrates that there are people who are both ecologically and culturally familiar with all parts of the United States, and instead of looking to “science” to solve the food problem, we can look to the people who have literally fought against breaking the socioecosystem in the first place.
*Image taken from film’s official website.