Reframing food as a commons in Canada

Learning from customary and contemporary Indigenous food initiatives that reflect a normative shift


  • Jodi Koberinski MES, PhD Candidate University of Waterloo
  • Jose Luis Vivero-Pol University of Louvain
  • Joseph LeBlanc Associate Dean, Equity and Inclusion, Northern Ontario School of Medicine



Indigenous Food Systems, Food Sovereignty, Critical Food Guidance, Food Commons, Food Governance


This paper interrogates the role of the dominant narrative of “food-as-commodity” in framing food systems policy in Canada. Human values shape policies, usually privileging those policies that are aligned with dominant values and neglecting others that confront dominant values. In that sense, valuing food as a commodity privileges specific market-based policy goals, regulations, and public subsidies that aim to enlarge market coverage. This prioritizes both corporate profit over societies´ common good and private enclosures of commons resources over universal access to food for all. Conversely, the normative shift this paper proposes—valuing and governing food as a commons—could enable socio-ecologically based policy goals and regulations, and redirect public subsidies to support customary and contemporary practices that produce and distribute food differently. Such a normative shift, scholars have argued, is a prerequisite for developing legal frameworks that lead to more and better 1) self-production; 2) stewardship of natural commons; and 3) civic participation in the governance of a resource that is essential for everybody´s survival. Valuing food as a commons can provide a complementary narrative to alternative civic claims such as food sovereignty, agro-ecology, or food justice.

In this paper, we begin by outlining the theoretical basis for our investigation into the role of food valuation in the critical food guidance shaping public policy. Next, we provide an overview of the concept of food as commons through the multidimensional food values framework and offer a tri-centric governance model to frame the analysis. Following a brief policy context for Indigenous food initiatives in Canada, we then provide three case studies involving Anishnaabek food systems to explore valuation of food beyond commodity in customary and contemporary food systems. Finally, we discuss how valuing food as a commons offers critical food guidance for addressing multiple socio-ecological issues connected with food systems policy in the Canadian settler colonial context.

Author Biography

Jodi Koberinski, MES, PhD Candidate University of Waterloo

2015 Oak Fellow for the Study of Human Rights, Colby College (US)




How to Cite

Koberinski, J., Vivero-Pol, J. L., & LeBlanc, J. (2022). Reframing food as a commons in Canada: Learning from customary and contemporary Indigenous food initiatives that reflect a normative shift. Canadian Food Studies / La Revue Canadienne Des études Sur l’alimentation, 9(1).