Collective food plans, an alternative to access quality products

Food should be a common good that allows people to be healthy. There are supermarkets and citizen cooperatives that make it easier for the most vulnerable to have access to healthy products.

Collective food plans, an alternative to access quality products
An alternate approach to get access to high-quality foodstuffs is provided via collective meal programs. Photo by leonie wise / Unsplash

In Mexico, there are different options with sustainability criteria, such as alternative markets and tianguis, collectives organized to buy and sell in stores, atriums of churches, home gardens, and marketing baskets of vegetables, fruits, and other inputs, said Dulce María Espinosa de la Mora, professor at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of UNAM.

These are different ways that people find to organize themselves and obtain food that integrates these sustainability criteria and more. The university professor said if we continue working in an ant-like manner, as is done with these initiatives, we will probably achieve an action that future generations will be able to enjoy.

In turn, Liza María Covantes Torres, founder of Colectivo Zacahuitzco, said that small options that go from the local level, such as alternative food networks, the milpa, and the chinampas, for example, could add up to achieve regional or national self-sufficiency. However, she acknowledged that there are multiple challenges to achieving this goal.

The alternative food network of which she is a member is made up of families to produce, consume, and exchange food produced sustainably in Mexico City. She emphasized that the organization's objective is to make these products a common good that allows for health, harmony, and a fair exchange to prevent them from being considered "just any kind of merchandise."

Based on this experience, the organization has worked on adapting agriculture to climate change in a sustainable manner. The aim is to change "a very sad reality in the country, such as the nutritional health of a large part of the population, which is suffering from poor nutrition and food-related diseases".

Diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death in the country and have their origin in the way people eat. This phenomenon developed with the change in policies that led to the signing of the Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, the United States, and Canada.

As a result, the sale of ultra-processed foods began in Mexico, which involves the addition of synthetic molecules whose raw materials come from industrial agricultural systems that use agrochemicals in their processes and which are harmful to the health of producers and consumers.

The way they are produced motivates a group of urban families interested in having access to healthy food from small-scale producers to form a collective to exercise their right to adequate food, health, and a healthy environment.

"During these seven years, we have generated responsible consumption under principles of sustainability in its social, economic, environmental, and cultural dimensions. In addition, we have appealed to solidarity and cooperative work because maintaining this initiative involves a lot of work, "she added.

For the subsistence of the Zacahuitzco Collective, alliances and agreements of shared responsibility between producers, transformers (small-scale peri-urban farmers), and urban families were established, trying to act outside the capitalist market schemes; an exercise was carried out with traditional milpa producers and with farming families from the chinampas of Xochimilco.

Collective food plans and sustainable systems

According to Dulce María Espinosa de la Mora, agribusinesses are now a reality, reusing unsold products and training people in precarious situations to build fairer value chains.

There are supermarkets and citizen cooperatives that allow the most vulnerable to access quality products in large cities, and some other options that are a reality, such as soup kitchens, hospitals, homes for the elderly, and restaurants that are supplied locally, creating new outlets for small farmers, as referred to by the political ecology movement worldwide.

On a regional scale, processors and distributors share means of transportation and storage, organizing themselves around collective food projects based on mutual trust. "This already exists. It is no longer a dream, it exists in the

There are also researchers and universities accompanying these projects, rural and urban, aimed at solving the challenges they face. These options have opened the way to more sustainable food systems that meet the needs of consumers and producers while respecting the environment.

These proposals are based, in particular, on the presence of short agrifood circuits that emerged at the end of the 20th century with movements of solidarity markets and alternative consumption, under the premise of caring for people and the Earth, being economically viable, and generating jobs.

They have emerged in countries such as Japan, Switzerland, and the United States, for example. "This is probably one of the explanations for why it is in the first world where we find the first presence of these agri-food circuits."