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  • Writer's picturePracticing Sustainability

How Can We Strengthen Sustainable Food Systems? Lessons from Indigenous Communities

Written by Chrishma Perera and Gayanthi Illangarathne


Sustainable Food Consumption Patterns


Persuading people to change their eating habits to more environmentally friendly food consumption patterns is becoming increasingly difficult. Food preferences, choices, and eating habits are notoriously challenging to change because of their centrality in people's lifestyles and sociocultural contexts. Even though many individuals already have positive attitudes toward sustainable food, there is still a glaring disparity between these positive attitudes and purchasing and consuming more sustainable food products. However, the entire global population is responsible for putting an earnest effort into achieving a sustainable food system and adhering to sustainable food consumption patterns.

Indigenous peoples(IPs) around the globe are certainly an underprivileged group. However, these communities maintain sustainable food systems adhering to their cultural and traditional values. Insights from the Indigenous communities on maintaining their food systems and self-sufficiency would also provide great lessons to the non-indigenous communities. Below are a few insights from Sri Lankan Indigenous Communities (Coastal Veddas) and Arctic Inuit Communities.


Maintaining Sustainable Food Consumption Patterns: Insights from Indigenous Communities in Sri Lanka


Sri Lankan Indigenous Peoples (IPs) are commonly known as "Vedda" and are one of the country's most underprivileged groups. There have been many strains in the past, such as the: i) Tsunami; ii) Civil War; iii) Climate-induced changes in weather patterns (such as floods); iv) conflicts between people and nature; and, most recently, the COVID 19 pandemic. However, despite these challenges, these communities retained a sustainable way of life and food consumption patterns.

IP communities' primary income sources include fishing, home gardening, and hunting. Fishing is generally done near the community tank, and Fish are typically shared among the community residents. As a part of their everyday activities, IPs engage in agricultural operations such as growing paddy, vegetables, and fruits. In addition, they sell their Fish and vegetables at markets in the nearby towns. These societies store their extra food for the future by, for instance, drying Fish, salting Fish, adding smoke to meat, and burning the meat. Unaware of it, these communities assist in reaching UN SDGs, including SDG2: "Zero Hunger." As a world trying to establish sustainable food consumption patterns, we have the opportunity to learn from these Indigenous Communities.



Figure 1: Sri Lankan Indigenous Communities and their Food preservation patterns

(Pictures retrieved from: https://www.dailynews.lk/)


Maintaining Sustainable Food Consumption Patterns: Insights from Inuit: Arctic


Indigenous peoples in the Arctic have relied on traditional, wild, or country foods for centuries. However, climate change has brought about rapid environmental changes in the Arctic, significantly affecting the acquisition of conventional foods. The melting of Arctic sea ice is leading to the deterioration of Arctic ecosystems, altering the availability and accessibility of traditionally harvested species. This situation has far-reaching implications for Indigenous peoples' food security and nutritional health in the Arctic. Furthermore, the loss of access to traditional foods affects these communities' physical health and cultural and spiritual well-being. Addressing the issue of food security for Indigenous peoples in the Arctic requires an approach that acknowledges the cultural significance of traditional foods and incorporates Indigenous knowledge into adaptation strategies.


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