Food Sovereignty in Guatemala

Written by Sarah Bond, 2016 Guatemala: Fair Trade

Food security initiatives can take many forms.  In the past, I have seen educational supermarket tours that help low-income families learn how to get the most nutritional foods out of each paycheck.  I have seen backyard chickens fortifying the diets (and gardens) of people living in food deserts.  And now, hundred of miles away from my home, my group and I had the chance to get to know Cafe Red Kat in Xela and see the unique way they are working to improve both food security and food sovereignty.

When I am not backpacking around Guatemala, I am home in Vancouver, Canada studying food security.  For this reason, nothing makes me geek out more than being introduced to other people who care so much about food security and sovereignty.  Food security is essentially the idea that all people at all times should have access to safe, affordable, and healthy food to support a healthy and active life. Sounds ideal right?  Even better (in my ever-evolving opinion) is the concept of food sovereignty in which food is treated as a right that should not only be guaranteed to all, but should be self-governed.  What I love about food sovereignty is that it recognizes that traditional cultures were incredibly wise regarding healthy and sustainable diets, and people should have the control to continue their food culture.

Cafe Red Kat recognizes that food is a powerful tool for social change, and is tapping into that potential in order to build “the Guatemalan Dream”.  While chains like McDonald’s become more and more prominent in cities across Guatemala, Cafe Red Kat is an alternative that offers traditional Mayan cuisine made with local organic ingredients, and sold at an affordable price.  They focus on three key components that make up their social enterprise.  The first is the restaurant, which brings healthy and culturally appropriate options to locals while supporting nearby farmers and producers.  Monoculture, GMOs, and neoliberal trade agreements such as CAFTA decrease biodiversity, nutrition, local economic potential, and therefore food sovereignty.  Cafe Red Kat rejects these practices by building a food solidarity network between producers, farmers, business owners, and consumers, wherein sustainable and just practices are upheld.

The next component is the school where locals can gain skills and experience in food preparation and business management.  Not only are they training Guatemala’s future entrepreneurs, but they are sharing the dream that the cafe was built on.  Cafe Red Kat came about to prevent the need to migrate to the States for a good life by bringing economic opportunity to the streets of Xela.  By teaching, Cafe Red Kat is continuing and expanding their vision.

Our group got a chance to see the unique artisanal goods made by locals all around Xela (and I got some rocking red pants!)  Cafe Red Kat has their own despensa de comercio justo where they sell local fair trade products, so after having an amazing meal surrounded by beautiful murals you can pop into the shop and further support local producers and artisans.

After hearing about Cafe Red Kat and the potential it has to change both the health and the food system of Xela, it was disappointing to hear that as of now it was attracting foreigners rather than locals.  Their food is healthier and more affordable than McDonalds, and yet there is some sort of disconnect in this knowledge.

Healthy and sustainable food has always been a part of Mayan culture, so I am hopeful that Cafe Red Kat will find success in their mission. If so, in 10 years’ time we will see other cafes all around Guatemala building and powering local food solidarity networks.