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A global food polity: ecological-democratic quality of the twenty-first century political economy of food
Abstract and Figures
Modern food production may be considered an epitome of the paradoxes that humanity is facing as we edge on into the twenty-first century. It is as much the source of problems that plague modern societies as it can be its solution. While more food than ever is produced, more people than ever suffer from some form of malnutrition. Even though agribusiness is overtaking energy as the biggest money maker, small-scale farmers and rural populations are still the poorest people in the world. Although food appears cheap, calories are largely outweighing nutrients, creating food deserts in otherwise wealthy countries. Finally, agriculture is potentially as damaging to ecosystems and human health, as it is part of the solution for major social and ecological challenges: biodiversity loss, systemic pollution, gross social and economic inequities, and climate change. The politics of food are a mirror of geopolitics, touching on all the big questions: Grow or degrow? Heed the precautionary principle as heralded in international agreements or continue to "manage" risk? Industrialise and scale up further or switch to a holistic farming practice that places people and the Earth at centre, such as agroecology? Continue to allow the commodification and privatisation of natural resources or protect them as a commons? Allow countries in the Global South to defend their food self-sufficiency or pressure them to produce for global markets? Give consumers a real choice or deny them the right to know? Underlying all these questions are issues of power and conflicts of interest, with some people part of the “haves” and many others of the “have-nots”, some scientists embracing ecology whereas others hold on to classical economics, some calling for reform while others prefer a revolution, in other words: with many shades of “green” occupying the wide spectrum of food politics. In my thesis, I contend that a food system that is simultaneously healthy and fair can only be realised in conditions of “substantive” democracy, understood as a polity where social and ecological concerns take precedence over other interests, where common resources are under social control, and all those people affected by decision-making are also the decision-makers. My thesis analyses the democratic and ecological quality of modern food politics to improve understanding of the leveraging factors for achieving such a substantive or food democracy.
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