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Food as a Common Good. Governance Implications of a Change in Perspective

Public Policy
Sabine Weiland
Université catholique de Lille – ESPOL
Sabine Weiland
Université catholique de Lille – ESPOL

Food has multiple meanings. It is a resource for our health and survival, a human right, a tradable good, and various cultural and religious meanings are associated with food. Individuals and society value food in different ways. According to the dominant narrative of the industrial food system, however, food is considered as a commodity. Food is a private good that is traded and standardised, deprived from its non-economic attributes and natural diversity. This constricted view is the result of a commodification process in which large profit-driven multinational corporations are making critical decisions on the ways food is produced, transported and marketed. Recently, however, the established food regime is being challenged by alternative visions and innovative activism, including the rise of various food movements, such as veganism, slow food, La Via Campesina, food cooperatives etc. They see food as a commons: Food is an important societal good, and hence its governance, production and utilisation has to be done in common.

This paper analyses the governance implications of this change in normative perspective. It is based on the assumption that the valuation of food shapes the ways we govern food. From a ‘common good’ perspective, I will discuss which governance arrangements are suitable to account for the multiple dimensions of food, to integrate different visions, policy aims, interests and actors. The focus will be on reflexive governance as a way of fostering a commons perspective. Reflexivity, in this context, is the capacity to turn back or bend back on oneself. When reflexivity is applied to larger societal phenomena, it refers to procedures to organise recursive feedback relations between distributed perspectives, strategies and actors. Reflexive governance, as I understand it, adds a procedural dimension to commons governance and elaborates instruments and procedures that allow for an integrated food policy.

This paper proposal is submitted to the panel ‘Where next for Integrated Food Policy? Blurring boundaries in institutions, evidence, and practice’ (Parsons/Ajates Gonzalez/Wells).
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