Past Event

Food Equity

Challenging the normalisation of hunger in highly unequal societies

27 October 2022 13:00–14:00

IDS building and Zoom Room 220, IDS building and on Zoom.

Levels of hunger and food insecurity in middle-income and high-income countries are often higher than might be expected, and in some cases are rising rather than falling in recent years.

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Levels and trends in selected food security indicators for three case study countries will be documented: Brazil, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

The argument will be presented that, given the availability of resources and state capacity to eradicate hunger in these countries, a process of ‘normalisation’ has occurred, meaning that governments and societies tolerate the persistence of hunger, even when a constitutional and/or legal right to food exists that should make hunger socially, politically, and legally unacceptable.

The case will be presented that one driver of normalisation is the way food (in)security is measured; for instance, the assumption that structural hunger cannot exist in countries that are self-sufficient or surplus producers of food. High levels of structural hunger are predictable outcomes in societies characterised by high levels of income and wealth inequality, which will be explored in this talk.

Next, a simple analytical framework for exploring the normalisation of hunger will be presented. Just as famines occur because of failures to intervene to prevent them, so hunger is tolerated because key stakeholders do not exercise their power to eradicate it.

Four sets of actors who potentially hold such power will be identified, but whose failure to act effectively allows hunger to persist: the state; civil society; the public; and hungry people themselves. In each case study country, the following four questions are asked:

  1. Why are public interventions by governments and opposition parties to combat hunger inadequate, even in upper-middle and high-income countries?
  2. What advocacy is civil society actors (NGOs, CSOs, the media, academics) doing on behalf of those suffering hunger?
  3. What attitudes towards hunger and hungry people are held by members of the public?
  4. Why don’t hungry people themselves take direct action (e.g. protests or food riots) to demand action by governments?

In conclusion, the speaker will outline a research agenda to explore the issues raised in this paper further.


  • Stephen Devereux, Food Equity Centre, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK
  • Gareth Haysom, Researcher, African Centre for Cities (Urban Food Systems).
  • Renato S. Maluf,  Reference Centre on Food and Nutrition Sovereignty and Security, UFRRJ, Brazil
  • Patta Scott-Villiers, Food Equity Centre, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK

Key contacts

Shae Corvidae (Pronouns: xe/xir)

Communications Officer - Digital and Events



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