IDS Bulletin asks whose power matters when it comes to food?

Published on 2 September 2019

As debates around plant-based diets for the health of the planet continue to occupy public and political discourse, the latest IDS Bulletin argues that there is an urgent need to understand the diverse perspectives involved in the food system for a sustainable future.

Drawing attention to the many different viewpoints in and of food systems, co-editors Jody Harris, Molly Anderson, Chantal Clément and Nicholas Nisbett highlight power dynamics at all levels and in different contexts. They explain that ‘power in the food system is a slippery concept that changes depending on one’s vantage point’.

This issue is relevant to countries in the global north and south – from challenges around industry resistance to the sugar tax in Mexico to worries of food shortages because of Brexit. The IDS Bulletin examines different perspectives on power in the food system, and the web of actors, relationships, activities, and institutions that play a major role in shaping them: in other words, the political economy of food systems.

Bulletin authors highlights debates that emerged in a workshop on ‘Political Economies of Sustainable Food Systems: Critical Approaches, Agendas and Challenges’, held in Brighton, UK in June 2018 and co-organised by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and IDS.

The workshop brought together people interested in varied approaches to understanding and acting on the political economy of food, including former UN Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter; political scientist Desmond McNeill; agroecology experts Steve Gliessman, Harriet Friedmann, and Philip H. Howard; and researchers and activists from IDS and IPES-Food including Molly Anderson and Melissa Leach.

In aiming to understand power in the food system, the authors recognise that there are many different disciplinary, epistemological, and ideological entry points into the study of power, and that seeking a single approach will likely limit the insights that different disciplines and research orientations can bring to the study of food systems.

They argue that a better way to understand power at its different levels, forms, and spaces needs to be found, then applied in order to transform food systems via equitable processes which work towards the interests of all.

IDS and IPES-Food are interested not only in the current state of food systems, but also in their capacity to improve the inadequacies seen in most modern food systems. The Bulletin is calling for a move towards greater sustainability of food systems through equitable participation in decision-making, greater environmental resilience, and ultimately better nutrition and health for all.

Key contacts

Vivienne Benson

Communications and Impact Manager

+44 (0)1273 915653


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