IDS Bulletin 50.2

The Political Economy of Food

Published on 23 October 2019

Any analysis of food systems needs to include power as an aspect of political economy, in order to understand how power relations develop over time and how they affect different food system actors.

This issue of the IDS Bulletin examines a range of perspectives on power in food systems, and the various active players, relationships, activities, and institutions that play a major role in shaping them. It notes the need for mainstream research and policy to grapple with power inequities in the food system, in order, for instance, to challenge the increase in private sector funding that is reshaping food systems. The power of dominant food system actors is often reinforced or overlooked, having negative consequences for those unable to access sufficient healthy food or to participate in decision-making about the food system.

The articles here present the viewpoints that emerged during a workshop on the Political Economy of Food Systems, run jointly by IDS and IPES-Food. The articles begin with an introduction to how power is analysed from different political economy perspectives before moving on to articles focusing on four key themes: diversity and innovation, the food–health nexus, the politics of consumption, and agroecology and food sovereignty. Two case studies then demonstrate applications of power analyses or structural approaches to food and nutrition at national and local levels. A final set of articles considers methodological questions around understanding power in the food system and some of the unresolved questions that emerged from the workshop, which can form an agenda for future work.

Table of contents

Introduction: Valuing Different Perspectives on Power in the Food System
Molly Anderson, Nicholas Nisbett, Chantal Clément and Jody Harris

The Political Economy Approach to Food Systems Reform
Olivier De Schutter

Reflections on IPES-Food: Can Power Analysis Change the World?
Desmond McNeill

Envisioning New Horizons for the Political Economy of Sustainable Food Systems
Jessica Duncan, Charles Z. Levkoe and Ana Moragues-Faus

Evidence-Based Policymaking in the Food–Health Nexus
Cecilia Rocha and Jody Harris

Purchasing and Protesting: Power from Below in the Global Food Crisis
Naomi Hossain and Patta Scott-Villiers

Agroecology and Food Sovereignty
Steve Gliessman, Harriet Friedmann and Philip H. Howard

Building a Sustainable Food City: A Collective Approach
Emily O’Brien and Nicholas Nisbett

Power in the Zambian Nutrition Policy Process
Jody Harris

Transforming Food Systems: The Potential of Engaged Political Economy
Molly Anderson and Melissa Leach

Cite this publication

Harris, J., Anderson, M., Clément, C. and Nisbett, N. (Eds) The Political Economy of Food, IDS Bulletin 50.2, Brighton: IDS

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Image of Nicholas Nisbett
Nicholas Nisbett

Cluster Leader Research Fellow

Image of Jody Harris
Jody Harris

Research Fellow

Molly Anderson
Chantal Clément

Publication details

Molly Anderson


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