Social Sciences, Political Science; food; commons; epistemologies of food; commons epistemologies; food narratives; food values; public good theory; academic schools; paradigms
Commons and food are experiencing a revival in recent years and yet the links between both are almost absent in academic and political discourses. Commons are often portrayed as historical and yet innovative governing mechanisms that can challenge the State-Market hegemony. On the other side, food is both a relevant agent of change and a major driver of planetary destruction, being thus cause and solution to multiple crises that affect humankind. Departing from the commodification of food as one root cause of the broken global food system, this text firstly situates and discusses the different schools of thought (or epistemologies) that have addressed the private/public, commodity/commons nature of goods in general, and then explores how those schools have considered food in particular. To do so, the author has defined five epistemologies, four academic (economic, legal, historical and political) and one non-academic (grassroots activists). The analysis highlights how those epistemologies have yielded incommensurable understandings and conflicting vocabularies, hence creating confusion in the socio-political realm and even rejection around the idea of food being considered as a commons. The economic epistemic regard has reigned over the others by applying an approach to commons, public and private goods that is theoretical, reductionist and ontological instead of phenomenological, therefore preventing or obscuring other scholarly or practical understanding of commons. When applied to food, the iron law of economics dictated that food, a private good based on rivalry and excludability, shall be better allocated through market mechanisms with absolute proprietary rights and valued as a pure commodity. This reductionist view collides with the plurality of meanings of food in different societies, civilisations and historical periods, as other schools of thought indicate. The author uses diverse epistemic tools to re-construct food as a commons, based on its essentiality to human beings and societies and the customary and contemporary praxis to produce, consume and govern food collectively through non-market mechanisms for more than 2000 centuries. As commoning has instituting power to create different political and legal frameworks, if food is valued differently the entire architecture of the global food system would change, as the grassroots activist school claims. Re-commoning food defies the legal and political scaffoldings that sustain the hegemony of market and state decision-makers over eaters and food producers and informs sustainable forms of food production (agro-ecology), new collective practices of governance (food democracies) and alternative policies to regain control over the food system (food sovereignty). Food as a commons is an agent of change with transformative power, no matter what economists say.