“Food sovereignty is about ending violence against women.” This slogan of La Vía Campesina’s, an international movement of peasant farmers, offers a perspective on the power dynamics of the food system from farm to fork. Transforming power imbalances is the work of food sovereignty, or democratic control over the food system, and this article offers a way forward for policy makers, regulators, and eaters everywhere.Maggie Ellinger-Locke goes on to comment that
According to the World Food Summit of 1996, food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. La Vía Campesina, the Peasant Way, an international federation of peasant farmers, looked at this concept and saw limitations in its failure to address the power dynamics and imbalances within the food system, such as who controls how food is produced and distributed, and the question of power in turn implicates ender. This focus on power frames the question as one of food sovereignty rather than food security. Food sovereignty is defined as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” Food sovereignty penetrates much deeper than food security and is the subject of this article. Moreover, the use of gender as a lens to understand the global food system, based on the similarities between patriarchy’s control over the agricultural system and its control over women’s bodies and reproductive capacity, creates a perspective that has not been sufficiently offered elsewhere.
In 2008 in Maputo, Mozambique, La Vía Campesina held its fifth international conference called “Feeding the World and Feeding the Planet.” At this conference a policy letter was drafted called “An Open Letter from Maputo,” which included a call for a new program of action under the slogan “food sovereignty is about an end to violence against women.” That statement is the inspiration for this paper. The power of this statement is perhaps not immediately recognized, yet there is profundity in what it can offer. In not only building a food secure world, but also, by changing relationships on an interpersonal level between individuals sitting across a table, food sovereignty offers an alternative to our current food system and a more profound analysis of power than food security. Food sovereignty, literally people’s self-government over the food system, argues for a complete transformation of society, or nothing less than food revolution. This article demonstrates the key role that the set of practices known as food sovereignty can play in rebuilding democratic systems of food production. Food sovereignty is also a feminist issue and applying a gendered lens to the food system reveals the failings of food security as a goal for food system transformation. This article will examine the role of social movements, such as La Vía Campesina, in changing the framework governing food production, and advocates looking to these movements for leadership.
As explained above, the economics and power dynamics of the current food system exacerbates hunger and poverty. Part II explores the relevant legal regimes that form the foundation of the current system. Part III explains the concepts of food security, the right to food, and food sovereignty; it will explore why food security is a limited concept and must be broadened to ensure democratic control over the food system. Part IV will explore gender and ecofeminism,15 explaining how a gendered lens can transform the way food is produced and distributed. Part V discusses some of the work that food sovereignty is accomplishing and suggests that these efforts provide a path forward for the current food system towards one organized around food sovereignty. And finally the conclusion, Part VI, explains how La Vía Campesina, which some claim to be the world’s largest social movement, offers the vision of how legal regimes must be guided by the principles of food sovereignty, and emphasizes the need for urgency in restructuring the global food system in light of the climate crisis.