how do people value food?

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Research Hypothesis: Valuing food (commodity or commons) conditions the set ... the economic epistemology and vocabulary, obscuring other understandings.

HOW DO PEOPLE VALUE FOOD? Systematic, heuristic and normative approaches to narratives of transition in food regimes



ELI – Agronomy CPDR (BIOGOV) - Law

HOW THIS PRESENTATION IS ORGANISED – PART I Two narratives of food (Slides 3-8) Hypothesis & organisation (Slides 9-16) Methodology & definitions (Slides 17-26) Epistemologies of Commons (Slides 27-30) Systematic Review (Slides 31-33) Heuristic approach (Slides 34-43)

What is Food? Essential for survival (De Schutter & Pistor 2015)

Societal determinant (Ellul 1990) Agent of power (Sumner 2011) Commodity (Siegel et al. 2016) Private Good (Samuelson 1954) Public Good (Akram-Lodhi 2013) Commons (Dalla Costa 2007) Human Right (UN 1999) Multiple meanings (Szymanski 2014)

The dominant narrative in industrial food system “FOOD IS A COMMODITY” Thus, the market is the best allocation mechanism

XX century Proprietary developments •  Natural rights were translated into absolute proprietary rights to destroy everybody´s natural resources •  Absolute primacy of proprietary rights over other rights (life, water, food, house) •  Without right of absolute alienation, freemarkets would not work well (in theory) Coase (1969), Alchian & Demsetz (1972)

Food has multiple meanings

a.- Situated (time, place, knowledge) b.- Phenomenological (meanings depend on the observer and circumstances)

d o o F t o n ? y s n o Wh m m o c a as

Who is fishing my Tuna?

Food system is the greatest driver of Earth transformation Food systems accounts for 48% of land use 70% of water use 33% of total GHG emissions Phosphorus & Nitrogen exceeded Planetary Boundaries •  Deforestation, biodiversity loss, driver of Non-communicable diseases •  •  •  • 

(Steffen et al., 2015; Ivanova et al., 2015; Clapp, 2012) 10

The actual way of producing & eating (western diets & industrial food system) is unsustainable It cannot be maintained for the next 50 years

IAASTD (2008)

UNEP (2009)

IPES FOOD (2016)

UK Foresight (2011)

UNCTAD (2013) 11

HYPOTHESIS The way we value food (narrative) conditions the set of policies, governing mechanisms and legal frameworks that can be proposed in the transition pathways 12


Explanatory Power? FOOD AS A COMMODITY 13

1.- How have we reached the current situation? Commodity dominates over commons

2.- How do narratives influence (a) policy options, (b) legal frameworks preferred by people/states?

3.- Theoretical underpinnings of food as a commons

1.- Genealogy of Narratives (schools of thought + academic literature)

2.- The value-based narratives of Food of agents in transition (2 case-Studies with individuals + 1 with States)

3.- Normative approach

4 Peer-reviewed Articles & 1 Chapter

Research Hypothesis: Valuing food (commodity or commons) conditions the set of policies, governing mechanisms and legal frameworks that can be proposed and implemented, privileging one transition pathway over the others. Understanding the narratives of commons

Specific RQ 1: How have the different schools of thought defined the commons and where has food been placed in this typology?

Understanding the narratives of food in Academia

Specific RQ 2: What is the role of academia in the construction of the dominant narrative of food as a commodity?

Food narratives of individual agents in regime and niches

Specific RQ 3: How does the value-based narrative of food influence individual agency in transitional food pathways?

Food narratives of relational agents in innovative niches

Specific RQ 4: How is relational agency influenced by dominant narratives, governance mechanisms, social learning and networking in niches?

WH 1: The prevalent meaning of commons is shaped by the economic epistemology and vocabulary, obscuring other understandings. It justifies market mechanisms as the most appropriate allocation method.

WH 2: Academia has been instrumental in the construction of the narrative of food as a commodity. The economic understandings of the commons and food are ontological (defining the nature of goods), thus preventing other phenomenological understandings.

WH 3: Valuing food as a commodity is the dominant narrative of individual actors working in the regime (who adopt gradual reforming stances), whereas the consideration of food as a commons is dominant in those agents working in transformational niches. The valuation of food is correlated to specific food policy options in regime and niches.

WH 4: The narratives of food in transformative niches are not homogeneous, what triggers different governing arrangements and preferred policy options. The construction of a common narrative in those connected niches depends on specific governance features, social learning and mutual legitimacy.

Food narratives of Specific RQ 5: How does the dominant narrative of food condition preferred food policy options in international negotiations? governments in international negotiations WH 5: The narrative of food as a commodity is dominant at governmental level thus proposing market-based mechanisms to govern food production and distribution. Policy implications of food as a commons

Specific RQ 6: How does the food commons narrative help in designing a different transition pathway in the food system? WH 6: The historical process to commodify food has been long and multi-faceted. Likewise, the process needed to re-commonify food will take decades and require to be polycentric and informed by a food narrative that equally values economic and non-economic dimensions of food.


Transition Theory

(Geels & Schot, 2007)

Discourse Analysis

People construct narratives to persuade other people Powerful agents shape narratives that become hegemonic (Gramsci 1971, Foucault 1993, Wallerstein 2016)

A NARRATIVE is a set of coherent assumptions and principles to communicate a certain worldview (Freibauer et al 2011)

FRAMES: cognitive devices a) Defining Problems, b) Causal relationships, c) Proposed solutions NARRATIVES: Framing + moral valuation (normative) (Ferree & Merrill 2000)

State agents (US - EU positions regarding right to Food)

Narratives of agents in Transition

Individual Agents (Food professionals)

Relational Agents (members of Food Buying Groups)


Commodification occurs when the exchangeability of any good, in monetary terms, becomes its most relevant dimension (Appadurai, 1986)

Multiple food dimensions superseded by its tradeable dimension

Photo: Dean Hochman, Flickr


COMMONS Goods which are jointly developed by a community and shared according to community-defined rules (Kostakis & Bauwens 2014)




Industrial Food System Technologically-driven productivism Market-led mechanisms Agro-industry: farming considered as a bussines (Cambridge English Dictionary). Farm as a factory Agri-Food corporations as major actors Economies of scale to maximise profits, ultra-processed foods, mechanized systems, low wages, low-cost Food system

The system of chemically intensive food production, featuring enormous mono-cropping farms, animal production facilities and long supply chains (UCSUS in Horrigan et al. 2012)


Chapter 2: Schools of Thought on Commons LEGAL (private, public, collective property)

ECONOMIC (common goods, rival & non-excludable)

POLITICAL (recognising diversity of social arrangements)

ACTIVIST (struggle for old commons, inventing new commons): commons as counter-hegemonic to capitalism-neoliberalism

Adapted from Hess & Ostrom (2007) with examples from this thesis

Economists´ School of Thought Difficult

EXCLUDABILITY The property of a good whereby a person can be prevented from using it


RIVALRY The property of a good whereby one person’s use diminishes other people’s use



PUBLIC GOODS Free-to-air television, air, street lighting, national defense, scenic views and universal health care etc. 1. Emergency management for zoonotic diseases 2. Cooking recipes 3. Gastronomy knowledge 4. Safe food supply system 5. Traditional agricultural knowledge 6. Genetic resources for food and agriculture 7. Regulation of extreme food price fluctuations

COMMON POOL RESOURCES Timber, coal and oil fields etc. 1. Ocean fish stocks, 2. Edible wild fruits and animals

CLUB GOODS Cinemas, private parks and satellite television etc. 1. Patented agricultural knowledge 2. Hunting in game reserves 3. Fishing and hunting licenses

PRIVATE GOODS Clothing, cars and personal electronics etc. 1. Cultivated food 2. Privately owned agricultural land 3. Genetically modified organisms 4. Patented improved seeds

reductionist + theoretical + ontological (inner property)

Multiple meanings: Genealogy & hegemony of narratives What do commons mean today? the concept across history leads us up to modern concepts (Foucault, 1993)

What is the dominant meaning of commons? Economic approach to the commons is culturally hegemonic

A diverse society (multiple proprietary regimes, political arrangements) is influenced by the univocal economists’ approach to commons (ruling class) so that their reductionist approach is imposed and accepted as the dominant narrative that justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as an artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class (Adapted from Gramsci)

Tragedy of the Commons, Absolute Proprietary Regimes, Private property as natural law & foundation of capitalism, individualism, rational choice, profit maximisation, Homo economicus

Chapter 3

Methodology •  Google Scholar: 160 M docs (90% of English published articles) •  Period 1900-2016 (1960, 2008) •  PRISMA guidelines for systematic review

The idea of food in academia: long-term trends 30000



179 hits “food + commons + public good” 49,100 hits “food + commodity + private good”



20000 80 15000 60 10000 40




0 1900-1959

1960s Food + Commodity



Food + Private Good

1990s Food + Commons

2000-2007 Food + Public Good


How does the normative valuation shape political stance & food policy beliefs?

Heuristic Approach

(Chapter 4-5)

Chapter 4

The six food dimensions relevant to humans: multi-dimensional food as commons VS mono-dimensional food as commodity

Source: Vivero-Pol (2017).

•  725 questionnaires via Twitter to Food-related professionals active in social networks •  95 respondents (21 countries, 85 institutions) •  Public sector (33.7%), Not-for profit sector (48.4%) •  Weakness: low representation of for-profit Sector (only 17.9%). No replies from agri-food companies

Gradual reformers* are positively correlated to the mono-dimensional valuation of food as a COMMODITY

Transformers* are positively correlated to the multidimensional valuation of food as a COMMONS


Valuation of food is significantly correlated with the POLITICAL STANCE vis a vis the food system

However, the valuation of food is NOT correlated to self-regarded position in REGIME OR NICHES

“Loci of resistance” in regime & niches with shared food narratives

Chapter 5

•  104 members of Food Buying Groups in Belgium (transformative agents in niches)

Social Enterprise stream Priority to provide healthy and tasty food to members

Volunteering to work but less to convivial events

They struggle against the food system

Less networking with other Food initiatives

Requesting technicaladministrative Support

Social Network stream Priority to transforming the farming system

More convivial events and less volunterism

They build a new food system Conviviality builds common narratives & shared values

Networking & learning from other Food initiatives

Requesting political legitimacy

Individual narratives molded by governing arrangements, networking & social learning

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