Chapter 2 – changing food systems from top to bottom
• Food regimes combine commodity studies with world-systems analysis to identify long periods of
stability and change in agri-food systems.
• Actor-network theory, which tracks human and non-human ‘actants’ from below, is increasingly seen
as complementary to food regimes theory.
• Together, the two approaches help to analyze food system change, which is an unusual combination of
economic change and social movements.
Promoting Food Security
• The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) was founded in 1974 to promote food security
though multilateral food aid and focuses on food emergencies.
• Food sovereignty – a political framework developed by La Via Campesine that focuses on the right of
peoples and governments to determine their own agriculture systems, food markets, environments,
and modes of production. It is a radical alternative to corporate-led, neo-liberal, industrial agriculture.
• Hunger was not restricted to the south countries but even the so-called rich countries as incomes grew
more unequal. In the 1980s, Canada’s first food banks were created. They were at first seen as
temporary but quickly became a permanent fact.
• Food policy – the guiding principles and sets of rules that direct the actions of public or private actors
involved in various aspects of food provisioning (production, trade, processing and manufacturing,
consumption, safety, waste management, etc.)
Promoting Healthy Food
• One stand was aimed at creating communities centred on growing, cooking, and sharing food. They
criticized industrial food and agriculture, focusing on soil loss, water pollution, dangers to wildlife from
agricultural chemicals, and dangers to human health from addictives and increased fats, sugar, and
salt in industrialized foods.
• Hence, several food co-ops, such as Karma Co-op, were formed as an alternative to the growing
dominance of supermarkets.
The Growth of Food Studies
• French agricultural economist Louis Malassis’ concept of the système agro-alimentaire, termed in
English the agri-industrial complex or agri-food complex: this paradigm centred on relationships
between farming and processing. Rather than providing in-depth examination of a single commodity,
these studies offer a holistic view of the complex of sectors involved in producing, processing, and
retailing food, and the shifting power relationships among these sectors.
• Counihan stated how changes in the ways that bread is produced, distributed, and consumed could
serve as a ’lens’ to understand massive changes in family, community, and work in a small community
• Mintz showed how sugar reshaped culture both of the rich – for example, through astoundingly
complicated giant sugar sculptures for entertaining guests – and the poor – for examples, through combining the energy boost of sugar with other colonial imports such as tea and opium to compensate
for the suffering caused by appalling living conditions, diets, health, and work.
• Eventually, industrial organization of large-scale monocropping would overtake California organize
produce as well, which opened up two important directions: first, sociology of agriculture broadened
beyond ‘family farms’ to study all the determinants of agriculture, including inputs, such as machinery
and chemicals, and sales, which were coordinated on a continental scale. Second, researchers began
to reinterpret the history of the capitalist world-system through a food lens, focusing on the worldwide
wheat, meat and dairy trade of the 1800s made possible by European settlement of (mainly) British
colonies in NA, Australia, New Zealand, and SA.
• Many commodity studies draw on the research tradition of Canadian Harold Innis, who traces the role
of wheat in Canadian political economic history. Commodity or value chain studies are now
proliferating, because they allow researchers to follow the food wherever it goes, to understand the
food systems at all scales, and thus to discern larger patterns of production, distribution, and
• Barndt introduces the key theme of biodiversity, showing that industrial systems select a small number
of crop varieties based on production and shopping requirements.
Food Regimes: Understanding Global Change
• Commodity chains (or systems) – All stages of specific production, distribution, and consumption of
commodities such as wheat, beef, tomatoes, and fish. These focus on economy, sometimes
emphasizing specific aspects such as power or culture.
• Commodity studies show how specific changes in food systems happen globally and historically; by
tracking commodities along supply chains we get a picture of regional specialization, class relations in
production and consumption, and inter-state power, but only as these shape each specific food. Putting
them together is an approach to the study of food systems called food regimes.
• Food regime analysis combines the ‘bottom-up’ approach of commodity studies with the ‘top-down’
approach of world-systems theory, and focuses on cycles of stability and transition, both lasting several
• In world-systems theory, it is argued that capitalism is not something that emerges in any one country
and then spreads to others. Rather, the capitalist era began when countries and states became related
in a world market through colonial expansion about 500 years ago; the world market ever since is
bigger than any state, and the hierarchy of power among