Food as a Commons: Reframing the Narrative of the Food System

28 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2013 Last revised: 27 Apr 2013

Date Written: April 23, 2013


Our body compulsory demands food, water and air to keep its vital functions and yet their economic nature is rather diverse with food mostly considered a private good, water suffering an accelerated privatization process and air so far considered a global common good. Food has evolved from a common good and local resource to a national asset and then to a transnational commodity as the commodification process is rather completed nowadays. Cultivated food is fully privatized and this consideration means that human beings can eat food as long as they have money to but it or means to produce it. With the dominant no money-no food rationality, hunger still prevails in a world of abundance. In order to provide a sound foundation for the transition towards sustainable food systems, the very nature of food as a pure private good is contested and subsequently reversed in this paper, proposing a re-conceptualisation of food as a common good, a necessary narrative for the redesign of the dominating agro-industrial food system that merely sees food as a tradable commodity. This aspirational transition shall lead us to a more sustainable, fairer and farmer-centred food system. The idea of the commons is applied to food, deconstructing food as a pure private good and reconstructing it as an impure commons that can be better produced and distributed by a hybrid tri-centric governance system compounded by market rules, public regulations and collective actions. Several food-related elements are already considered as common goods (i.e. fish stocks, wild fruits, cuisine recipes, agricultural knowledge, food safety regulations and unpatented genetic resources) as well as food’s implications (hunger eradication) and benefits (public health and good nutrition). Should food and be consider as a commons, the implications for the governance of the global food system would be enormous, with examples ranging from placing food outside the framework agreements dealing with pure private goods, banning financial speculation on food commodities or preparing international binding agreements to govern the production, distribution and access of food to every human being.

Keywords: food systems, common goods, public goods, food security, transition

JEL Classification: H41, Q18, P00

Suggested Citation

Vivero Pol, Jose Luis, Food as a Commons: Reframing the Narrative of the Food System (April 23, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Jose Luis Vivero Pol (Contact Author)

Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) ( email )

Place Montesquieu, 3
Louvain-la-Neuve, 1348
32 10474646 (Phone)


Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics