Epistemic Regards on Food as a Commons: Plurality of Schools, Genealogy of Meanings, Confusing Vocabularies
62 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2017
Date Written: April 5, 2017
Commons and food seem to be experiencing a revival in recent years and yet the links between both subjects are absent in academic and political discourses. Commons are often portrayed as historical but, at the same time, innovative governing mechanisms that can challenge current forms of State and Markets, both hegemonic institutions in the XX century. On the other side, food is one of the most relevant agents of change as well as the major driver of planetary destruction, being thus a cause and a solution to multiple crises that affect humankind. Departing from the absolute 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, to then explore 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 not restricted to academic circles (grassroots activists). The analysis, with multiple examples, highlights how those epistemologies have yielded incommensurable vocabularies and conflicting understandings, hence creating confusion in the socio-political realm and even rejection around the idea of food being considered as a commons. However diverse the understandings and praxis of the commons may be, the scholarly economic epistemic regard has reigned over the others by applying an approach to commons, public and private goods that is theoretical, reductionist and markedly ideological. Moreover, this economic epistemology is ontological instead of phenomenological, preventing or obscuring other scholarly or practical narratives of commons. When applied to food, the epistemic iron law of economics dictated the reductionist view of food as a private good based on rivalry and excludability. A good that is 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. History taught us that food was valued and governed as a commons for centuries in different civilisations, and legal and political scholars demonstrate this consideration is still alive in many customary food systems and it is being reconstructed in innovative contemporary food initiatives. The author uses diverse epistemic tools to re-construct food as a commons, based on its essentiality to humans and the customary and contemporary praxis to produce, consume and govern food collectively. Food is essential to every human being (materially and spiritually) and to our societies, and it has been produced and distributed through non-market mechanisms for more than 2000 centuries. As the practice of the 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 the market and state elites over eaters and food producers and re-creates 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.
Keywords: food, commons, epistemologies of food, epistemologies of commons, food narratives, food values, public good theory
JEL Classification: A11, A13, B12, B15, B25, H40, H41, N50, P14, P48, Q48
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