The Right to Food

Max Planck Encyclopedia of Comparative Constitutional Law, Oxford University Press, 2017

14 Pages Posted: 18 May 2017

See all articles by Mathilde Cohen

Mathilde Cohen

University of Connecticut - School of Law

Date Written: March 17, 2016


In the face of persistent chronic hunger in some regions of the world and malnutrition in others, the recognition of the right to food is on the rise. The notion of a right to food is used in a variety of settings, from the domestic level, where different types of constitutional recognition can be found, be they explicit or indirect, to the regional and international level, where human rights law offers its own conceptualization of the right to food. This Entry focuses on the right to food from a comparative constitutional law perspective.

The right to food is often considered interdependent with and essential to the realization of other human rights such as the right to life, the right to health or the right to work. Not only does food keep us alive, but adequate nourishment is a prerequisite to enjoy a fulfilling life. Eating is a defining element of cultural identity and self-expression, shaping one’s interactions with other humans, animals, and the environment Food may even be of intrinsic value, in and of itself a source of great pleasure and joy, regardless of its use as a means to realize other goods. Though it is often embedded in other rights such as the right to minimum entitlements, the right to food can be thought of as the most basic right and merits focus as an independent right.

After presenting the core meanings of the right to food and tracing its historical evolution, a comparative description of its role and meaning in South Africa, India, and the United States will be provided. Finally, the impact of constitutionalizing the right to food will be assessed.

Keywords: Food, Constitutional Law, International Law, Comparative Law, Comparative Constitutional Law, Nutrition, Hunger, Food Security, Human Right, Food Movement, Food Sovereignty, La via campesina, sustainability

JEL Classification: Q18, I14, I18

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Mathilde, The Right to Food (March 17, 2016). Max Planck Encyclopedia of Comparative Constitutional Law, Oxford University Press, 2017, Available at SSRN:

Mathilde Cohen (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut - School of Law ( email )

65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
United States

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