By Jose Luis Vivero-Pol (Editor), Tomaso Ferrando (Editor), Olivier De Schutter (Editor), Ugo Mattei (Editor)

From the scientific and industrial revolution to the present day, food – an essential element of life – has been progressively transformed into a private, transnational, mono-dimensional commodity of mass consumption for a global market. But over the last decade there has been an increased recognition that this can be challenged and reconceptualized if food is regarded and enacted as a commons.

This Handbook provides the first comprehensive review and synthesis of knowledge and new thinking on how food and food systems can be thought, interpreted and practiced around the old/new paradigms of commons and commoning. The overall aim is to investigate the multiple constraints that occur within and sustain the dominant food and nutrition regime and to explore how it can change when different elements of the current food systems are explored and re-imagined from a commons perspective. Chapters do not define the notion of commons but engage with different schools of thought:

  • the economic approach, based on rivalry and excludability;
  • the political approach, recognizing the plurality of social constructions and incorporating epistemologies from the South;
  • the legal approach that describes three types of proprietary regimes (private, public and collective) and different layers of entitlement (bundles of rights); and
  • the radical-activist approach that considers the commons as the most subversive, coherent and history-rooted alternative to the dominant neoliberal narrative.

These schools have different and rather diverging epistemologies, vocabularies, ideological stances and policy proposals to deal with the construction of food systems, their governance, the distributive implications and the socio-ecological impact on Nature and Society.

The book sparks the debate on food as a commons between and within disciplines, with particular attention to spaces of resistance (food sovereignty, de-growth, open knowledge, transition town, occupations, bottom-up social innovations) and organizational scales (local food, national policies, South–South collaborations, international governance and multi-national agreements). Overall, it shows the consequences of a shift to the alternative paradigm of food as a commons in terms of food, the planet and living beings.


“If you want to understand why the commons isn’t tragic, what gastronomy has to do with a democracy or what the practice and theory of a future food system might look like, this wonderful collection of essays is well worth reading.” — Raj Patel, food scholar, communicator and author of Stuffed and Starved, 2013 and A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, 2018

“The adoption of a holistic and complex vision of gastronomy is the only way to restore the true value of food. It is not only about production and consumption, but also wisdom, memory, knowledge and spirituality, traditional practices and modern technologies combined in an ecological interconnection between people and the planet. This book starts a needed and welcome reflection on the change in paradigm, and traces a possible pathway towards food sovereignty.” — Carlo Petrini, founder and president of the international Slow Food movement and the University of Gastronomic Sciences, Italy

“If we are really to transform the food system, we need bold ideas. Food as commons is one of them. If you are serious about exploring new ways of fixing the food system, read this book.” — Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director, Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London, UK and Co-Chair of the Independent Expert Group of the Global Nutrition Report

“Finally, a rich and rigorous assessment of food as a commons! This landmark collection of essays reveals how much we need to rethink the very language and frameworks by which we understand food and agriculture. The food we eat is not a mere commodity, it is the cherished, complicated outcome of culture, history, vernacular practice, ecological relationships, and identity. Insights on these themes can help us build new food systems that are stable, fair, and enlivening.” — David Bollier, scholar and activist on the commons, author of Think Like a Commoner, 2014 and co-editor of The Wealth of the Commons, 2012

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: the food commons are coming

Jose Luis Vivero-Pol, Tomaso Ferrando, Olivier de Schutter and Ugo Mattei


2. The idea of food as a commons: multiple understandings for multiple dimensions of food

Jose Luis Vivero-Pol

3. The food system as a commons

Giacomo Pettenati, Alessia Toldo and Tomaso Ferrando

4. Growing a care-based commons food regime

Marina Chang

5. New roles for citizens, markets and the state towards an open-source agricultural revolution

Alex Pazaitis and Michel Bauwens

6. Food security as a global public good

Cristian Timmermann


7. Food, needs and commons

John O´Neill

8. Community-based commons and rights systems

George Kent

9. Food as cultural core: human milk, cultural commons and commodification

Penny Van Esterik

10. Food as a commodity

Noah Zerbe


11. Traditional agricultural knowledge as a commons

Victoria Reyes-García, Petra Benyei and Laura Calvet-Mir

12. Scientific knowledge of food and agriculture in public institutions: movement from public to private goods

Molly D. Anderson

13. Western gastronomy, inherited commons and market logic: cooking up a crisis

Christian Barrère

14. Genetic resources for food and agriculture as commons

Christine Frison and Brendan Coolsaet

15. Water, food and climate commoning in South African cities: contradictions and prospects

Patrick Bond and Mary Galvin


16. The ‘campesino a campesino’ agroecology movement in Cuba: food sovereignty and food as a commons

Peter M. Rosset and Valentín Val

17. The commoning of food governance in Canada: pathways towards a national food policy?

Hugo Martorell and Peter Andrée

18. Food surplus as charitable provision: obstacles to re-introducing food as a commons

Tara Kenny and Colin Sage

19. Community-building through food self-provisioning in Central and Eastern Europe: an analysis through the food commons framework

Bálint Balázs


20. Can food as a commons advance food sovereignty?

Eric Holt-Giménezand Ilja van Lammeren

21. Land as a commons: examples from United Kingdom and Italy

Chris Maughan and Tomaso Ferrando

22. The centrality of food for social emancipation: civic food networks as real utopias projects

Maria Fonte and Ivan Cucco

23. Climate change, the food commons and human health

Cristina Tirado-von der Pahlen

24. Food as commons: towards a new relationship between the public, the civic and the private

Olivier de Schutter, Ugo Mattei, Jose Luis Vivero-Pol and Tomaso Ferrando,

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