“How did we get to accept that food, one of the three essentials for life, along with air and water, can be produced, distributed, appropriated and even destroyed on the basis of pure economic considerations?”

From the Introduction

Tomaso Ferrando and Jose Luis Vivero-Pol: Over the last ten years, Watch readers have become familiar with the consequences of the capitalist economic model: from the depletion of natural resources to climate change, and from the concentration of wealth to the corporate capture of our food system. Despite a decade of mobilizations and struggles, we continue to witness the effects of capitalism’s appropriation and transformation of nature: the enclosure of land, the rapid disappearance of small-scale farming, the privatization of customary fishing rights, the misappropriation of seeds, deforestation to cultivate cash crops for industrial long food chains, the gradual extinction of biodiversity, human-induced pollution, meal impoverishment, nutrient-poor ultraprocessed foods, and widespread famines, to name but a few.

Policy makers, social movements, grassroots groups and engaged scholars have discussed legal initiatives, policy options and examples of how bottom-up organizations and new forms of governance can facilitate, redress and prevent some of the malfunctions and harmful effects of global capitalism. However, they
often stop at the symptoms; or their attempts to introduce a new vision of what a new food system could look like are thwarted. In this respect, we invite readers to re-interpret the relationships between humans, animals, nature and food, and present a value-based paradigm shift that goes to the root of a failed economic system. Rather than perceiving natural resources and food as commodities, this article shows that a paradigm shift towards valuing, governing and stewarding nature, labor and food as commons can enrich the claims for food sovereignty and the human right to adequate food and nutrition.

This paradigm change is neither a proposal for a quick fix, nor a short-term solution to the converging crises, but rather a long-term, ecological and bottom-up
alternative to the dominant economic model. Our notion of the commons goes beyond an economic understanding of commons as rival but hardly excludable natural resources shared by a community. We advocate for an understanding of the commons that reflects a combination of material and immaterial common resources (e.g. fish stocks and cooking recipes). The commons also encompasses the shared social practices that have been institutionalized by societies to govern resources (referred to as ‘commoning’), and collective management with a sense of common purpose (i.e. to guarantee access to food to all members of the community). Thus, commons are not only resources but also practices where each member of the collectivity is thinking, learning and acting as a ‘commoner’. It is through commoning’ that resources become part of the commons, and not the other way around.

The commons-based approach to humans and the planet informs a transition from nature as a resource that serves human needs, to nature as a co-constructed
and co-inhabited web—a life enabler that also sets limits to human activities. This paradigm shift is rooted in historical and customary practices (e.g. indigenous groups producing food in rural areas, transhumant pastoralists in grassland steppes) as well as in innovative contemporary urban actions (e.g.
young dwellers consuming organic food produced in urban gardens or sharing meal initiatives via Internet apps). Therefore, it is both a new and an old paradigm that clearly confronts the dominant neoliberal narrative that is marked by profit oriented market hegemony and individualism. We begin with a critique of the idea of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ and we then discuss the role that commons and ‘commoning’ can have in decommodifying nature. In the last section, we introduce the idea of food as ‘new’ old commons in opposition to food as a pure commodity, and discuss how this narrative and praxis may enrich other transformational civil society claims.

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