This paper was originally published in the Journal of Rural Studies.
“Food systems primary goal should be to nourish human beings. And yet, the current industrial food system, with its proﬁt-maximising ethos, is not achieving that goal despite producing food in excess. On the contrary, this system is the main driver of malnutrition on the planet, as well as environmental degradation. Nonetheless, food systems also play a double role as Nature’s steward.
Deciding which role we want food systems to play will very much depend on the idea we have about food. What is food for humans? The dominant narrative of the industrial food system undeniably considers food as a tradeable commodity whose value is mostly determined by its price. This narrative was crafted and disseminated initially by academics, who largely favoured one option (commodiﬁcation of food) over the others (food as commons or public good). In this research, the author aims to understand how academia has explored the value-based considerations of food as commodity and private good (hegemonic narratives) compared to considerations of food as commons and public good (alternative narratives).
A systematic literature review of academic papers since 1900 has been carried out with Google Scholar™, using different searching terms related to “food þcommons”,“food þcommodity”,“food þpublic good”and “food þprivate good”. Following the PRISMA methodology to clean the sample, a content analysis has been carried out with the 70 references including “food þcommons”and “food þpublic good”. Results clearly show that both topics are very marginal subjects in the academic milieu (only 179 results before cleaning) but with a sharp increase in the eight years that followed the 2008 food crisis. On the contrary, “food þcommodity”presents almost 50,000 references since 1900 (before cleaning), with a remarkable increase since the 1980s, coincidental with the dominance of neoliberal doctrines.
The phenomenological approach to food (epitomised in the “food as”searching term) largely prevails over the ontological approach to food (“food is”) except when food is identiﬁed as a “private good”. This result points to the ontological absolute ”food is a private good”developed by the economic scholars as a dominant narrative that locked other valuations of food by legal, political or historical scholars or non-scientiﬁc epistemologies. In a world where the industrial food system has clearly proven its unﬁtness to feed us adequately in a sustainable way, the need for academia to explore other food valuations seems more urgent than ever. Scholars need to approach other narratives of food (as commons or public good) that go beyond the hegemonic and permitted ideas, unlocking unexplored food policy options to guarantee universal access to food for all humans, regardless their purchasing power, without mortgaging the viability of our planet…”