Abstract: Food democracy is a concept with growing influence in food policy research. It involves citizens regaining democratic control of the food system and enabling its sustainable transformation. In focusing mainly on civil society initiatives, food democracy research has so far neglected the potential of state-driven food-related participation processes. We base our study on qualitative interviews with local stakeholders in two smaller cities in southern Germany where the city administration and city council initiated participatory processes. The study aims to understand how local actors are framing state-driven participation processes concerning sustainable local food system transformation along key dimensions of food democracy. We identify eight categories that conceptually constitute food democracy: mutual knowledge exchange; legitimacy and credibility of knowledge claims; transparent processes for deliberating ideas; shared language for sharing ideas; expectations of and experience with efficacy; role model function of municipalities; raising awareness; and motivation and justification of the normative orientation. Furthermore, the empirical analysis shows that state actors can have important roles in food-related participation processes as potential initiators, shapers and implementers depending on how they interact with local food-related actors and how they design and coordinate food system transformation processes. This suggests that food democracy research should not necessarily conceptualize state actors, local entrepreneurs and citizens as opponents, but rather, should reconsider how these various actors can drive food democracy and citizenship in a supportive and coordinated way.
Keywords: food democracy; food policy; local food systems; participation; state actors; sustainability