Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Food Democracy as ‘Radical’ Food Sovereignty: Agrarian Democracy and Counter-Hegemonic Resistance to the Neo-Imperial Food Regime

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Abstract:  This article argues that a thoroughgoing and meaningful food democracy should entail something closely akin to ‘radical’ food sovereignty, a political programme which confronts the key social relational bases of capitalism. The latter comprise, in essence, ‘primitive accumulation,’ the alienability or commodification of land and other fundamental use values, and market dependence. A thoroughgoing food democracy of this kind thus challenges the structural separation of the ‘economic’ and ‘political’ spheres within capitalism and the modern state (the state-capital nexus), a separation which enables purely political rights and obligations (‘political’ freedom or formal democracy) whilst simultaneously leaving unconstrained the economic powers of capital and their operation through market dependence (‘economic’ unfreedom or the lack of substantive democracy). We argue that much ‘food democracy’ discourse remains confined to this level of ‘political’ freedom and that, if food sovereignty is to be realized, this movement needs to address ‘economic’ unfreedom, in other words, to subvert capitalist social-property relations. We argue further that the political economy of food constitutes but a subset of these wider social relations, such that substantive food democracy is seen here to entail, like ‘radical’ food sovereignty, an abrogation of the three pillars upholding capitalism (primitive accumulation, absolute property rights, market dependence) as an intrinsic part of a wider and more integrated movement towards livelihood sovereignty. We argue here that the abrogation of these conditions upholding the state-capital nexus constitutes an essential part of the transformation of capitalist social-property relations towards common ‘ownership’―or, better, stewardship―of the means of livelihood, of which substantive food democracy is a key component.

Keywords:  agrarian democracy; counter-hegemony; food democracy; food sovereignty



© Mark Tilzey. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.