Finding Our Way to Food Democracy: Lessons from US Food Policy Council Governance

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Finding Our Way to Food Democracy: Lessons from US Food Policy Council Governance


  • Karen Bassarab Center for a Livable Future, Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA
  • Jill K. Clark John Glenn College of Public Affairs, Ohio State University, USA
  • Raychel Santo Center for a Livable Future, Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA
  • Anne Palmer Center for a Livable Future, Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA / Department of Health, Behavior and Society, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA


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Abstract:  Food policy councils (FPCs) are an embodiment of food democracy, providing a space for community members, professionals, and government to learn together, deliberate, and collectively devise place-based strategies to address complex food systems issues. These collaborative governance networks can be considered a transitional stage in the democratic process, an intermediary institution that coordinates interests not typically present in food policymaking. In practice, FPCs are complex and varied. Due to this variety, it is not entirely clear how the structure, membership, and relationship to government of an FPC influence its policy priorities. This article will examine the relationship between an FPC’s organizational structure, relationship to government, and membership and its policy priorities. Using data from a 2018 survey of FPCs in the United States by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future paired with illustrative cases, we find that an FPC’s relationship to government and membership have more bearing on its policy priorities than the organizational structure. Further, the cases illustrate how membership is determined and deliberation occurs, highlighting the difficulty of including underrepresented voices in the process.

Keywords:  collaborative governance; food democracy; food policy council; membership; participatory democracy

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v7i4.2092


© Karen Bassarab, Jill K. Clark, Raychel Santo, Anne Palmer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.