Why Food Should be a Commons not a Commodity

Food is treated as a private good in today’s industrial food system, but it must be re-conceived as a common good in the transition toward a more sustainable food system that is fairer to food producers and consumers. If we were to treat food as a commons, it could be better produced and distributed by hybrid tri-centric governance systems implemented at the local level and compounded by market rules, public regulations, and collective actions. This change would have enormous ethical, legal, economic, and nutritional implications for the global food system.

[T]he value of food is no longer based on the many dimensions that bring us security and health, including the fact that food is a:

  • Basic human need and should be available to all

  • Fundamental human right that should be guaranteed to every citizen

  • Pillar of our culture for producers and consumers alike

  • Natural, renewable resource that can be controlled by humans

  • Marketable product subject to fair trade and sustainable production

  • Global common good that should be enjoyed by all

via Why Food Should be a Commons not a Commodity – Shareable.

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7 thoughts on “Why Food Should be a Commons not a Commodity

  1. mariakirby

    I half agree with you. A system that deprives people of food is not a good system. But one of the things that I have seen that is good about the commodities market is that it allows producers all over the world to have a place and price to sell their goods. If you were in a third world country where there are a lot of growers of a particular crop, the farmers can sell their produce based on the world demand rather than the local demand, so they actually get more money for their produce than they would otherwise. It also makes it possible for small farmers to get a price similar to the large producers, even though they are selling small lots.

    I would like to propose that everyone have the opportunity to grow their own food for free, that there be common land that is parcelled out to anyone who wants to grow a garden or a field of grain. If weather, pests, etc damage crops then there should be a public way of replacing the essentials. Only the surplus should be allowed on the open market.

    Reply
  2. lucas Post author

    You mean you half agree with the article? I didn’t provide any commentary, just quoted the article.

    So, here’s my commentary…

    Perhaps commodities can have the positive effect that you mention of allowing smallholder farmers globally be able to compete somehow and sell their crops at a reasonable rate. There is a flip side though that they are also subject to the whims of that commodity market and can just as easily get screwed by that market, That’s why first world farmers rely heavily on buying hedges and futures in commodity markets to lock in a price. I don’t think the small farmers you mention are participating in the futures market and able to hedge against the fluctuations in the market.

    The bigger issue in my mind however is why farmers are forced to grow commodity crops at all. There may be a slight economic benefit in the current global marketplace, but they also remain vulnerable to the commodities market. It creates stronger local economies when they grow crops that benefit their local economy and keeps money and products/produce in the local market.

    I do like the idea of land to grow food as a right for everyone that should be freely available. Not sure if there is enough land available currently for that to feasible or what amount of land each individual/family would get. It would probably require taking some land out of industrial production and making it available for local food production.

    Reply
    1. mariakirby

      I think that a major reason why farmers are forced to grow commodity crops has to do with the inexpensive supply of oil. Cheap transportation costs allow for economies of scale that undermine local production.

      On some level the cost of machinery and wages forces large scale production, but I think we are getting to the point where if there was a market for home-scale production, industry could scale machinery to meet that demand. An example of this kind of demand is the copy machine which is also now a printer, scanner and fax machine. These kinds of tools used to be designed for volume and required the space of warehouses. Now they can fit on the end of the kitchen counter.

      If homes or small communities were to demand home-scale machines which would help them make clothes out of weeds like Queen Anne’s Lace, golden rod, and the like, then I think some enterprising machinist would oblige. But most people think of making clothes as too much work. We would rather buy our underwear at Walmart (as an example) where the cheap price was bought at the expense of slave labor in unsafe factory conditions from cotton that depleted and polluted fresh water supplies, not to mention all the other injustices along the supply chain.

      We are in a very sad place when it costs too much to live justly.

      Reply
  3. 5jpranch

    Efficiency would be greatly decreased with multiple small farms with multiple species. It’s unlikely to meet the food needs for a growing world. It’s not that I’m against it, I just feel it wouldn’t be practical or possible. Food prices would have to skyrocket.

    Reply
    1. lucas Post author

      There have beens studies that say that sustainable agriculture will be able to feed the planet. At what level of population is another conversation. Small diversified farms seem inefficient when compared to conventional agriculture using the metrics that leave out a lot of factors, but when you include off-farm inputs and all variables I argue that small, diversified, sustainable farms are much more efficient. Joel Salatin has done some of the math and concluded that his farm produces about 3500 pounds of food per acre compared to 2000 per acre max from conventional industrial agriculture.

      Reply
    2. mariakirby

      There are certain advantages to large farms of one/two crops, however, the risks tend to outweigh the benefits. In order to achieve those benefits farmers deplete the soil, they use pesticides and herbicides which are harmful to people and the environment, and they are very vulnerable to weather, disease, and pestilence which in a short time could destroy all their investment. If you are thinking of food security diversity is a key element. Humans can adapt so much easier than just about anything else. And the more diverse our diet, the healthier we are.

      At some point we have to realize that our well-being depends on more than what we ourselves can grow. We have to realize that our well-being depends upon the well-being of the whole. We have treated nature as if it is expendable or a luxury that we can sequester in a corner while we do ‘real’ work of caring for people. However, we need to live into our responsibility to care for all of creation, not just what fits our industrial mold. We need to live so that all life thrives. And if all life is not not thriving, then we, as the human race, are failing to live into our calling.

      Reply
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