CFS 44 on now

cfs_bannerMost of you who follow this blog will know that the 44th session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is on this week.

I am taking a break from the CFS this year unfortunately, but if you want to stay updated, here are some good links:

If you are on twitter you can follow #CFS44

I am also happy to announce that my book, Global Food Security Governance:Civil society engagement in the reformed Committee on World Food Security has been released as a paperback!

If you are struggling to understand the CFS and want more information about the reform process, this is the book for you!


Planning for Equitable Urban and Regional Food Systems

New article out with Maria Vasile on the relationship between food systems localization and participation of farmers in local food governance.

Rural Sociology Wageningen University

There is a new Special Issue of the journal “Built Environment” on the topic of Planning for Equitable Urban and Regional Food Systems.

The Special Issues starts from the question: How does and can planning and design enhance the freedom and wellbeing of marginalized actors in the food system – low-income residents, people of colour, small-holder farmers, and refugees – the very people the alternative food movements purport to serve?

In the Special Issue authors from across the Global North and South explore the role of planning and design in communities’ food systems, while explicitly considering the imbalances in equity, justice, and power.

The collection includes a paper by former RSO MSc student Maria Vasile and Jessica Duncan.

We want to be part of the broader project’ Family Farmers and Local Food Governance in Porto Alegre, Brazil

Brazil has been praised for the development of its agricultural sector, its policies…

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The Transnational Legal Theory 2018 Symposium: Transnational Food Security

transnational food security.JPGCheck out this call for papers for this exciting Symposium. Deadline for abstracts 22 September.

Inaugural TLT Workshop

Saturday 20th January 2018 Transnational Law Institute (King’s College London)


Food security is a significant policy concern for all. International institutions are struggling to keep up with the rapid changes in food safety governance. Access to food, whether through production or consumption, is increasingly a hotbed of friction and uncertainty. Additionally, global supply chains, influential multinational corporations, and the effects of climate change, result in greater pressure upon already fragile processes and marginalised peoples.

On January 20, 2018, we will bring together thought leaders and stakeholders for a one-day international conference at King’s College London to engage in a dialogue and shed light on some of those tensions in an effort to further constructive and lasting solutions to this pressing issue.

Practitioners, scholars, policymakers, adjudicators, and activists are invited to submit abstracts of no more than 150 words on any topic related to the conference theme by September 22, 2017 to

For more information, see: Call for Paper Transnational Food Security_

Science as a basis for optimism (?)

Wen Wu sharing her passion for fundamental science.  (photo:

On September 4th I took the stage with two younger scientists to reflect on the theme of the Opening of the 2017-2018 Academic Year: Science as the basis for optimism.

We followed the controversial keynote Matt Ridley (see here, also here).

I tend to be an energetic speaker; comfortable on stage, happy to speak freely without notes. This was not one of those occasion. I planned my speech carefully, with guidance from colleagues and friends. My typically animated style was subdued. As optimistic as I am as an individual, I wanted to be clear that on this occasion, I was advocating for caution.

I found myself in a difficult position. I wanted to respond to his speech, but it was not clear in advance what he would say. I supported the faculty who decided not to attend out of concerns which they raised in a letter, but I also believe in the importance of engaging and responding when you are in a position to do so, which in some ways, I was. I wanted to be critical; I did not want to disappoint my colleagues or students. At the same time, I did not want to necessarily alienate myself from the mainstream of the university. I wanted to respect the tone of the event, while also highlighting key concerns.

Several people have asked for a copy of the text as apparently the live feed was not easily accessible. So, here it is. All comments, questions and visions for the future, most welcome!

Reflections on science as a basis for optimism

As we lead up to the celebration of 100 years of this university we are being called to think about the contributions of science to the world. And it is clear, science and scientific progress offer a strong basis for optimism. Yet alongside all of the wonder, and wisdom, and progress, there are rational reasons to be cautious of adopting an optimistic trope.

Technologies today can be differentiated from those of the past in so far as they are more powerful, more all-encompassing, and more impossible to avoid. We just heard about a technology that can fundamentally change who we are. Anthony Giddens, former director of the London School of Economics, has shown that our societies now face risks marked by a high level of human agency involved in both producing and mitigating such risks. He calls these manufactured risks.

At this university, we are at the cutting edge of many scientific and technological advancements. We are also aware that there will be good and bad outcomes as these technologies roll out. There are enormous uncertainties, and complex dynamics.

With new discoveries and advancements in science comes responsibility. With radical science comes radical responsibility. As we push forward with exciting developments, we are also increasingly aware we can no longer afford to get it wrong. The consequences are simply too great. We need to proceed with caution.

This means we walk a difficult line in science, one we sometimes try to ignore: we need to be true to our methods, to our ambitions, to our instincts, but we also need to be aware of public values. What’s more, is that these values differ, and at times, they are irreconcilable. This reminds us that science, and the technologies that emerge from science, have politics. To be clear, our job is not to say what these politics should be and we should maintain our independent positions as much as possible. But we do need to engage in deliberation about them.

If science is to be with and for society, we need to be actively deliberating amongst ourselves and with others. We need to move outside our comfort zone and echo chambers and have difficult conversations about the direction we want society and science to take us.  To do this, we need to know, or at least imagine, the kind of futures we want.

I propose we make use of utopias as a tool. Utopia is used to describe a place where we might desire to live. To imagine utopias, to formulate alternative scenarios to re- imagine how we live on the planet, is an active response to some of the key problems we face, both real and imagined. Imaging utopias is not a childish or a naïve pursuit.

Louise Fresco (2016:8) has remarked that utopian thinking is so “powerful that it cannot be dismissed as unscientific religious doctrine, or naive mythology”. Carolyn Steel (2009: 305) argues that “utopianism represents the nearest thing we have to a history of cross-disciplinary thought.” Physicist John R. Platt has noted that “The world is now too dangerous for anything less than utopia.”

Imagining utopias can expand the number of places we look to make sense of the world.  Utopias can be used as a tool to experiment with the multiple, with broad experiences, and to foster dialogue around what ideas and values matter to people. In this way, designing utopias can move us from the monoculture of scientific knowledge to what Santos (2004) has called the “ecology of knowledges”.

To design a Utopian society often means to be at once imaginative and optimistic, but also critical and subversive (Marshall 2016). It is through proposing utopias, challenging utopias, and reimaging utopias, that we can foster fundamental conversations about the future we want and what this future might look like. This is key. Science may continue to solve problems (many of its own creation), and economies may continue to grow, but they may not lead to the society we want.

Let us reflect for a moment on the mission of our university: ‘to explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life’.  Applying the tool of utopia, we may find that there is no consensus around what quality of life means and that we have ignored much of the diversity of values, of ambitions, and aspirations of people the world over. Further, to improve quality of lives, we need to try to identify potential risks and problems before they happen. We also then need to engage in the very difficult process of assessing related trade-offs.

We are no longer in a moment where we can maintain a blind faith in science or the mechanisms which mediate the outcomes of our science. At the same time, we need to rebuild public faith in science.

So let us be creative with our visions for the future, and let us continue to develop interdisciplinary science-supported pathways towards these visions. But in doing so, let us be wise, and let us wonder about the implications of our work. Let us move forward with reflection and with caution. And finally, let us remain optimistic. As Jean-Claude Servais said, “The hour calls for optimism; we’ll save pessimism for better times.”

Sustainable Food Futures (NEW BOOK)

bok cover

Voltaire once said that “no problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking”.

In this book, we put that statement to the test. The problems plaguing food systems are well researched and well known. But how can we support transformation towards sustainable and just food systems?

One thing is clear,  the objective of future food systems can no longer be to simply maximise productivity



We are very pleased to announce that our new book, Sustainable Food Futures: Multidisciplinary Solutionshas just been published. The book includes proposals for solutions to move us toward more sustainable food futures.  The solutions, which are based on concrete cases, are organised around 4 themes:

  1. Recognizing place
  2. Enhancing participation
  3. Challenging markets
  4. Designing sustainable food futures


The solutions proposed in this book can be read as an atlas of possibilities.

There are multiple roads we can, and must, travel to bring us towards our destination: just and sustainable food futures. And yet, instead of moving towards a brighter future, we continue with a status quo that is not good enough.

To reach sustainable food futures, we require diligent and creative route planning. Not every route will work for everyone, or every context. Some routes will require us to go off road, while others take us along the toll roads. Others set about redefining what we know to be a road, and some may lead us directly to road blocks.

It is our hope that the majority will lead us to new social-technical or social-economic arrangements that promote just, sustainable, and fair food futures.

The book is available as a hardback, paperback and eBook.  We would really appreciate it if you could ask your local libraries to purchase a copy!  PS- it includes recipes!

Continue reading “Sustainable Food Futures (NEW BOOK)”


Food ag and social change blog.png

This was originally posted on ILEIA‘s website. It was written by  Stephen SherwoodMyriam Paredes and Alberto Arce who have edited a new book ‘Agriculture, Food, and Social Change: The Everyday Vitality of Latin America’ (UK: Routledge/Earthscan Press). I have co-authored a chapter in this book that I will summarise in a later post.

A great deal of energy has been invested in attempts to influence the thinking in science and government on the problems of industrial food and the benefits of agroecology and food sovereignty. Meanwhile, people everywhere take responsibility for creating the changes they want to see through daily food practices in their families, neighbourhoods and social networks. In addition to organising for ‘resistance’, we call for greater attention to the latent potential in daily living and being, or existence.

A popular ‘trueque’ or barter trade event in northern Ecuador, where people exchange their goods without the use of money. Photo: Colectivo Agroecólogio

We all have a serious problem when people’s most basic activity – eating – undermines their ability to exist. Yet this is precisely what we have achieved with the advent of modern food. Through the pursuit of cheap food as a ‘good’, we have generated a series of unwanted ‘bads’, such as mass destruction of soils and water systems, erosion of agrobiodiversity, and widescale sickness and death by pesticides, not to mention the constitution of two, rampant pandemics: overweight/obesity and global warming/climate change. Fortunately, growing awareness of the contradictions of modern food is sparking lively counter movements.

We challenge the widespread preoccupation over how agriculture, food, and development should be. Instead, we focus on how everyday experience in agriculture and food is. The work of social movements in the Americas leads us to call attention to the forces of change in people’s everyday encounters with food – not as characterised in concept, but rather as embodied in practice. Continue reading “THE VITALITY OF EVERYDAY FOOD”

Understanding Sustainable Food System Transitions: Practice, Assessment and Governance

SoRo Sustainable Food Transitions

I am very pleased to share that a new special issue of Sociologia Ruralis edited by Damian Maye and me is now online: Understanding Sustainable Food System Transitions: Practice, Assessment and Governance.

The Special Issue provides theoretical insights and advancements into sustainability transitions through empirically grounded and informed investigations of food system practices. The papers confirm, following Hinrichs (2014, p. 143), that ‘numerous opportunities exist to forge more productive links between work on food systems change and the broad and growing sustainability transitions field’.

The Special Issue brings together 8 articles grouped together around two themes:

  1.  Examining relations between AFN practices and transition;
  2. Opening up measures and assessment practices for sustainability transitions.

Taken as a whole, the Special Issue advances discussions and thinking on alternative food practices and sustainability, opening up the debate not only on how to identify and analyse ‘alternative food practices’ in Europe, and beyond, but also on sustainability assessment metrics, governance processes and what counts as ‘sustainable’ in sustainability transitions.

Contents of the Special Issue

Understanding Sustainable Food System Transitions: Practice, Assessment and Governance Damian Maye and Jessica Duncan

Theme 1: Examining Relations Between AFN Practices and Transition

Theme 2: Opening Up Measures and Assessment Practices for Sustainable Food Transitions