What would the world look like if we began to re-conceptualize food as a commons? Jose Luis Vivero Pol of the Centre for Philosophy of Law at Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium has done just that in a recent essay, “Food as a Commons: Reframing the Narrative of the Food System.”
The piece is impressive for daring to imagine how the world’s estimated 668 million hungry people might eat, and how all of us would become healthier, if we treated more elements of the food production and distribution system as commons. Instead of managing food as a private good that can only be produced and allocated through markets, re-conceptualizing food as a commons helps us imagine “a more sustainable, fairer and farmer-centered food system,” writes Vivero Pol.
One reason that the commons reframing is so useful is that it helps us see the ubiquity of enclosures in the food system. We can begin to see the galloping privatization of farmland, water, energy and seeds. We can see the concentration of various food sectors and the higher prices and loss of consumer sovereignty that comes from oligopoly control.
Enclosure is snatching shared resources from us and preventing us from managing them to maximize access and good nutrition. This is often known these days as “resource grabbing,” as companies and national governments race to seize as many abundant, cheap natural resources as they can on an international scale. This is one reason for the many pernicious enclosures of land commons in Africa and Latin America in recent years. There is a huge exodus from traditional and indigenous lands as China, Saudi Arabia, Korea, hedge funds and others buy up natural resources. These enclosures are moving us “from diversity to uniformity, from complexity to homoegeneity, and from richness to impoverishment,” writes Vivero Pol.