How is it possible that extreme hunger and food abundance coexist in today's world? Why is it that food, one of the most fundamental necessities of life, is so scarce for so many people even though the global food system produces so much and wastes so much? These questions have long bothered Jose Luis Vivero Pol, an anti-hunger activist, agricultural engineer, and advocate for treating food as commons.
Studying the reasons for persistent hunger amidst plentiful food, Vivero began to see that the real problem is our societal treatment of food as a commodity -- an object valued by its market price and traded in global markets. The presumption that food should be a commodity departs from millennia of human history in which societies found ways to share food and ensure that people had enough to eat. Treating food as a commodity inevitably means that millions of people worldwide will not be able to afford food and therefore must go hungry or eat nutritionally degraded, unhealthy food.
I explored these themes in an interview with Vivero Pol in my latest podcast (Episode #22) on Frontiers of Commoning.
Vivero Pol works as a PhD Research Fellow of Food Transitions at the Université catholique de Louvain, in Belgium. He realizes that attempting to decommodify food is a long-term proposition that requires a structural rethinking of our food system. But he emphasizes that food-as-a-commodity is an artificial social construct, not the natural order of life.
Indeed, food commons have been the norm throughout human history, and even in today's hyper-marketized world they remain widely prevalent. In many countries of Europe, the amount of land still managed as commons for growing food is 20 or 30%. In Iceland, 40% of land is still managed as commons.