Practicing food democracy: A pragmatic politics of transformation

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There is a tension regarding the potential of the alternative agro-food movement to create meaningful change. From one perspective, individual and organizational actors working to change the dominant food system need to be engaged on a daily basis in political and social struggles and accomplish what is presently possible given existing opportunities and barriers. From an alternate view, such pragmatism is woefully inadequate for achieving the complete transformation of the food and agriculture system that many movement actors and academic analysts see as necessary. This paper examines some of the issues underlying this tension. It is argued that the "sustainability" of food and agriculture systems is understandably a contested concept because it inevitably involves both conflicts over values and uncertainty about outcomes. These same characteristics make democracy the method of choice for the alternative agro-food movement, and this paper discusses the emerging concept of "food democracy" in order to elaborate upon its practical utility with respect to collective action. The existing alternative agro-food movement is the main source of the pressure to democratize the agro-food system. While the movement in the United States (and elsewhere) is very diverse in terms of organizational forms and strategies, there are important opportunities for developing coalitions among various groups. Lastly, food democracy is discussed as a pragmatic method for transforming the agro-food system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-86
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2003


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