The Right to Food

I co-teach an MA module here at the University of Sheffield called Theories and debates in food security and food justice. One of the lectures is on the right to food. I asked twitter folk for some reading recommendations. These were very helpful. Thank You. I am sharing the slides that I prepared in this blog post.

We filled two hours just getting through slides 1-7. Many of the students had some previous knowledge about the Right to Food. I wanted to get into the different dimensions of the right, so we examined the language and objections to food as a right. We had a robust and wide-ranging discussion. It is a good topic to consider with students.

Many countries, including the UK, signed up to the UN Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which includes reference to the Right to Food (with definitions agreed in General Comment 12). Although the right to food is recognised and implemented in many parts of the world*, the UK and several other economically wealthy countries did not codify it into national legal frameworks.

Interestingly, one of the arguments against positioning food as a right concerns how we understand food (in)security in wealthy economic nations. Here, and quite explicitly, food (in)security is reduced to the ability to afford food. I have frequently argued that food security is tied up with income because we live in a capitalist society, but this is not a necessary relationship. Instead, it is contingent. Food security is not reduceable to economy because food and how we access and utilise it is also not reduceable to economics. Food is more than nutrients and calories that are commodified. Food is also about how we use it, how we know it, how we understand it, how we share it, how we eat it and other aspects that reflect our values and personhood. When we are food insecure, these other non-economic aspects and the wider resources we need to achieve these aspects are also in deficit.

Food as a right has been dealt a further blow in that the right to food does not appear as such in the Sustainable Development Goals. Not only do the SDG’s move away from a rights-based approach (although some are recognised in the SDG’s, such as the right to water), goals are also targets. You can miss a target, but you cannot violate a right. As illustrated in the slides below, the UK is failing to improve against many of the SDG’s. In some cases progress is replaced by a move backward, notably SDG2, which concerns moving toward zero hunger.

In Winter 2021, 3 out of every 10 adults in the UK was not food secure, but just 1 out of every 3 adults is food secure in some parts of the UK. It is likely that these figures are worse now with the cost of living crisis–a crisis underpinned by a lack of aspiration among ministers to ensure that we meet our goals combined with Brexit benefits that include a weaker pound and lower buying power. The London School of Economics has estimated that Brexit alone – before the effects of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine are accounted for – is responsible for a 6% rise in food prices. Post-Brexit, UK exports to the EU fell by 14% in 2021. The Centre for European Reform estimated that Brexit had, by the end of 2021, reduced trade in goods between the UK and the EU by 13.6% and left UK GDP 5.2% lower than it would have been had the UK stayed in the EU single market.  

This is the structure of the module:

Week 1:  Introduction, what is justice and what is food? (MKB) 

Week 2:  Food has never been secure. (RVJ)

Week 3:  What is food security? (MKB)

Week 4:  Embodying food security. (RVJ)

Week 5:  How we have succeeded and failed in our attempts to achieve food security (MKB)

Week 6:  No lecture, reading week

Week 7:  Citizen responses for food security. (RVJ)

Week 8:  Food as a right? (MKB)

Week 9:  Climate Change and scales of responsibility. (RVJ)

Week 10:  Food Ladders as a structure for community responses. (MKB)

Week 11:  Wrap up (MKB/RVJ). Guest Lecture from Pamela Richardson Nwengya

*Countries that have incorporated the Right to Food into their constitutions include: Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Congo, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Fiji, Guatamala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Kenya, Malawi, Maldives, Mexico, Moldova, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Suriname, Ukraine, Zimbabwe. Others have given it explicit recognition as a goal or directive principle: Bangladesh, Burundi, South Korea, Gambia, India, Iran, Ireland, Myanmar, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Uganda, and Venezuela (see: See:

Increasing Diet Diversity in Low-Income Communities: Some issues and some solutions.

I recently wrote a piece for an online journal called Impakter making the argument that we need to do more than just admonish people to change their diets and that for those in low-income communities this change can be particularly difficult.  This is the text, which initially appeared on ImpakterContinue reading