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This blog will argue for reforming our global food regime from within the confines of the dominant neoliberalism of today. Considering this not only a pragmatic way to approach food justice, but one that can provide real differences often dismissed by those in the more radical, anticapitalistic, corner of the debate.

Neoliberalism is increasingly becoming a house hold term, its ability to influence and marginalise is held up as a key component to the reactionary political voting seen in 2016, particularly by those it has purported to have marginalised. The recent political events of the UK and USA in 2016 have clearly demonstrated a disillusionment felt in the benefits that free trade neoliberalism brings – advocated since the time of Thatcher and Regan [1],[2] . With the ability to affect significant change moving towards the level of the nation-state, here we make the counter-argument that neoliberalism can still provide the pathway to better global food justice.

reganthatcher
Have the good times gone?

Firstly, some context. Ending extreme poverty is one of the world’s most pressing issues, we need to produce 50% more food to feed a projected 9 billion mouths by 2050. Furthermore, current food instability issues, alongside the potential 25% loss of crop production due to climate change over the same period, makes the situation all the more perilous and pertinent [3]. When turning to solutions for this deepening crisis, the more radical (and altruistic) food movements lean towards food sovereignty – this involves dismantling corporations and agrifoods monopoly power [4]. These approaches unarguably hold value, they can, and do, work in local economics – however their approach is often inherently disjointed and anticapitalistic [5],[6]

Currently, governments willingness to take more of a backseat on direct intervention in issues of food crises, preferring – often state funded – NGO’s and charitable organisations, is one of the key principles of neoliberalism [7].  These organisations now work, often highly successfully [8], within the margins of neoliberalism. This creates an inherent dependency on capitalism to function, and following a financial crisis when flows of money dry up, voluntary and charitable organisations can find themselves rendered functionally impotent [8]. This is the point at which radical views are often touted in the name of ending the elitism of neoliberalism within our food markets [9].

While many would argue that this is inherently not a bad thing, possibly even a good one, it can be problematic – even contradictory. The alternatives provided are often still based within the parameters of neoliberal commerce [10].  Ethical brands (eg. Organic or FairTrade) seek to alleviate food injustice through affecting capitalist consumption, and NGO’s themselves, reliant financially on continued financial aid, supplement the role of the state [8]. Both of these measures fit seamlessly into the neoliberal mould.

So we are left with a choice it would seem; accept neoliberalism – which has been widely noted to favour the global north’s food programmes up this point [9][11]. Otherwise, we can attempt to radically alter what has been the core of our capitalist society in food production for the last three decades – something which has been nearly inescapable in its entirety thus far [12]. This is extremely tricky; In an argument of idealisms, neoliberalism’s pitfalls to date for food security are woefully apparent in many examples (see [13],[14],[15]). But wait, let’s give consideration to the idea that the lives of people globally can potentially be improved within the neoliberal framework. Increased socially responsible methods, amending and refining existing structural practises, may well lead to greater practical results for food parity than attempts to shake the core principle of neoliberalism in the corporate food regime we reside in.

So how might this actually be achieved? A reformist perspective. This seeks to persuade large organisations – rather than enforcement via regulation – through the medium of consumer choice into behaving with greater social consideration. Placing ‘social re-stabilization’ [16.p.123] at the heart of the reforming corporate food systems may not, as many have argued, be enough to critically affect institutions that define the worlds food system [16]. This does not, however, render it unimportant, in fact, quite the
opposite.

neolib

Let’s take a moment to question what neoliberalism is, and isn’t. Neoliberals economic
agenda has often become encompassed into something more broadly political and socio-cultural. This is in a sense is ‘mistaking the icing for the whole cake’[7, p.1727-1
728]
. The application of it globally is so imperfect and laden with local context that neoliberalism cannot simply be labelled ‘bad’ or ‘good’ [11]. Within its composition there are elements to be honed and refined, as well as those to be diminished. Bythis measure there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ method to shaping food systems global
ly. [17]. Applying any policy must be tailored to its local specifics of economics, culture and environment.

Currently 20% of global employment is within agriculture [18], binding these people strongly to neoliberalism [7]. Such a high participation rate in agriculture globally suggests reform to the neoliberal agricultural industry, through which we are all connected, can have a profound impact globally.

Neoliberalism and nature are intrinsically combined, connected through the nexus of corporate food regimes globally. In this world, humankind rarely controls nature, our attempts seen as merely ‘harnessing this nature’ at best. [7.p.1731]. We therefore have a dependency on nature for neoliberalism which is often overlooked [19]. The ability to convey this idea into corporate agriculture may be instrumental in the success or failure of our food regimes.

To conclude. The specifics of reform, and it’s potential coupling with more progressive food movements are beyond the scope of this blog, but a worthwhile perspective for consideration (See [20],[6]). The status-quo of our global food regime is undeniably unacceptable, this blog has taken an unpopular view, and set out to at least challenge some of the broad polemic consensus which simply writes off neoliberalism as a failed ideal.[21][22] Instead, suggesting we are currently fundamentally bound to our food system, and so improving it from within can trigger real differences globally.