Over the past two decades, millions of people across the world have taken up the claim of food sovereignty. This introduction situates struggles for food sovereignty in the changing global political and legal landscape. It describes how food sovereignty activists based in the Pacific Northwest of the United States are dialectically constructing new practices of mobilization—social practices of translation—in response to the emerging normative order of transnational governance. Through these communicative practices of meaning making, food sovereignty activists are forming transnational networks based on shared values, norms, and practices rooted in agroecological food systems. By attending to these processes through what is described as the ethnography of governance networks, this book reveals how food sovereignty activists are reordering relations between communities, nature, and markets and cultivating transnational governance from below.
Food sovereignty activists are not the first to draw on the networked form to pursue social change. In the Pacific Northwest the alternative agriculture movement also drew on a networked vision of holistic social transformation in the 1970s. This chapter examines how different generations of food activists have envisioned and practiced the network as a form of social movement organization. It describes how food sovereignty movements in the Pacific Northwest, and in the United States more broadly, have cultivated new practices of translocal translation through which they are able to maintain a radical vision of political and legal transformation. These practices are premised on three key values: demanding direct representation by those most marginalized and affected by food systems; democratizing knowledge; and insisting on the autonomy of communities and peoples. By drawing on these values, activists enact and claim food sovereignty as a process of translation.
One key demand of food sovereignty movements is to localize control over food and agriculture. In the global South, localism often refers to Indigenous and peasant territories, but in the settler colonial context of the United States, localism is often mobilized to promote regional food systems. This turn to localism converges with neoliberalism in subtle ways. This chapter analyzes conflicts over localization in one arena of regional food governance in the Puget Sound region of Washington State. It describes how this arena of network governance operated as a constitutive site of struggle through which actors deployed rival representational frames that aspired to bring the agents, objects, and relations of networks into being. By examining two different frames applied to the local food governance network, it shows how food sovereignty activists drew on the governance arena to reimagine markets, construct new political constituencies, and thereby produce new understandings of the local.
Farmworkers have emerged at the forefront of the food sovereignty movement in the United States. This chapter examines how farmworkers and small-scale farmers are working together to translate food sovereignty in the United States and transform the value of agricultural labor. It focuses on one struggle in the Pacific Northwest, when a group of farmworkers sought to improve their wages and working conditions. Activists not only drew on legal mobilization but also developed practices of translocal translation in relation to the global value chain (GVC) within which they work. Although GVCs have facilitated greater corporate control of agrifood systems, by constituting their claims and alternative value practices in relation to GVCs, food sovereignty activists are cultivating relationships between diverse constituencies across food systems and thereby reshaping value chain governance from below.
This chapter examines how food sovereignty activists have formed transnational regulatory networks to contest agricultural biotechnology. It focuses on a struggle initiated in Seattle over the Super Banana, a genetically modified East African Highland Banana, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with the goal of addressing vitamin A deficiency in Uganda. Food sovereignty activists across the United States and Africa mobilized to challenge the Super Banana by engaging in translocal translation that emphasized agroecological knowledge practices over and above the proprietary forms of knowledge emanating from metropolitan centers of science and technology. In doing so, they constructed a counternetwork to challenge the epistemic enclosure of plant genetic resources and defend people's knowledge. By drawing on alternative epistemologies of nature, food sovereignty activists are reimagining the relationship between the state, society, and nature by constructing common property regimes to protect Indigenous knowledges and biodiversity.
In seeking greater control over food and agricultural systems, food sovereignty activists seek to democratize international institutions. This chapter focuses on the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). It considers how food sovereignty activists mobilize the human right to food, which remains a critical discourse through which activists seek to center the voices of those marginalized by industrial food systems. Activists mobilize the right to food as a representative claim—a political and symbolic claim through which food sovereignty activists constitute new political constituencies of those most affected by food insecurity and stake the legitimacy of the CFS in accountability to those constituencies. Food sovereignty movements selectively draw on the logics of liberal legalism embedded in human rights to challenge neoliberal forms of multistakeholder governance and democratize global governance by institutionalizing their own prefigurative practices of self-representation.
As they engage in their work, food sovereignty activists consistently confront the paradox of postliberal legality. As they navigate this paradox, they have not only produced new forms of mobilization that are essential for understanding the paradoxes of power relations in the contemporary legal landscape but also offered new ways of seeing and analyzing transnational law and governance. This chapter draws on the lessons of food sovereignty movements to argue that we must reimagine justice in an age of transnational governance not through the modernist and mechanistic lens that has dominated both jurisprudence and science but rather through an ecological lens that is grounded in the landscapes we inhabit. In doing so, we may be able to nourish more equitable and sustainable social relations between human and more-than-human nature growing in the shadows of hegemonic legality.