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Framing transformation: the counter-hegemonic potential of food sovereignty in the US context

Fairbairn, Madeleine
Agriculture and human values 2012 v.29 no.2 pp. 217-230
activists, consumer preferences, food security, peasantry, politics, United States
Originally created by the international peasant movement La Vía Campesina, the concept of “food sovereignty” is being used with increasing frequency by agrifood activists and others in the Global North. Using the analytical lens of framing, I explore the effects of this diffusion on the transformative potential of food sovereignty. US agrifood initiatives have recently been the subject of criticism for their lack of transformative potential, whether because they offer market-based solutions rather than demanding political ones or because they fail to adequately address existing social injustice. In this paper, I consider how food sovereignty measures up to this critique both as it was originally framed by Vía Campesina and as it is being reframed for the US context. First I briefly compare food sovereignty to community food security (CFS), which was developed more explicitly for the North American context and has been criticized for its lack of transformative potential. I then explore how the potential of food sovereignty has been affected as it is reframed to resonate with US audiences through an examination of its use on the web sites of US-based organizations. I find that, while some reframing of the concept to highlight consumer choice does seem to be occurring, it remains a primarily political concept. It may not, however, be fulfilling its potential for addressing social injustice in the US agrifood system because it tends to be used either in reference to international issues or, when applied to the US context, treated as a rough synonym for local control. I conclude that, if advocates can successfully guide the reframing process, food sovereignty could serve as a valuable counter-hegemonic vision to complement the more pragmatic and locally-grounded work of CFS advocates.