Yale Food Sovereignty Conference

Bob St. Peter and Heather Retberg, board members of Food for Maine’s Future will be traveling to Yale this week to speak at an academic conference on the food sovereignty issue.   Here is a synopsis of the conference and then the short version of the paper that Heather participated in writing.   Very exciting and heady stuff.

“Sponsored by the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University and

the *Journal of Peasant Studies*, and co-organized by Food First, Initiatives in

Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS) and the International Institute of Social

Studies (ISS) in The Hague, Yale Sustainable Food Project, as well as the

Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI), the conference “Food

Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue” will be held at Yale University on

September 14–15, 2013. The event will bring together leading scholars and

political activists who are advocates of and sympathetic to the idea of

food sovereignty, as well as those who are skeptical to the concept of food

sovereignty to foster a critical and productive dialogue on the issue. The

purpose of the meeting is to examine what food sovereignty might mean, how

it might be variously construed, and what policies (e.g. of land use,

commodity policy, and food subsidies) it implies. Moreover, such a dialogue

aims at exploring whether the subject of food sovereignty has an

“intellectual future” in critical agrarian studies and, if so, on what



Conference Paper # 40: Community Autonomy and Local Food: Seeking Food

Sovereignty in Maine, by Hilda E. Kurtz in collaboration with Heather

Retberg and Bonnie Preston*


In 2011, a group of food and farmer activists in Maine set off a maelstrom

of political activity in and around the food sovereignty movement when they

drafted and placed on town meeting warrants a Local Food and Community

Self-Governance Ordinance. Intended to maintain the viability of small

farms in a struggling rural economy, these ordinances exempt direct

transactions of farm food from licensure and inspection. Their goal is to

maintain control of food at the local level by asserting the right to

remain autonomous from the corporate industrial food system. Conceptually,

they draw on a populist ethos and the town meeting tradition to invite

broad democratic participation in pressing claims for food sovereignty.

This paper traces the ordinance strategy and its effects through activist

networks and into the halls of the state capitol, where the governing and

the governed have wrestled over the last two years with fundamental and

difficult issues facing food systems. Recognizing the play of multiple food

sovereignties in different settings, we suggest that this work offers

insight into possible trajectories of food sovereignty as a movement for

radical change in the food system by reasserting the right to define a

local food system and drawing a protective boundary around traditional

foodways. The concept of food sovereignty – democratic control of the food

system, and the right of all people to define their own agrifood systems

(US Social Forum 2010) – implies a re-scaling of food production and trade

regimes, away from industrial scale production for international trade to

food systems organized at local and regional scales. Beyond such a

re-scaling, however, food sovereignty discourse is ambiguous if not

ambivalent about the geographic scales at which food sovereignty can and

should be achieved. Main ordinance advocates engage with the scale problem

directly by arguing for the need for scale appropriate regulations for

small scale production for direct sale; in addition, they draw on Maine’s

tradition of Home Rule to frame perhaps the first legible spatial

expression of food sovereignty in the United States. This paper examines

the ordinance strategy and its ripple effects as a politics of scale, in

which different expressions of geographic scale shape both the form and the

content of political debate. The stakes in this struggle are high,

concerning intersections of life and livelihood, autonomy and its absence,

and bases for knowing and for evaluating risk. We view these stakes as

biopolitics, or struggle over the exercise of biopower. In the exertion of

biopower, states (and other actors) manage population health through the

use of vital statistics and other technologies. Foucault demonstrates that

as new forms of knowledge and regimes of truth made population health

knowable, biological experience shaping individual and collective life,

like dietary practices, became linked to the exercise of state power. The

paper traces how the food sovereigntists of Maine use politics of scale to

face off against biopower as exercised through corporate influence over

food and farm regulations.”


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