Moving Toward Food Democracy: Better Food, New Farmers, and the Myth of Feeding the World

31 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2011 Last revised: 21 Apr 2015

Date Written: May 31, 2011


Hamilton’s essay begins with a reflection on food and society. He writes of the effect of modernization and industry on the relationship America has with food. What once was a centerpiece of our economic independence, family life, and health is now merely an afterthought.

Quality and trust in local suppliers has been largely replaced by efficiency and low prices. Yet, Hamilton argues, the tide is beginning to change. No longer do Americans want to jeopardize the environment and rural economies just to get a cheap product.

Instead, he is optimistic that we will call for a revolution in our food system -- our food democracy -- that will promote quality, healthy foods that are safer for the environment and that foster relationships between farmers and communities.

The term "food democracy" was chosen by Hamilton because what he writes about goes beyond organic farming or buying local. He writes about choosing human value oriented food production over high volume, "efficiency" production. He writes, "the medium is food, but the theme is democracy." For him, "the lens of democracy brings into view and into focus the real values driving the progressive changes in America’s food system." These values weigh satisfaction and sustainability, information and involvement as equally as efficiency and price and profits and productivity.

Those that control the food market are businesses and large institutions; they are "Big Food." The power has to go back to consumers, and Hamilton sees information as the root of this movement; it is through knowledge, he says, that people will be able to make the changes necessary for Americans to get more out of our food system. This commitment to change is where the democracy part functions. The actors -- farmers, merchants, food processors, consumers, restaurant owners, grocers, chefs -- are the "food democrats" who must be involved in change.

The word "democracy" comes from Greek words meaning "people" and "rule." How, then, do we make the people rule our food system? There are four essential pieces in the creation of a food democracy. The first is citizen participation; all actors in the food system must have a voice, and the contributions and concerns of each group must be considered. Second, informed choices are necessary. Questions, information, and knowledge about how food is produced are key. Third, a number of choices must be available to citizens. Although there are currently many types of food to choose from, most of the food is produced in the same faceless, industrial manner. Fourth, participation in food democracy must happen at the local as well as the national levels. One’s food choices should be geared toward protection and development of the community, whether this means buying from farmer’s markets or eating at locally owned restaurants.

Hamilton urges consumers and other "food democrats" to consider what they want out of the food system. He reminds us that every time we eat or buy food, we are "taking sides" in this struggle. Whether or not we want to be involved, we are. We must send the message that we care more about production methods, environmental impact of production, humane treatment of animals, and fair prices for farmers than for cheapness and volume.

Keywords: food, democracy, farmer's markets, locally owned, production methods, environment, environmental impact, fair prices

JEL Classification: J43, L66, O13, Q11, Q12, Q13, Q18

Suggested Citation

Hamilton, Neil D., Moving Toward Food Democracy: Better Food, New Farmers, and the Myth of Feeding the World (May 31, 2011). Drake Journal of Agricultural Law, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2011, Drake University Law School Research Paper No. 11-29, Available at SSRN:

Neil D. Hamilton (Contact Author)

Drake University - Law School ( email )

27th & Carpenter Sts.
Des Moines, IA 50311
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics