JENNIFER CLAPP. Food. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0-7456-4936-8, €15.60 (paperback), pp. 218).
Article first published online: 13 DEC 2012
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Journal of International Development
Volume 25, Issue 1, pages 145–146, January 2013
How to Cite
Bringel, B. (2013), JENNIFER CLAPP. Food. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012, ISBN 978-0-7456-4936-8, €15.60 (paperback), pp. 218). J. Int. Dev., 25: 145–146. doi: 10.1002/jid.2841
- Issue published online: 13 DEC 2012
- Article first published online: 13 DEC 2012
- Manuscript Accepted: 4 APR 2012
- Manuscript Received: 2 APR 2012
The current global crisis has revealed some of the most perverse facets of the geopolitics of food. The cyclical increases of world hunger and in the price of food, with important peaks in 2007/2008 and 2010/2011, are far from simply a momentary, short-term concern with temporary repercussions and policies. They also demonstrate the proliferation of the view of agriculture and food as a business, wherein food items are progressively transformed into commodities and speculative financial products. Although this is a phenomenon that has attracted the attention of various authors with different foci, objectives, fields of study and concerns, few analyses have been capable of articulating different temporalities (short, medium and long term) and spatialities (traversing different scales and places) through a comprehensive and systematic understanding of the main forces that influence and determine the modern global food system. This is the great merit of the book Food, by Jennifer Clapp, which, in fact, could have been explicitly titled Global Food System: Key Forces Shaping the World Food Economy.
Written in an accessible manner and for a broad audience, Clapp initiates her didactic reflection with an introduction to the four central forces that have been behind the expansion of the world food economy: state-led industrial agriculture and international market expansion, agriculture trade liberalisation, the rise of transnational corporations and the financialisation of food and agriculture. Together, these forces redefined the production and consumption of food, with important consequences that are well analysed by the author, such as the commodification of food, the construction of an asymmetric and volatile architecture of food market and ecological fragility.
The author dedicates a chapter of the book to the specific analysis of each one of these forces, which allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the crisis and the development of the global industry of the food market (Chapter 2), the implantation of unequal regulations in commercial agriculture (Chapter 3), the role and influence of private transnational corporations (Chapter 4) and the complex links between food and the financial world (Chapter 5). It is a seminal issue in the international development field because it reveals the nuances, possibilities and limits of international aid in the food realm, the role of development agencies and the asymmetries not only between actors and social forces but also between North and South and developed and developing countries.
One of the main arguments Clapp develops is how the definition of this global food system generated various ‘middle spaces’ occupied, influenced and dominated by these actors/political forces and central economies. It is in these restricted (one could say antidemocratic) spaces that the norms, practices and the rules that govern the world food economy are defined. Transnational companies take advantage of this scenario to increase their concentration of power and to consolidate their role as direct mediators between producers and consumers, intervening in the entire food chain from its production and distribution to its arrival at our tables. Their corporate interests and benefits come before the rights and voices of the small producers and farmers, which has lead to many questions about the reach of contradictory practices that claim to be ‘sustainable’ development despite a loss of biodiversity, the displacement of pre-existing populations, the use of genetically modified organisms and the increased use of pesticides and agrotoxins.
As the Brazilian expert Josué de Castro foresaw in his classic book Geopolitics of Hunger (Castro, 1952), the geopolitics of hunger is part of an international system that was historically forged by hegemonic practices and representations and geographies of power. But there also exists an anti-geopolitics of networks, organisations and social movements that propose a wide range of rival local and global alternatives, discourses and practices both on material and symbolic planes (Routledge, 2003). Although in the last chapter of Clapp's book, she explores whether the world food economy could be transformed—and presents several alternatives based on fair trade, food sovereignty and in the global advocacy networks—this is not the primary contribution of the book, as there is a growing literature that engages in more detail the possibilities and limitations of transformative projects. Nevertheless, the creation of multi-dimensional and necessarily complex alternatives such as food sovereignty demands precise diagnoses. And this is the principal value of the book: it offers an excellent diagnostic about the constitution, evolution and the challenges of the global food system, making it indispensible for development practitioners, policy makers, social movements, academics interested in learning about the emerging field of food studies, as well as all those who would like to understand (and eventually transform) the distribution of power in the food system.
- 1952. Geopolitics of Hunger. Little Brown and Cia: Boston. .
- 2003. Anti-geopolitics. In A Companion to Political Geography, Agnew J, Mitchell K, Toal G (eds). Blackwell: Oxford; 236–248. .