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Food, whether conceptualised as necessity, system or industry, is central to major social, economic and ecological challenges, both source and solution of wicked problems such as hunger, poverty, and climate change. It has been foundational to economic thinking and policies, from the first complete theory of economics by physiocrats, to classical economics and the sociologies of Marx, Weber and Durkheim. No international trade agreement is considered complete without agriculture. In fact, it lies at the core of capitalism, as much at the beginning of the industrial revolutions, when farms supplied the budding manufacturing industries with cheap food and labour, as now, in the era of extreme commodification that has seen the processes of life creation itself absorbed into the logic of capital accumulation.
Food is now part of the highly lucrative “life industries” that include big Agri, Pharma, Energy and Chem. This market-based bio-economy has seen Marx’s “metabolic rift” fully realised: farmers have been reduced to a Fordist division of labour, having lost control over the in and outputs of farming that have been corporatised, while retailers dictate what is produced and chemical companies dictate how.
Considering socially and ecologically more sound food production alternatives are consistently marginalised or absorbed into the industrial food system, how then to confront the bio-capitalist food regime? Looking at the pioneering work of Polanyi and recent approaches such as that of Shiva, Block, O’Connor and Friedmann, we will look at the possibility of using capitalism’s own contradictions to “re-embed the (food) economy in the human and natural substance of society”.

This media entry was a contribution to the special session „Re-embedding the food economy in food politics“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.