Cover of Translating Food Sovereignty by Matthew C. Canfield
Translating Food Sovereignty
Cultivating Justice in an Age of Transnational Governance
Matthew C. Canfield


April 2022
280 pages.
from $26.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503613447
Paperback ISBN: 9781503631304
Ebook ISBN: 9781503631311

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Honorable Mention for the 2023 APLA Book Prize in Critical Anthropology, sponsored by the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA).

In its current state, the global food system is socially and ecologically unsustainable: nearly two billion people are food insecure, and food systems are the number one contributor to climate change. While agro-industrial production is promoted as the solution to these problems, growing global "food sovereignty" movements are challenging this model by demanding local and democratic control over food systems. Translating Food Sovereignty accompanies activists based in the Pacific Northwest of the United States as they mobilize the claim of food sovereignty across local, regional, and global arenas of governance. In contrast to social movements that frame their claims through the language of human rights, food sovereignty activists are one of the first to have articulated themselves in relation to the neoliberal transnational order of networked governance. While this global regulatory framework emerged to deepen market logics, Matthew C. Canfield reveals how activists are leveraging this order to make more expansive social justice claims. This nuanced, deeply engaged ethnography illustrates how food sovereignty activists are cultivating new forms of transnational governance from the ground up.

About the author

Matthew C. Canfield is Assistant Professor of Law and Society & Law and Development at the Van Vollenhoven Institute at Leiden Law School, Leiden University.

"This book brings to life interactions among globally connected activist communities seeking to challenge dominant and rather simplistic ways of thinking about inequality, the environment, poverty, and food production. A must-read for scholars, students, and activists as well as those seeking to implement more inclusive and realistic policies."

—Eve Darian-Smith, University of California, Irvine

"Matthew Canfield is one of the leading socio-legal scholars focused on food sovereignty and agroecology. In this gripping account of the burgeoning food sovereignty movement in the US, he highlights how activists use food sovereignty to challenge transnational governance and neoliberal economic models. Canfield grounds his work in detailed ethnographical study and tells a bigger story of how struggles over the control of food systems can transform law, society, and economy. The food sovereignty movement is over 25 years old and has used law in complex and creative ways. While at the same time, food politics today are more intense than ever. This book is incredibly timely and provides an account of legality in the food sovereignty movement that we've all been waiting for."

—Michael Fakhri, UN Special Rapporteur to the Right to Food

"Translating Food Sovereignty is as ambitious as it is engaging. Expertly weaving together ethnography with legal studies, Canfield not only helps us to re-imagine more just food systems, he shows us how this is already being done."

—Jessica Duncan, Wageningen University

"Canfield examines the 'social practices of translation' involved in food sovereignty, whereby power and meaning are constantly contested and shifting. Using ethnographic research methods, the author traces the historical evolution of food sovereignty and then provides examples of how groups attend to issues such as control and communication in food governance at local, national, and international levels.... Recommended."

—C. L. Lalonde, CHOICE

"Canfield's book represents a grounded and inspiring assessment of how strategically cultivating justice in an age of global governance, through different local and global forms of legal mobilization of food sovereignty – from street protests to strategic litigation – can hold tremendous promise."

—Jeff Handmaker, The Journal of Peasant Studies

"Canfield's book points to openings in an ongoing and probably irresolvable debate. His careful, comprehensive, and rigorous examination of several cases invites us to step into them and explore what the right to food and other rights could look like in some places. He allows us to explore what is possible and what could be realized through collective, concerted action on multiple scales. Ultimately, the struggle and debate continues well beyond the conclusion of the book, and we can thank Canfield for offering us some new tools and insight toward carrying on the struggle."

—Amy Trauger, The AAG Review of Books

"This work is extremely useful for community organizers and activists in this area and policymakers at all levels, local, national, and international."

—Richard Zimmer, Food Anthropology

"[W]ell written, informative, and engaging. For anyone interested in learning about the FS [food sovereignty] movement, this book provides a general history of the global FS movement and a detailed record of FS activism in western Washington.... Due to Canfield's selected methodology and active participation in the FS struggle, presented perspectives feel personal, giving you insights on why the FS movement is important to many."

—Tiffany K. Woods, Agriculture and Human Values

"In an era marked by widespread food insecurity and escalating concerns about climate change, Translating Food Sovereignty: Cultivating Justice in an Age of Transnational Governance by Matthew C. Canfield offers a timely and thought-provoking analysis of the global food system.... With a wealth of experiences spanning from 'formal' to 'informal' and encompassing both legal and practical dimensions, each perspective presented feels remarkably comprehensive and worthy of serious consideration."

—Mallory Cerkleski, Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development

"In this engaging empirical account, we not only learn about recent and ongoing food sovereignty struggles in their local specificity but also glimpse how these struggles extend beyond lawmaking institutions and across legal jurisdictions. Translating Food Sovereignty thus offers a welcome contribution to legal anthropology, studies of social movements, and scholarship on governance from below."

—Leila Kawar, Political and Legal Anthropology Review

"Translating Food Sovereignty is both engaging and enlightening for those interested in food systems and food activism in general. Canfield's case studies are carefully chosen to illustrate his central theory: that food sovereignty activists mobilize tools from a variety of other areas to translate their values to local, State, and global networks of food governance."

—Steph Tai, Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law

"[I]n a moment when the co-optation of the concept of food sovereignty by various subjects and institutions risks expropriating grassroots movements and oppressed social groups from a powerful emancipatory tool, Canfield provides an accurate and deep representation of the genuine roots, meanings and potential of the food sovereignty movement."

—Arianna De Conno and Margherita Brunori, Journal of Human Rights and the Environment