When food becomes immaterial: confronting the digital age

At a time where technology is infiltrating every area of our lives, this year’s Right to Food and Nutrition Watch report takes a closer look at how this new era impacts food, our source of life, identity and social relations.

In 2008, the first issue of The Right to Food and Nutrition Watch was released and became the flagship publication of the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition during the last ten years. The Watch Consortium as well as the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition comprises around 30 civil society organisations and social movements.

This report, entitled Right to food and nutrition watch – when food becomes immaterial: confronting the digital age and published in September 2018, was launched at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, Italy.

Over the past few decades, public goods, such as education and health – the pillars of human rights – have increasingly been taken over by private actors to make profit, the report says. Food, of course, has been traded for centuries, but the recent failure in market regulation has reduced it to a mere commodity.

According to the report, these events have deeply affected rural communities by taking away their productive resources, such as land, water and seeds. This has damaged the environment, leading to severe and ever-increasing degradation, and has also changed our diets for the worse, as millions suffer the consequences of malnutrition, including diabetes and obesity. More broadly, the report states, 2017 was the third year in a row that the world saw a rise in hunger rates: the absolute number of undernourished people reached nearly 821 million last year, up from around 804 million in 2016. These are levels not seen since almost a decade ago, the report says.

Within this context, three intertwined dynamics – dematerialisation, digitalisation and financialisation– are further altering our food systems. Those actors who once vehemently supported the now criticised agro-industrial model are currently proposing an “innovative solution” under the umbrella of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. This entails a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. More and more, seed data floats around the world, artificial flavours dominate our daily dishes and financial speculation, fluctuating through invisible digital networks, modifies the value of the resources in all continents.

Under the heading of "When Food Becomes Immaterial: Confronting the Digital Age”, this year’s Watch report explores the impacts of these three phenomena on our food systems and diets against this backdrop. It discusses how these processes are altering the conception of the food market, and how food consumption habits within cities and beyond are being affected. It explores how the targets of political action are shifting in the pursuit of food sovereignty, and investigates how the fulfilment of the human right to food and nutrition will be addressed.

(Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition/db)


More information:

Download report Right to food and nutrition watch - when food becomes immaterial: confronting the digital age

Website of the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition

Further reading:
Rural 21, no 3/2011: Food security initiatives – a quality check
Rural 21, no 5/2009: The global crisis
Rural 21, no 3/2008: New challenges for food security 

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