Handbook of the International Political Economy of Trade
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Handbook of the International Political Economy of Trade

Edited by David Deese

David A. Deese brings together leading researchers and writers from different countries and disciplines in a coherent framework to highlight the most important and promising research and policy questions regarding international trade. The content includes fundamental theory about trade as international communication and its effects on growth and inequality; the domestic politics of trade and trends in government trade policies; the implications of bilateral and regional trade (and investment) agreements; key issues of how trade is governed globally; and how trade continues to define and advance globalization from immigration to the internet.
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Chapter 20: Food is different: globalization, trade regimes and local food movements

Elizabeth Smythe


Food is different. It is not a typical commodity because it affects so many people – and the environment – in such intimate ways. Food has the power to move us to action. Food is both personal (it affects our bodies) and political (it affects the world). (Rosset 2006: 79) Food (the word is derived from an old English term of Germanic origin referring to fodder) is normally thought of as a nutritious substance that we eat or drink, which is necessary, at some minimal level, to the maintenance of life. In contrast, agriculture refers to the cultivation of crops in fields or the rearing of animals. The crops produced may or may not include edible substances we would call food. My use of the term ‘food’ in this chapter is intended to shift the focus in the discussion of the WTO to capture what Peter Rosset notes, that is, that food is not a typical traded commodity; it is different. Eating food is the most intimate act of consumption, necessary to our survival and well-being, tied up in culture and community. But a global food system has emerged as a result of liberalized markets, new technologies and financialization which has increased the distance between producers and eaters of food. The system has destroyed livelihoods of some and created both crises of hunger alongside abundance, and malnutrition alongside rising obesity levels.

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