The Right to Eat

NEW YORK – Food systems have gone global. The average North American meal now travels 2,400 kilometers (1,491 miles) from field to plate. As the food-supply chain has been transformed, efforts to ensure that it is accessible to all have intensified, with the “right to food” serving as an important driver of bottom-up change.

In September, India adopted a landmark law on food security, guaranteeing five kilograms of subsidized wheat, rice, and other foodstuffs monthly for two-thirds of the population, and enhancing support for pregnant women, schoolchildren, and the elderly. Though there are undoubtedly numerous holes in the system, treating access to food as a legal entitlement is an important step in the right direction.

Such progress, which extends far beyond India, follows a decade of global activism that has challenged the logic of existing food systems like never before. Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, political rights like freedom of speech have been widely claimed, while the right to food has been largely neglected.

To be sure, since the declaration was signed, a plethora of tools has been introduced in the effort to combat hunger. Some countries have opened their markets to imports; others have closed them. Many became dependent on food aid, while some acted on the conviction that eradicating hunger is merely a matter of fostering GDP growth. But such efforts have had limited success.