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 takes a closer look at how this new era impacts food, our source of life, identity and social relations.

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. Food, of course, has been traded for centuries, but the recent failure in market regulation has reduced it to a mere commodity

These events have deeply affected rural communities by taking away their productive resources, like land, water and seeds. It has damaged the environment, leading to severe and ever-increasing degradation. It has also changed our diets for the worse, as millions suffer the consequences of malnutrition, including diabetes and obesity. More broadly, 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.

Within this context, three intertwined dynamics – dematerialization, digitalization and financialization – are further altering our food systems. Those actors who once vehemently supported the now criticized agro-industrial model are currently proposing an “innovative solution” under the umbrella of the so-called Four 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 flavors dominate our daily dishes and financial speculation, fluctuating through invisible digital networks, modifies the value of the resources in all continents. The question is, who does this really benefit?

Under the heading of “When Food Becomes Immaterial: Confronting the Digital Age”, this year’s Watch 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 fulfillment of the human right to food and nutrition will be addressed.

For the first time in 10 years, the publication will be released together with a supplement that offers a succinct and visual overview of the most conflicting and complex issues facing our right to food, as well provides an effective tool to educate ourselves. 

An official pre-launch of the publication has taken place at the 12th Asia-Europe People's Forum (Ghent, Belgium) on September 29 in the format of a round table. The international launch will follow at FAO (Rome, Italy) on October 16 coinciding with the negotiations of the Committee on World Food Security.

For media enquiries, please contact delrey(at)fian.org

SID is member of the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition and is member of the editorial board of the Right to Food and Nutrition Watch Report.