The Food Studies Conference that took place in 2015 at AUR and at the American Academy in Rome confirmed the importance of locally produced and consumed foods in developing countries and the emergence of locally embedded food systems in a variety of western countries.  These are in opposition to the globalized food system that is undergoing an ever greater degree of integration and market concentration with corporate large-scale retailers dominating the economic and political sphere.

In parallel, and in opposition to the globalized food system, locally and regionally embedded food systems are characterized by socio-spatial proximity and reflect the specific conditions of production in a given territory, often associated with small-scale farms, multifunctional agriculture, quality and traditional foods,  sustainable community agriculture, local processing and distribution and short supply chains.

Some scholars believe that the local food systems do not represent a serious threat to the globalization of food chains and may even be consistent with it.  Others see them as encapsulating the potential for a radical transformation of the global food system, being not just the result of a commodity-based agriculture sector but rather expressions of processes of change and new forms of politics with regard to sustainability and consumption.

While initiatives of local foods have been multiplying, the need to coordinate and cooperate among ‘places’ is becoming more pressing.  Complex forms of partnership among actors across different scales, from the local to the national, regional and global nexus are taking place.   A characteristic of these new forms of partnerships is that actors orient action towards commonly agreed goals, hoping to achieve far more collectively than they could individually.   Above all, such developments speak of a new civic engagement with food revealing its potential to build social capital as well as improve individual wellbeing.

A few examples can be cited, such as Urgenci, the international network for Community Supported Agriculture, the proliferation of Solidarity Purchasing Groups (GAS) throughout Italy, the District of Rural Solidarity Economy of the Southern Agriculture Park in Milan, the multiplication of food hubs in the United States, the many Food Policy Councils that are flourishing across North America and now in Europe,  the public procurement policies adopted especially in Europe and Latin America, the Sustainable Land Management Program in Ethiopia and the Transboundary Agro-ecosystem Management Project for the Kagera River Basin in Africa.   How significant and numerous are such cases?  Are the forms of governance and partnerships emerging from these collaborations able to lead to a more democratic, socially just and sustainable agri-food economy?

This year’s Conference was held to promote a reflection on the new forms of partnership and civic engagement emerging around food: the way they function, their strengths and weaknesses, their successes and failures, the opportunities they offer as well as the limitations they face in their operation.   More generally, we intended to encourage a reflection on the creation of public policy spaces at different scales where different types of actors – ordinary citizens, experts from different epistemic backgrounds and civil society organizations as well as representatives of state agencies and institutions and private firms – may negotiate, deliberate and make decisions with the goal of enhancing the sustainable and democratic character of the food system.

Aims of the 2016 Democratizing Food Governance Conference:

  • Review theories and empirical evidence of reflexive, adaptive and empowered participative forms of governance of the food system:  from foodsheds, to food policy councils, to solidarity economy districts and to the construction of networks at different scales (city, region, national and international).
  • Contribute to the reflection on regulatory mechanisms and policies that favor cooperation, social justice and democracy in the food economy and across different levels of development.

The themes of the Conference for the contributions include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Sustainability, food security and new forms of governance
  • Emerging new forms of coordination among local food initiatives at different scales
  • Examples of networks and partnerships in the food economy: how they work; constraints and strengths; successes and failures.
  • The role of civil society, the State, the private sector and consumers in the new forms of governance
  • The role of the State in creating spaces for empowered and participative forms of governance in the food economy
  • New forms of regulation and new policies for the emerging regional and local-based food system
  • Institutional mechanisms striving for balance of power among actors in networks and partnerships.
  • The subsidiarity principle: its role and implementation in the governance of the emerging food systems.
  • The role of different forms of knowledge – local and expert – in the new forms of governance of local-based food economies
  • Access to data and information in the public domain
  • The voice of local actors in the new forms of governance
  • Modern supply chains and local food initiatives
  • Public food procurement, food banks and school lunch programs
  • Innovation and learning among actors at various scales
  • How to favour convergence toward the ‘common good’ in the food economy among different stake-holders
  • Creating new public policy space for re-shaping food planning agendas.


Keynote speakers

Frank Baber
Professor, Environmental Sciences and Policy Program, and Director, Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration, California State University – Long Beach

Terry Marsden 
Chair of Environmental Policy and Planning, Director of the Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University

Invited speakers

Robert Bartlett
Professor, Department Chair and Gund Chair of the Liberal Arts, Vermont University

Egidio Dansero
Professor, Department of Culture, Politics and Society, University of Turin

Maria Fonte
Associate Professor, University of Naples Federico II


Colin Sage
University College Cork


Chair, Organizing and Scientific Committee:
Maria Grazia Quieti, Dean of Graduate Studies and Program Director, AUR 

Organizing and Scientific Committee:

Frank Baber, California State University
Barbara Burlingame, University of Massey and The American University of Rome
Irene Caratelli,  The American University of Rome 
Ivan Cucco, The American University of Rome 
Robert V. Bartlett, University of Vermont 
Maria Fonte, University of Naples Federico II 
Allison Loconto, INRA (French National Institute of Agricultural Research)
Terry Marsden, University of Cardiff 
Colin Sage, Cork University