Political Theory and the Normative Challenges of Food Governance

Convenor: Matteo Bonotti (Queen’s University Belfast)


Most of the existing normative literature on food production, distribution, and consumption focuses on issues of individual morality. Its emphasis, that is, is on such questions as the following: should we eat meat? Do we have a moral duty to buy local foods? Should we only buy fair trade foods? While these questions are important, they overlook the fact that many of the values and goals that people aim to promote through their individual choices with regard to food (e.g. animal welfare, public health, environmental protection, international justice, etc.) can only be pursued and secured through the coercive machinery of states and supranational institutions. However, no systematic attempts have been made yet by political theorists to examine the normative dimensions of food governance. The important questions that need to be asked, from the perspective of political theory, concern for example whether states should regulate the consumption of meat or of unhealthy foods, and whether they should subsidize local or fair trade foods, etc. A political theory approach, focused on such issues as justice, legitimacy, freedom, and democracy, can throw new light on these questions. This workshop aims to provide a forum for advancing academic debate on these matters and to contribute to the creation of an international network of scholars working in this area.

The workshop invites papers from scholars of all levels, from PhD students to full professors. Papers addressing the following broad questions are especially welcome:

  1. Should states regulate the production, distribution and consumption of unhealthy foods? – Papers may examine the normative dimensions of measures such as food taxes, food bans, and ‘nudges’, including their relevance to current debates on paternalism (involving both adults and children) and on intergenerational justice (in connection with the epigenetics effects of unhealthy food consumption).
  1. Should states regulate the production, distribution and consumption of meat? – Papers may examine measures such as ‘meat taxes’ and the state regulation of animal slaughtering.
  1. Should states subsidize local foods? – Papers may examine the normative issues concerning the impact of food production, distribution and consumption on the environment as well as the potential tension between local food consumption and demands for international justice.
  1. How should states respond to the issues raised by dietary pluralism? – Papers may examine the implications of dietary pluralism for the development of food policies respectful of a plurality of personal choices, cultural practices, and religious prescriptions.

Should states regulate food labelling and food advertising? – Papers may examine the normative issues raised by different forms of food labelling and advertising, and relate them to current debates on freedom of speech.

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