Maine has officially broken U.S. (food) history, by opening the doors for its consumers to embrace and implement the idea behind ‘the right to food’. You may be thinking, “but doesn’t this exist already”? The answer is not so black and white. Typically, state and local regulations prevent consumers from growing their own food due to aesthetic standards (1). Only two and a
half years ago, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida passed Senate Bill 82, which allows vegetable gardens on residential property (2). While this is a giant step in the right direction for Florida, it is still a little ways away from Maine’s bold and game-changing action of enacting a right to food amendment to their state’s constitution. Food Sovereignty and The Right to Food According to the United Nations, ‘the right to food’ encompasses the idea that any person has “physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement” (3).
Although this idea is not synonymous to food sovereignty, it is a major feature of the movement, which presents an alternative agricultural system that serves the people and their right to define their own food system. Food sovereignty aims to replace the power of the market corporate giants into the hands of the people at the heart of the food system, whilst highlighting the need for food to be nourishing, culturally appropriate, and produced through ecologically sound methods (4). While I have not seen tremendous effort in the U.S. to address creating economic access to food, but rather a dependency on social welfare for individuals and families in lower economic standing–headway has been made on physical access by allowing people to grow their own food. An even bigger accomplishment than this, however, is the emphasis on seeds–which Maine has clearly incorporated into its amendment:
“All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being...(5)”
The United States agricultural movement has led us to a current state of being largely controlled by a corporate monopoly, in which a handful of food corporations hold the power over what we eat, how it’s grown, and where it can be accessed. Beyond this power, we also face a consolidated ownership of seeds. Research into this monopoly reveals stark findings that only four companies control over sixty percent of global seed sales (6). Not only does this threaten the conservation and diversity of food, but it prevents our food system from moving towards a more food sovereign one–where food is grown using sustainable techniques and where the people hold the power in defining food and agricultural systems.
Enforcing Food as a Human Right
The right to food has included many definitions and interpretations, but one thing that remains clear is that states and local municipalities ultimately determine how liberal the application of the right to food can be. While Florida’s SB 82 Bill allows residents to grow food on their property for their own consumption, it does not acknowledge or establish ‘a right to food’ and includes exceptions dependent on ordinances regarding water/fertilizer usage and possible introduction of invasive species (7).
Comparatively, the language in Maine’s amendment exhibits the positive connotation of enhancing one’s health and establishing food as an ‘unalienable’ human right, which clarifies the idea that every Mainer is lawfully entitled to adequate food. The UN claims that the right to food is recognized under international law and thus involves legal obligations for States to realize sustainable food security for all. Although the U.S. signed a declaration supporting the right to food, it has not treated it as an enforceable obligation across the country (8). Maine is the first state to take the next step in enforcing this idea, through policy, and is leading the shift from food security to food sovereignty. This is a state to keep our eye on,
in order to learn from and advance our own statewide efforts to upgrade Florida’s vegetable garden bill to one that clearly endorses the right to food.
About Author: Lana Chehabeddine is currently the Research and Development Manager with the Florida Food Policy Council and the Program Manager for Food for Climate League. She holds a MS in Food Systems and Society from Oregon Health and Science University, where she researched the relationship between the nationwide empathy deficit and the tolerance for structural injustice within the US food system, and BS in Exercise Physiology with a nutrition concentration from the University of Miami. She aspires to tackle and shed light on large systemic issues and help build a more equitable and empathetic society.