Skip to main content Accessibility help

Hegemony, Counter-Hegemony and Food Systems Literacy: Transforming the Global Industrial Food System

  • Nicholas Rose (a1) and Izo Lourival (a2)


National and global food systems are beset by intersecting and mutually reinforcing crises of public and ecological health. The locus of these crises resides primarily in the excessive concentration of corporate power and control. Deploying a Gramscian theory of politics as a contribution to the ongoing development of a critical food-based environmental education pedagogy, this article argues that transformative change requires the mass exercise of food citizenship directed towards the realisation of a socially just and ecologically sustainable food system, as contemplated by the principles of food sovereignty. The article argues further that food citizenship in turn presupposes levels of engagement and motivation that will only come from processes of transformative learning and critical consciousness-raising through an emerging form of environmental education: critical food systems literacy.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All
Altieri, M.A., & Toledo, V.M. (2011). The agroecological revolution in Latin America: Rescuing nature, ensuring food sovereignty and empowering peasants. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 38, 587612. doi: 10.1080/03066150.2011.582947
Alvaredo, F., Chancel, L., Piketty, T., Saez, E., & Zucman, G. (2017). Global inequality dynamics: New findings from American Economic Review, 107, 404409.
Ayers, J.A. (2008). Gramsci, political economy and international relations theory: Modern princes and naked emperors. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.
Azevedo Perry, E., Thomas, H., Samra, H.R., Edmonstone, S., Davidson, L., Faulkner, A., Kirkpatrick, S.I. (2017). Identifying attributes of food literacy: A scoping review. Public Health Nutrition, 20, 24062415.
Bello, W.F. (2009). The food wars. London: Verso.
Berry, T. (1999). The great work: Our way into the future. New York, NY: Bell Tower.
Birchfield, V. (1999). Contesting the hegemony of market ideology: Gramsci’s ‘Good Sense’ and Polanyi’s ‘Double-Movement’. Review of International Political Economy, 6, 2754.
Booth, S., & Coveney, J. (2015). Food democracy: From consumer to food citizen. Singapore: Springer.
Brambila-Macias, J., Shankar, B., Capacci, S., Mazzocchi, M., Perez-Cueto, F.J., Verbeke, W., & Traill, W.B. (2011). Policy interventions to promote healthy eating: A review of what works, what does not, and what is promising. Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 32, 365375.
Breunig, M. (2014). Food for thought: An analysis of pro-environmental behaviours and food choices in Ontario environmental studies programs. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 18, 155172.
Carrara, A., & Schulz, P.J. (2018). The role of health literacy in predicting adherence to nutritional recommendations: A systematic review. Patient Education and Counseling, 101, 1624.
Clark, P. (2016). Can the state foster food sovereignty? Insights from the case of Ecuador. Journal of Agrarian Change, 16, 183205.
Colchero, M.A., Rivera-Dommarco, J., Popkin, B.M., & Ng, S.W. (2017). In Mexico, evidence of sustained consumer response two years after implementing a sugar-sweetened beverage tax. Health Affairs, 36, 564–57.
Costanza, R., de Groot, R., Sutton, P., van der Ploeg, S., Anderson, S.A., Kubiszewski, I., Turner, R.K. (2014). Changes in the global value of ecosystem services. Global Environmental Change, 26, 152158.
Crosley, K.L. (2013). Advancing the boundaries of urban environmental education through the food justice movement. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 18, 4658.
Cullen, T., Hatch, J., Martin, W., Higgins, J.W., & Sheppard, R. (2015). Food literacy: Definition and framework for action. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, 76, 140145.
Davila, F., & Dyball, R. (2015). Transforming food systems through food sovereignty: An Australian urban context. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 31, 3445.
Desmarais, A.A. (2007). Globalization and the power of peasants: La Via Campesina. Halifax, Canada: Fernwood Publishing.
Donati, K., Cleary, S., & Pike, L. (2009). Bodies, bugs and dirt: Sustainability re-imagined in community gardens. In Lawrence, G., Lyons, K., and Wallington, T. (Eds.), Food security, nutrition, and sustainability (pp. 207222). London: Earthscan.
Farmar-Bowers, Q., Higgins, V., & Millar, J. (Eds.). (2012). Food security in Australia: Challenges and prospects for the future. New York: Springer Science & Business Media.
Foodbank Australia. (2017). Foodbank Hunger Report 2017. Retrieved from
Francese, J. (2008). Perspectives on Gramsci: Politics, culture and social theory. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Friedmann, H., & McMichael, P. (1989). Agriculture and the state system: The rise and fall of national agricultures, 1870 to the present. Sociologia Ruralis, 29, 93117.
Giroux, H.A. (2010). Rethinking education as the practice of freedom: Paulo Freire and the promise of critical pedagogy. Policy Futures in Education, 8, 715721.
Goda, T., Onaran, Ö., & Stockhammer, E. (2017). Income inequality and wealth concentration in the recent crisis. Development and Change, 48, 327.
Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks (edited & translated by Hoare, Q. & Smith, G.N.). New York, NY: International Publishers.
Hall, S. (1987). Gramsci and us. Marxism Today, June, 1621.
Harris, C.E., & Barter, B.G. (2015). Pedagogies that explore food practices: Resetting the table for improved eco-justice. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 31, 1233.
Hassanein, N. (2003). Practicing food democracy: A pragmatic politics of transformation. Journal of Rural Studies, 19, 7786.
Head, L. (2017). Hope and grief in the Anthropocene: Reconceptualising human-nature relations. New York, NY: Routledge.
Hickel, J. (2016). The true extent of global poverty and hunger: Questioning the good news narrative of the Millennium Development Goals. Third World Quarterly, 37, 119.
Hickel, J. (2017). Addressing the structural causes of world suffering. In Anderson, R. (Ed.), Alleviating world suffering (vol. 67, pp. 210). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
Holt-Gimenez, E. (2017). A foodie’s guide to capitalism: Understanding the political economy of what we eat. New York, NY: NYU Press.
Howard, P.H. (2016). Concentration and power in the food system: Who controls what we eat? London: Bloomsbury Academic.
IPES-Food. (2017a). Unravelling the food–health nexus: Addressing practices, political economy, and power relations to build healthier food systems. The Global Alliance for the Future of Food and IPES-Food. Retrieved from
IPES-Food. (2017b). Too big to feed: Exploring the impacts of mega-mergers, concentration, concentration of power in the agri-food sector. Retrieved from
Ives, P. (2004). Gramsci’s politics of language: Engaging the Bakhtin Circle and the Frankfurt School. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
Janssen, H., Davies, I., Richardson, L., & Stevenson, L. (2017). Determinants of takeaway and fast food consumption: A narrative review. Nutrition Research Reviews, 31(1), 119. doi: 10.1017/S0954422417000178
Kimura, A. (2011). Food education as food literacy: Privatized and gendered food knowledge in contemporary Japan. Journal of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society, 28, 465482.
Knox, M. (2015). Supermarket monsters: The price of Coles and Woolworths’ dominance. Melbourne, Australia: Black Inc.
Lang, T., & Heasman, M. (2004). Food wars: The global battle for minds, mouths and markets. London: Earthscan.
Lawrence, G., Richards, C., Gray, I., & Hansar, N. (2012). Climate change and the resilience of commodity food production in Australia. In Rosin, C., Stock, P., and Campbell, H. (Eds.), Food systems failure: The global food crisis and the future of agriculture (pp. 131146). Abingdon, UK: Earthscan.
Leung, T.L.F., & Poulin, R. (2008). Parasitism, commensalism and mutualism: Exploring the many shades of symbiosis. Life and Environment, 58, 107115.
Levkoe, C.Z., & Sheedy, A. (2017). A people-centred approach to food policy making: Lessons from Canada’s People’s Food Policy project. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 121. doi: 10.1080/19320248.2017.1407724
Lewis, C. (2009). Making sense of common sense: A framework for tracking hegemony. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 9, 277292.
Lozano-Cabedo, C., & Gomez-Benito, C. (2017). A theoretical model of food citizenship for the analysis of social praxis. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 30, 122.
McMichael, P. (2009). A food regime analysis of the ‘World Food Crisis’. Agriculture and Human Values, 26, 281295.
McNally, M. (2009). Gramsci’s internationalism, the national-popular and the alternative globalisation movement. In McNally, M., and Schwarzmantel, J. (Eds.), Gramsci and global politics: Hegemony and resistance (pp. 5875). Oxford, UK: Routledge.
Martin, J., & Peeters, A. (2017). Tipping the scales: Australian obesity prevention consensus. Melbourne, Australia: Obesity Policy Coalition and The Global Obesity Centre. Retrieved from
Massy, C. (2017). Call of the reed warbler: A new agriculture, a new Earth. Brisbane, Australia: University of Queensland Press.
Meyer, G. (2017, July 13). Cargill profits boosted by growing global appetite for meat. Financial Times. Retrieved from
Moore, J.W. (2015). Capitalism in the web of life: Ecology and the accumulation of capital. London: Verso.
Nutbeam, D. (2000). Health literacy as a public health goal: A challenge for contemporary health education and communication strategies into the 21st century. Health Promotion International, 15, 259267.
Nutbeam, D. (2008). The evolving concept of health literacy. Social Science & Medicine, 67, 20722078.
O’Kane, G. (2016). A moveable feast: Exploring barriers and enablers to food citizenship. Appetite, 105, 674687.
Palumbo, R. (2016). Sustainability of well-being through literacy. The effects of food literacy on sustainability of well-being. Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia, 8, 99106.
Parker, C., & Scrinis, G. (2014). Out of the cage and into the barn: Supermarket power food system governance and the regulation of free range eggs. Griffith Law Review, 23, 318347.
Patel, R., & Moore, J.W. (2017). A history of the world in seven cheap things: A guide to capitalism, nature, and the future of the planet. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Plume, K. (2017, 5 April). Monsanto second-quarter profit jumps on strong demand for seeds. Reuters. Retrieved from
Ramankutty, N., Mehrabi, Z., Waha, K., Jarvis, L., Kremen, C., Herrero, M., & Rieseberg, L.H. (2018). Trends in global agricultural land use: Implications for environmental health and food security. Annual Review of Plant Biology, 61, 14.114.27.
Raworth, K. (2017). A doughnut for the Anthropocene: Humanity’s compass in the 21st century. The Lancet Planetary Health, 1, 4849.
Renting, H., Schermer, M., & Rossi, A. (2012). Building food democracy: Exploring civic food networks and newly emerging forms of food citizenship. International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food, 19, 289307.
Richards, C., Lawrence, G., Loong, M., & Burch, D. (2012). A toothless chihuahua? The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, neoliberalism and supermarket power in Australia. Rural Society, 21, 250263.
Rose, N. (ed.). (2015). Fair Food: Stories from a Movement Changing the World. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press.
Rose, N., & Gaynor, A. (eds.). (2018). Reclaiming the Urban Commons: The past, present and future of food growing in Australian towns and cities. Perth: University of Western Australia Publishing.
Rowley, S., & Leishman, C. (2017, 2 August). Affordable housing shortfall leaves 1.3 million households in need and rising — study. The Conversation. Retrieved from
Sacks, G., Swinburn, B.A., & Lawrence, M.A. (2008). A systematic policy approach to changing the food system and physical activity environments to prevent obesity. Australia and New Zealand Health Policy, 5, 13. doi: 10.1186/1743-8462-5-13.
Sayer, A. (2015). Why we can’t afford the rich. London: Policy Press.
Schwarzkopf, S. (2018). Consumer-citizens: Markets, marketing and the making of ‘choice’. In Kravets, O., Maclaran, P., Miles, S., and Venkatesh, A. (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of consumer culture (pp. 435452). London: Sage Publications.
Slater, J. (2017). Food literacy: A critical tool in a complex foodscape. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 109, 1420.
Stapleton, S.R. (2015). Food, identity and environmental education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 20, 1224.
Stout, L. (2015, April 16). Corporations don’t have to maximize profits. New York Times. Retrieved from
Sullivan, K. (2017, October 11). Right to farm: Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance slams ‘bizarre’ plan. The Weekly Times. Retrieved from
Sumner, J. (2008). Eating as a pedagogical act: Food as a catalyst for adult education for sustainable development. In Thinking Beyond Borders: Global Ideas, Global Values, Proceedings of the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education (CASAE) (pp. 352356). Retrieved from
Sumner, J. (2013). Food literacy and adult education: Learning to read the world by eating. The Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 25, 7992.
Sumner, J. (2015). Reading the world: Food literacy and the potential for food system transformation. Studies in the Education of Adults, 47, 128141.
Swan, E., & Flowers, R. (2015). Clearing up the table: Food pedagogies and environmental education — Contributions, challenges and future agendas. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 31, 146164.
Swinburn, B.A., Sacks, G., Hall, K.D., McPherson, K., Finegood, D.T., Moodie, M.L., & Gortmaker, S.L. (2011). The global obesity pandemic: Shaped by global drivers and local environments. The Lancet, 378, 804814.
Tilman, D., & Clark, M. (2014). Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature, 515, 518522.
Truman, E., Lane, D., & Elliott, C. (2017). Defining food literacy: A scoping review. Appetite, 116, 365371. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.05.007
United Nations. (2005). Ecosystems and human well-being: Synthesis, millennium ecosystems assessment. Retrieved from
Vidgen, H. (2016). Food literacy: Key concepts for health and education. New York, NY: Routledge.
Vidgen, H., & Gallegos, D. (2014). Defining food literacy and its components. Appetite, 76, 5059.
Vivero-Pol, J.L. (2017). Food as Commons or Commodity? Exploring the links between normative valuations and agency in food transition. Sustainability, 9, 442.
Walsh-Dilley, M., Wolford, W., & McCarthy, J. (2016). Rights for resilience: Food sovereignty, power, and resilience in development practice. Ecology and Society, 21, 11.
Walter, P. (2013). Theorising Community Gardens as Pedagogical Sites in the Food Movement. Environmental Education Research, 19, 521539.
Weiler, A.M., Hergesheimer, C., Brisbois, B., Wittman, H., Yassi, A., & Spiegel, J.M. (2014). Food sovereignty, food security and health equity: A meta-narrative mapping exercise. Health Policy and Planning, 30, 10781092.
Weis, T. (2010). The accelerating biophysical contradictions of industrial capitalist agriculture. Journal of Agrarian Change, 10, 315341.
Willett, W., Rockström, J., Loken, B., Springmann, M., Lang, T., Vermeulen, S., Garnett, T., Tilman, D., DeClerck, F., Wood, A. and Jonell, M. (2019). Food in the Anthropocene: The EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet, 393, 447492.
Williams, R. (1973). Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory. New Left Review, 82, 316.
Willis, O. (2017, 12 October). What you need to know about the health star rating on foods. ABC News. Retrieved from
Wittman, H. (2010). Reconnecting agriculture and the environment: Food sovereignty and the agrarian basis of ecological citizenship. In Wittman, H., Desmarais, A.A., and Wiebe, N. (Eds.), Food sovereignty: Reconnecting food, nature and community (pp. 91104). Black Point, Canada: Fernwood Publishing.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed