Agriculture and Human Values

, 26:281 | Cite as

A food regime analysis of the ‘world food crisis’

  • Philip McMichaelEmail author


The food regime concept is a key to unlock not only structured moments and transitions in the history of capitalist food relations, but also the history of capitalism itself. It is not about food per se, but about the relations within which food is produced, and through which capitalism is produced and reproduced. It provides, then, a fruitful perspective on the so-called ‘world food crisis’ of 2007–2008. This paper argues that the crisis stems from a long-term cycle of fossil-fuel dependence of industrial capitalism, combined with the inflation-producing effects of current biofuel offsets and financial speculation, and the concentration and centralization of agribusiness capital stemming from the enabling conjunctural policies of the corporate food regime. Rising costs, related to peak oil and fuel crop substitutes, combine with monopoly pricing by agribusiness to inflate food prices, globally transmitted under the liberalized terms of finance and trade associated with neoliberal policies.


Food regime Value relations Social reproduction Agrofuels De-peasantization 



Thanks are due to Don Nonini for his comments on an earlier version of this paper, and to Hugh Campbell for his comments on the next version. Thanks are also due to three anonymous reviewers of a subsequent version, and to Harriet Friedmann.


  1. Altvater, E., and B. Mahnkopf. 1997. The world market unbound. Review of International Political Economy 4 (3): 448–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ambler-Edwards, S., K. Bailey, A. Kiff, T. Lang, R. Lee, T. Marsden, D. Simons, and H. Tibbs. 2009. Food futures. Rethinking UK strategy. A Chatham House Report. Accessed 17 March 2009.
  3. Amin, S. 2004. The liberal virus. Permanent war and the Americanization of the World. New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  4. Angus, I. 2008. Food crisis. ‘The greatest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model’. Global Research, April 28.Google Scholar
  5. Araghi, F. 1995. Global de-peasantization, 1945–1990. The Sociological Quarterly 36 (2): 337–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Araghi, F. 2003. Food regimes and the production of value: Some methodological issues. Journal of Peasant Studies 30 (2): 41–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Arrighi, G. 1994. The long twentieth century. Money, power and the origins of our time. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  8. Barta, P. 2008. The unsavory cost of capping food prices. Wall Street Journal, February 4.Google Scholar
  9. Berthelot, J. 2008a. Sorting the truth out from the lies about the explosion of world agricultural prices. Solidarité, May 18. Accessed 7 June 2008.
  10. Berthelot, J. 2008b. The food crisis explosion: Root causes and how to regulate them. Kurswechsel 3: 23–31.Google Scholar
  11. Bové, J., and F. Dufour. 2001. The world is not for sale. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  12. Bradsher, K. 2008. A new global food quandry: Costly fuel means costly calories. The New York Times, January 19: A1, A19.Google Scholar
  13. Braudel, F. 1969. Histoire et sciences sociales: La longue durée. In Ecrits sur l’histoire. Paris: Flammarion: 41–83. Original in Annales E.S.C., XIII, 4, Oct.–Déc. 1958, 725–753.Google Scholar
  14. Carlsen, L. 2003. The Mexican farmers’ movement: Exposing the myths of free trade. In Americas program policy report. Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center. Accessed 10 April 2009.
  15. Cha, A.E., and S. McCrummen. 2008. Financial meltdown worsens food crisis. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, October 26. Accessed 3 November 2008.
  16. Da Costa, D., and P. McMichael. 2007. The poverty of the global order. Globalizations 4 (4): 588–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Davis, M. 2001. Late Victorian holocausts. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  18. Davis, M. 2006. Planet of slums. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  19. Dugger, C.W. 2007. Ending famine, simply by ignoring the experts. The New York Times, December 2.Google Scholar
  20. Evans, A. 2009. The feeding of the nine billion. In Global food security for the 21st century. Chatham House Report. Accessed 8 May 2009.
  21. Fangione, J., J. Hill, D. Tilman, S. Polasky, and P. Hawthorne. 2008. Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt. Science, February 7.Google Scholar
  22. FAO. 2008. The state of food insecurity in the world, 2008. Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization. Accessed 10 May 2009.
  23. Foster, J.B. 2000. Marx’s ecology: Materialism and nature. New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  24. Friedmann, H. 1978. World market, state, and family farm: Social bases of household production in an era of wage labor. Comparative Studies in Society and History 20 (4): 545–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Friedmann, H. 1992. Distance and durability: Shaky foundations of the world food economy. Third World Quarterly 13 (2): 371–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Friedmann, H. 1993. The political economy of food: A global crisis. New Left Review 197: 29–57.Google Scholar
  27. Friedmann, H. 2005. From colonialism to green capitalism: Social movements and emergence of food regimes. In New directions in the sociology of global development, ed. F.H. Buttel and P. McMichael. Oxford: Elsevier Press.Google Scholar
  28. Friedmann, H., and P. McMichael. 1989. Agriculture and the state system: The rise and fall of national agricultures, 1870 to the present. Sociologia Ruralis 29 (2): 93–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Friedmann, H., and A. McNair. 2008. Whose rules rule? Contested projects to certify ‘local production for distant consumers’. Journal of Agrarian Change 8 (2–3): 408–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gallagher, E. 2008. The Gallagher review of the indirect effects of biofuels production. UK: UK Government, Renewable Fuels Agency.Google Scholar
  31. Goodall, C. 2008. Burning food: Why oil is the real villain in the food crisis. Guardian, May 30.Google Scholar
  32. GRAIN. 2007. Agrofuels special issue. Seedling, July.Google Scholar
  33. GRAIN. 2008a. Making a killing from hunger. Against the Grain. Accessed 18 May 2008.
  34. GRAIN. 2008b. Seed aid, agribusiness and the food crisis. Seedling. October.Google Scholar
  35. GRAIN. 2008c. Seized. The 2008 land grab for food and financial security. Briefings, October. Accessed 11 May 2009.
  36. Greenfield, H. 2007. Rising commodity prices & food production: The impact on food & beverage workers. International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), December.Google Scholar
  37. Greenpeace. 2007. How the palm oil industry is cooking the climate. Accessed 18 May 2008.
  38. Halperin, S. 2005. Trans-local and trans-regional socio-economic structures in global development: A ‘horizontal’ perspective. In New directions in the sociology of global development, ed. F.H. Buttel and P. McMichael. Oxford: Elsevier Press.Google Scholar
  39. Harvey, D. 2003. The new imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Holt-Giménez, E. 2007. Biofuels: Myths of the agrofuels transition. Food First Backgrounder 13 (2): 1–4.Google Scholar
  41. Holt-Giménez, E., and I. Kenfield. 2008. When ‘renewable isn’t sustainable.’ Agrofuels and the inconvenient truths behind the 2007 U.S. energy independence and security act. Policy Brief No 13. Oakland: Institute for Food and Development Policy.Google Scholar
  42. Howard, A., and B. Dangl. 2007. The multinational beanfield war. Soy cultivation spells doom for Paraguayan Campesinos. In These Times, April 14.Google Scholar
  43. IATP. 2008. Commodities market speculation: The risk to food security and agriculture. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, November. Accessed 5 December 2008.
  44. Kaufman, F. 2009. Let them eat cash. Can Bill Gates turn hunger into profit? Harpers Magazine, June: 51–59.Google Scholar
  45. Kneen, B. 2002. Invisible giant. Cargill and its transnational strategies. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  46. Krugman, P. 2008. Grains gone wild. The New York Times, April 7: A21.Google Scholar
  47. Kwa, A. 2007. The Doha round—if truth be told. Focus on the global south. Accessed 12 April 2008.
  48. Leahy, S. 2008. Biofuels and food prices. Inter-Press Service News Agency. Accessed 15 June 2008.
  49. Madeley, J. 2000. Hungry for trade. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  50. Manning, R. 2004. The oil we eat: Following the food chain back to Iraq. Harpers 308 (1945): 37–45.Google Scholar
  51. Marx, K. 1967. Capital, vol. 1. Moscow: Progress Publishers.Google Scholar
  52. McMichael, P. 1999. The global crisis of wage-labour. Studies in Political Economy 58: 11–40.Google Scholar
  53. McMichael, P. 2003. Food security and social reproduction: Issues and contradictions. In Power, production, social reproduction, ed. I. Bakker and S. Gill. London: Palgrave MacMillan.Google Scholar
  54. McMichael, P. 2005. Global development and the corporate food regime. In New directions in the sociology of global development, ed. F.H. Buttel and P. McMichael. Oxford: Elsevier Press.Google Scholar
  55. McMichael, P. 2008a. Peasants make their own history, but not just as they please…. Journal of Agrarian Change 8 (2/3): 205–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. McMichael, P. 2008b. Agrofuels, food security and the metabolic rift. Kurswechsel 3: 14–22.Google Scholar
  57. McMichael, P. 2008c. The peasant as ‘canary’? Not too early warnings of global catastrophe. Development 51 (4): 504–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. McMichael, P. 2009a. Banking on agriculture: A review of the world development report 2008. Journal of Agrarian Change 9 (2): 235–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. McMichael, P. 2009b. A food regime genealogy. Journal of Peasant Studies 36 (1): 139–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. McMichael, P., and H. Friedmann. 2007. Situating the retailing revolution. In Supermarkets and agri-food supply chains, ed. D. Burch and G. Lawrence. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  61. Myers, N., and J. Kent. 2003. New consumers: The influence of affluence on the environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 100 (8): 4963–4968.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Nadal, A. 2008. Precios de alimentos: adiós al factor China. La Jornada, June 11. Accessed 15 January 2009.
  63. Paasch, A. 2008. World agricultural trade and human rights: Case studies on violations of the right to food of small farmers. Confronting the global food challenge. FIAN. Accessed 12 February 2009.
  64. Patel, R. 2007. Stuffed and starved. Markets, power and the hidden battle over the world’s food system. London: Portobello Books.Google Scholar
  65. Patel, R. 2008. The story of rice. Raj’s Blog, April 5. Accessed 10 April 2008.
  66. Patel, R., and P. McMichael. 2009. A political-economy of the food riot. Review 32 (1).Google Scholar
  67. Patnaik, P. 2008. The accumulation process in the period of globalisation. Economic & Political Weekly 28: 108–113.Google Scholar
  68. Pechlaner, G., and G. Otero. 2008. The third food regime: Neoliberal globalism and agricultural biotechnology in North America. Sociologia Ruralis 48 (4): 351–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Philpott, T. 2006. Feeding the beast. Grist, December 13.Google Scholar
  70. Philpott, T. 2007. Bad wrap. Grist, February 22.Google Scholar
  71. Pollan, M. 2002. The life of a steer. The New York Times, March 31.Google Scholar
  72. Pritchard, B., and D. Burch. 2003. Agri-food globalization in perspective. International restructuring in the processing tomato industry. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  73. Public Citizen. 2001. Down on the farm: NAFTA’s seven-year war on farmers and ranchers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. June 26. Washington, DC: Public Citizen. Accessed 7 June 2003.
  74. Ray, D. 2008. Data show that China’s more meat-based diet is NOT the cause of ballooned international corn prices? Agricultural Policy Analysis Center. Accessed 12 March 2009.
  75. Reardon, T., and C.P. Timmer. 2005. Transformation of markets for agricultural output in developing countries since 1950: How has thinking changed? In Handbook of agricultural economics. Agricultural development: Farmers, farm production and farm markets, ed. R.E. Evenson, P. Pingali, and T.P. Schultz. Oxford: Elsevier Press.Google Scholar
  76. Ritchie, M. 1988. Impact of GATT on food self-reliance and world hunger. Minneapolis: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.Google Scholar
  77. Rosset, P. 2006. Food is different. Why we must get the WTO out of agriculture. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  78. Shattuck, A. 2008. The financial crisis and the food crisis: Two sides of the same coin. Food First, September. Accessed 15 November 2008.
  79. Slackman, M. 2008. In Egypt, technology helps spread discontent of workers. The New York Times, April 7: A6.Google Scholar
  80. Vía Campesina. 2000. Declaration of the international meeting of the landless in San Pedro Sula. Honduras, July.Google Scholar
  81. Vía Campesina. 2008. A response to the global food prices crisis. Accessed 15 April 2009.
  82. Vidal, J. 2007. Climate change and shortages of fuel signal global food crisis. Guardian Weekly, 11 September: 3.Google Scholar
  83. Wahl, P. 2008. Food speculation. The main factor of the price bubble in 2008. Briefing paper, world economy, ecology & development. Berlin. Accessed 7 June 2008.
  84. Waldman, A. 2002. Poor in India starve as surplus wheat rots. The New York Times, December 2.Google Scholar
  85. Walker, R. 2005. The conquest of bread. 150 years of agribusiness in California. New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
  86. Walton, J., and D. Seddon. 1994. Free markets & food riots: The politics of global adjustment. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Development SociologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

Personalised recommendations