Right to Food

What is the Right to Food

Everyone has the right to food. The right to food is essential for a dignified life and is vital for the realization of many other rights, such as the rights to health and life. Food is important not just for survival, but also for the full development of one’s physical and mental capabilities.

States are obliged to develop, individually and through international cooperation, a range of measures of production, conservation and distribution of food to ensure that everyone is able to access enough food to be free from hunger and malnutrition. In realizing the right to food, attention should also be paid to concepts such as food security (the sustainability of food access for both present and future generations) and food sovereignty (the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture systems). The right to food is not limited to merely having a certain number of calories and necessary nutrients in one’s diet; it means that everyone should have physical and economic access to food or the means of producing it at all times.

In its General Comment 12, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) provided detailed guidance to States regarding their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate food.

The Committee also noted that the right includes the following interrelated and essential features:


The food available for consumption must be appropriate in the prevailing social, economic, cultural, and environmental context.


Everyone should be able to obtain sufficient, quality food either through market systems or directly from land and other natural resources. Diets should contain a mixture of nutrients necessary for a healthy life and physiological needs, throughout the life cycle and according to gender and occupation. Food should be free from harmful substances and be culturally appropriate.


Access to food involves three key elements: non-discrimination, economic accessibility, and physical accessibility. Access to food must be without discrimination on the basis of any prohibited ground. The price of food should be at such a level that it will not compromise attainment of other basic needs. This may require special programs for vulnerable groups. Physical accessibility means that everyone should have access to food, particularly vulnerable groups such as children, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and those affected by natural disaster or conflict.


States must ensure, through the development of appropriate measures and regulation of private actors, that practices impacting on food, land or natural resources do not jeopardize the long-term availability and accessibility of food.

What kind of Food

What is food?

We tend to associate “food” with a product that we can buy in a store. Something that is drank, chewed and swallowed, and with enough nutrients and caloric energy that allow us to keep moving and staying alive. Yet, food goes beyond. Food is our source of life, identity and social relations. Food determines how we relate to ourselves, nature and others, and makes it possible for us to be born, grow, develop, learn, work, play, make love, give birth, breastfeed, and be fulfilled and socially active in our societies.

Can we really choose what we eat?

The answer is yes and no.

On the one hand, the current political context lies behind every meal we consume. Hundreds of decisions made through food politics are constantly influencing our lives. Be by our cultures, local authorities, national and international laws, or aggressive advertising, we are conditioned when it comes to eating. Behind the increasingly influence over our diets are large corporations, which more and more determine what it is on our plates. Without realizing, we might be prioritizing processed, fortified food, instead of fresh vegetables and fruits. Have you ever wondered why?

But on the other hand, we can proactively try to understand the world that surrounds us, the environment we depend on, and take action. Not only can we consciously make better choices when it comes to food, but we can also become politically active in a way that it contributes to the protection of all people’s human rights and nature. This brings us to the following question.

Is eating a political act?

Eating can certainly become a political act, if we want to.

While the tomato we buy at the local market might have grown in a sustainable way for the environment and might have contributed to the local economy of small-scale producers, the tea we are buying at the supermarket may drag a history of exploitation to tea plantation workers near our homes or on the other corner of the world. These options entail very different choices. If you want to be active against social injustice, this could be just the start. Yet, there is much more to do.

Why do hunger and malnutrition exist?

There is enough food to feed the world, so it is not a question of scarcity. Politics, economy and ideology are all at the very bottom of the structural causes that determine hunger and malnutrition around the globe. In other words, the inadequate intake of food of a family or a whole society may be the result of one or various reasons such as land distribution, income, sex and gender identity, discrimination based on race and ethnicity, to mention just a few.

Why work right to food and not food security?

Food security is the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
The right to food is more than a condition. It is the right that every human being has, alone or in community with others, to be free from hunger and malnutrition, to have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food – in quality and quantity – that is nutritious and culturally acceptable. It is also about our right to access all means for its procurement, like land, water and seeds, in a sustainable and dignified manner, while ensuring the highest level of physical, emotional and intellectual development.
As you see, food security is just an element of the right to food. Behind every violation of our right to food there is social injustice that needs to be tackled.

Why should we transform the global food systems?

Our mindset and the current ways in which food is produced must also change if we want to ensure that each person in the world is able to adequately exercise their right to food. Food sovereignty, as a political framework and agro-ecology as the key way to transform food production and consumption, are concrete alternatives to the predominant industrial food systems.

Transition to just and sustainable food systems is a must. This means moving from a focus on food as a commodity to a focus on food as commons embedded in socio-ecological and cultural contexts, putting people and peoples at the center, social equity and justice, striving for a democratic control over natural resources and wealth strengthening knowledge and skills of the small-scale food producers, working with nature and not against it, valuing food providers, reducing distances between food providers and consumers thus localizing food systems and strengthening local control of how food is produced and distributed.

Is there hope?

Of course there is!

But that totally depends on us. From fostering and buying at local markets and participating in food councils, to standing up against the violation of human rights of all people, we can prevent that 821 million of human beings go hungry every day. We can speak up against the dominant food supply chains that lead a billion more to suffering malnutrition, and advocate for sustainable and local food systems that makes us and nature healthy.

FIAN International believes that there is hope and tries to address all root causes of hunger and malnutrition, often unnoticed. You can become politically active in your community to support the struggle for the right to food, support our work, or all at the same time!