Right to Food Atlas

Right to Food Atlas


Development of a Right to Food Atlas to counter the dominant framing of food banking as a viable long-term solution to ending hunger and to display rights-based solutions.


The Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health and Social Justice takes issue with the dominant framing of food banking as a viable long-term solution to a food system that simultaneously produces extreme and unsustainable levels of environmentally destructive food waste in the midst of crushing levels of household food scarcity. Our aim is to disrupt the dominant single-story narrative around the corporate-backed food banking model rapidly expanding across the world as a response to household food insecurity. Mirrored on the North American and European roll-out of food banking networks over the past five decades, countries across the majority of the world are adopting a hunger relief model that benefits and celebrates a profit-driven food system that segments eaters along lines of disposable income.

In 2020, the Global Food Banking Network (GFN) and Harvard Food Policy and Law Clinic (FLPC) released a Food Donation Policy Atlas (FDPA) that claims to “serve as a vital solution to the challenges of global hunger and food waste” by making the legal and institutional bottlenecks for corporate food waste donations to charity visible to the public. FDPA solicits support for federal tax incentive and food donation policies that would facilitate the revaluation of food waste that largely benefit entrenched agro-food monopolies.  The GFN atlas centers food banking as a win-win intervention that reduces food insecurity while mitigating food waste. It also produces a discourse that reinforces the expansion of this model of hunger relief across the world.

However, decades of research into charitable food networks have clearly demonstrated that advancing household and community food security is about much more than simply connecting food waste to people living in poverty. Advancing policies that support the growth and institutionalization of food banking infrastructure reinforces the power of large profit-driven actors in the food system, while eroding public interventions, democratic decision making and transparency that are necessary to ensure the human right to food for all.


Our goal is to respond to the GFN atlas through a counter-map initiative that brings a rights-based, food sovereignty and food justice approach to bear on the global public’s understanding of the explosion of humanitarian food networks across the world, particularly in light of the precarities reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the explosion of this tri-sector private-public-voluntary model of food provisioning during this period. Our atlas will exhibit paths that enable government accountability and prioritize equity, participation, access to information and access to justice.

This action research project will elevate a perspective whereby food is an entitlement, a public good that has transformative potential to build a more equitable, and environmentally sustainable food system that guarantees access to healthy and culturally appropriate food for all. By engaging directly with front-line service organizations distributing food to the poor, collecting the stories of their labor and stories from people that depend on their services, we propose an alternative perspective on the role of civil society organizations like food banks in enacting such a future when these grassroots actors are supported by laws, policies and court decisions that advance the realization of the right to food and the principles of food sovereignty. 

Objectives and Outcomes

The GSA counter-map project has three core objectives: 

Visibility:  Expose the expansive and expanding footprint of food banking networks across the world. Mapping charitable food systems and the governance structures that enable them to operate in situ is an important step in understanding their form and function across legal geographies, social contexts and regional food systems. 

Narrative Change: Reclaim the moral arc of the food banking economy away from “common-sense” market-based solutions toward rights-based paths that demands governments to fulfill their obligations to shape and regulate the moral economies of food provisioning and the social contract between producers and consumers. Our The Right to Food Atlas will support a change in the dominant narrative around household food insecurity from food quantity to food quality, from pounds distributed to justice enacted, from left over food to sustainable production — to shift the impact that economies of care can have to shape transformational change to an unhealthy, exploitative, wasteful and environmentally destructive food system.

Popular Pedagogy and Advocacy: The Right to Food Atlas will create an opportunity to open public conversations and debates about food banking. The project will build knowledge networks around whom the laws and policies of our food system currently serve, whom they should serve, who has the power to write and influence the rules structuring our food production, processing and distribution. It will also foster grassroots food policy advocacy toward enacting the right to food in various locales. While the entry-point and focus will be specifically on the food banking economy, the project will highlight the broader role of food law and policy in a diversity of political jurisdictions, from municipal to national and even supranational scales to advance food sovereignty and the human right to food. 

The GSA Right to Food Atlas aims to tell a different story, one that will engage a diversity of voices to consider the possibility of challenging the future role of food banks in society. The simple yet powerful message of the human right to food will inform every layer of the map from qualitative to quantitative data collected for the project. The map will be designed to be easily accessible to the general public, while also geared toward community-based activists and policy makers challenging the notion that state governments are providing new channels of accumulation for food corporations to mitigate their inefficiencies through generous tax breaks, liability exemptions, reduced waste disposal fees and enhanced moral standing in the marketplace. The story we are telling is about democracy in the food system, about reparations for past wrongs and ecological commitments to sustainable and resilient food futures through a different kind of support system for anti-hunger networks, one that builds solidarity across difference and a common purpose to ensure the right to food for all. 

The final outcome of the first phase of this project will be an interactive web-map hosted on the GSA website, accompanied by pedagogical toolkits through which communities might begin untangling the complex webs of the food banking economy in their various locales and find openings to build grassroots power to demand the right to food. In the second phase of this project, the GSA team will incorporate a qualitative story-telling ‘deep map’ component that utilizes the power of the geospatial web, working in collaboration with people with lived experience of poverty to highlight the everyday realities and lived experiences of food insecurity and the care economies and mutual networks in place to mitigate it.