A Brief History of Community Food Security

This post was contributed by Phil D’Adamo-Damery:

To follow up on the blog post from last week: community food security can be a challenging concept. In our work each of the three words are used in multiple ways in multiple settings—food systems, food security, community food systems, household food security, local food systems, plain old post-9/11 security, etc. The list goes on and on. As I have muddled through the idea of community food security over the past several years, I have found a brief history of the concept to be helpful in understanding why it was introduced into the U.S-based conversation in the mid-1990s.

Brief History

In the years following World War II, countries like the U.S. improved their agricultural productivity significantly.  (Relatively) cheap food was made available around the globe. But in 1972, in the midst of a global recession, the USSR experienced a large-scale wheat crop failure. Facing a crisis, the Soviets bought up vast quantities of cereals from the global market. As a result, the prices of global foodstuffs increased drastically. An international food crisis resulted. Poorer countries that had grown dependent upon inexpensive imported agricultural goods could not afford to the new higher prices.

This emergency spurred a global conversation about how to prevent such a crisis from reoccurring. The result was the United Nation’s World Food Conference in 1974. At this gathering a consensus emerged around the need to ‘secure’ the global food system from supply risks. In their conference report, the United Nations defined food security as the,

“availability at all times of adequate world supplies of basic food-stuffs…, to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption…and offset fluctuations in production and prices”

The concept of food security has continued to morph since the U.N definition. Some writers have suggested that there have been three consecutive shifts in making sense of the concept.

1)    A Secure Global Supply

The first was based on the World Food Conference focus on global supply; it was eventually modified to focus on households and individuals—the existence of a global supply available to all nations did not assure the food security of households and individuals within each country.

2)    Sustainable Livelihoods

By the mid-1980s practitioners and activists were finding that the first approach only addressed the immediate emergency needs of the global community. So began a focus on improved and more sustainable livelihoods could help prevent the emergencies from arising. In other words, stable political and economic systems were a fundamental component of food security.

3)    Quality and Ease of Access

The third shift, in the early 1990s, re-centered the focus of the previous two iterations on the quality of the food consumed and the anxiety that one might experience in procuring food. In short, nutrition and stable access were more important than the eventual consumption of basic calories.

Community food security emerged from this third shift. In the mid-1990s, a group of activists, practitioners, and scholars met to discuss the idea of combining the growing sustainable agriculture movement with issues of food security. Sustainably produced food could account for the food security activists growing concern with the food quality over calories while simultaneously bringing a new justice focus to sustainable agriculturalists. The group, which became the Community Food Security Coalition, lobbied to add community food security legislation to the 1995 U.S. Farm Bill—they succeeded, a mandate was added that supported community food projects. The legislation provided funding for projects that could “meet the needs of low-income people, increase the self-reliance of communities in providing for their own food needs; and promote comprehensive responses to local food, farm, and nutrition issues” (1995 U.S. Farm Bill in Gottlieb in Gotlieb & Joshi, 2010).




Anderson, M.D., Cook, J.T. (1999). Community food security: Practice in need of theory? Agriculture and Human Values, 16, 141-150.

Clapp, J. (2012). Food. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Gottlieb, R., Joshi, A. (2010). Food justice. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Hamm, M.W. and Bellows, A.C., (2003). Community food security and nutrition educators. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 35 (1), 37–43.

Maxwell, S. (1996). Food security: A post-modern perspective. Food Policy 21(2): 155–170.

Winne, M., Joseph, H., & Fisher, A. (1997). Community food security: A guide to concept, design and implementation. In H. Joseph (Ed.): Community Food Security Coalition.


Phil D’Adamo-Damery is a PhD candidate at Virginia Tech and a graduate research assistant with the Appalachian Foodshed Project.