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Reclaiming Narratives: Women's Role in Hungary's Food Sovereignty Movement

In recent years, there has been a notable resurgence in the promotion of local food systems as a form of resistance to the dominance of industrialised agriculture and corporate interests. At the forefront of this movement have often been women, whose crucial experiences and contributions have been instrumental in shaping the narrative of food sovereignty. Women are deeply involved in many aspects of the food sovereignty movement, from seed saving and organic farming to community supported agriculture and box schemes. Their manifold involvement is driving tangible change at the grassroots level.

Photo: Vlad Bagacian |

Despite the critical role of women in the food sovereignty movement, there has been limited research on the intersection between local food initiatives and women's empowerment in the Hungarian context. In a recently published article, we delve into this uncharted territory, exploring how women are taking control of their food systems, preserving traditional practices and fostering community connections. Through our research, we aim to shed light on the often overlooked dynamics of gender and power within the Hungarian food sovereignty movement, and to highlight the transformative potential of women's agency in reshaping the landscape of food production and consumption.

Academic discourse on civil society in Central and Eastern Europe has tended to focus on the perceived weakness of civil society, often analysed through Western frameworks. However, a closer examination of food sovereignty practices in Hungary reveals a different narrative, one that challenges this dominant perspective and highlights the resilience and robustness of local food networks in the post-1990s era.

A recent qualitative study conducted between 2020 and 2021 forms the basis of this reassessment. This study involved 25 semi-structured 'oral history' interviews with women actively involved in food sovereignty issues. The aim of this research is to challenge existing narratives and provide insights into the wider significance of local food production in Hungary.

The study outlined in the article has three main aims:

  1. Challenging misconceptions: A key aim of the research is to challenge common misconceptions about local food production in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary. Rather than seeing it simply as a pragmatic necessity, the study seeks to reveal the depth and significance of these practices in the Hungarian context. In doing so, it aims to highlight the multiple roles and importance of local food production beyond mere sustenance.

  2. Highlighting resistance: The article explores the central role of rural local food production as a form of resistance, challenging the notion that activities such as home gardening are confined to the domestic sphere without wider implications. It highlights the inherent political agency embedded in these practices, particularly in the face of external pressures and economic fluctuations. By highlighting the political and social dimensions of local food production, the study aims to underline its significance as a tool for resistance and empowerment.

  3. Amplifying women's voices: Central to the research is the amplification of women's voices within the food sovereignty movement. By prioritising the experiences and perspectives of women actively involved in these initiatives, the study seeks to provide nuanced insights into their roles within the movement. It also aims to shed light on the challenges and opportunities women face in navigating broader structural and historical contexts. By elevating women's voices, the study seeks to enrich our understanding of the complexities inherent in the food sovereignty movement and the diverse contributions of its participants.

The findings of the study focus on two main areas:

  1. Navigating crises and political-economic conditions: The paper examines the food sovereignty movement's responses to recurrent crises and the ever-changing political-economic landscape in Hungary since the 1990s. It highlights the adaptive strategies of local food producers and the resilience they've shown in the face of various challenges. By elucidating these responses, the study underscores the movement's ability to navigate turbulent times and its commitment to sustaining local food systems in the face of adversity.

  2. Shifting hierarchical dynamics: Another important aspect highlighted by the study is the dynamic evolution of hierarchical structures within the food sovereignty movement. Through a subjective assessment of these shifts, the article attempts to provide valuable insights into the changing power dynamics and the central role of women within these structures. By delving into these complexities, the study offers a nuanced understanding of how power is negotiated and distributed within the movement, ultimately shedding light on the evolving roles and contributions of women.

Ultimately, the primary aim of the article is to illuminate women's experiences and positionalities within the global food system from a Hungarian perspective. By focusing on their narratives and experiences, the study aims to challenge dominant narratives and provide a more nuanced understanding of food sovereignty movements in Central and Eastern Europe. Through these narratives, readers gain valuable insights into the multifaceted nature of resistance and the transformative potential of grassroots activism in shaping more equitable and sustainable food systems.

Photo: Elaine Casap |

Local food acts as a powerful catalyst for resistance, with women emerging as influential drivers of change. By elevating women's voices and narratives, we not only honour their invaluable contributions, but also acknowledge the profound impact of grassroots activism in reshaping the trajectory of food systems. Through their determination and perseverance, women in Hungary are not just tending crops, they are sowing the seeds of empowerment and catalysing social change.

To further explore how integrating women's experiences can strengthen the foundations of sustainable agriculture and cultivate a more equitable and resilient food system for all, read the full paper here:

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