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Diet, health and globalization: five key questions*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2007

Tim Lang*
Centre for Food Policy, Wolfson Institute of Health Sciences, Thames Valley University, St Mary's Road, Ealing, London W5 5RF, UK
Corresponding author: Professor Tim Lang, fax +44 (0)181 280 5125, email
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The present paper explores possible implications of the globalization of the food system for diet and health. The paper poses five key questions to clarify the relationship between food and globalization. The first question is what is globalization. The paper suggests that it is helpful to distinguish between economic, political, ideological and cultural processes. Globalization is also marked by internal oppositional dynamics: there are re-localization and regional tendencies which counter the global. The second question is whether there is anything new about globalization. Food has been a much traded commodity for millennia. The paper concludes that what is new about the current phases of globalization is the pace and scale of the change, and the fact that power is being concentrated into so few hands. New marketing techniques and supply-chain management consolidate these features. The third question is who is in control of the globalization era and who benefits and loses from the processes of globalization. It is argued that modern food economies are hypermarket rather than market economies, with power accruing to the distributor more than has been recognized. The fourth question concerns governance of the food system. Historically, systems of local and national government have regulated the food supply where appropriate. Now, new international systems are emerging, partly using existing bodies and partly creating new ones. The final question is of the future. Globalization is a value-laden area of study, yet its implications for dietary change and for health are considerable. The paper argues that dimensions of change can be discerned, although it would be rash to bet on which end of each dimension will emerge as dominant in the 21st century.

International and Public Health Group Symposium on ‘Feeding the world in the future’
Copyright © The Nutrition Society 1999



This paper draws on a current project on diet, health and globalization, and adapts earlier reports by Lang in Shetty & McPherson (1997) and Lang (1999).


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