Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gerard Hauser

Second Advisor

John Ackerman

Third Advisor

Lisa Keränen


This is an exploratory study of a contemporary food controversy that also pilots an orientation to rhetorical criticism, which I call rhetorical geography. The contemporary agriculture system, which has reduced global hunger over the last half century, is also laden with problems that impact health, the environment, and rural communities. In 2008, people all over the world rioted in response to increased prices for storable commodities. Critical food scholars and rural activists suggest the riots are the result of a multitude of factors including land reform measures that have minimized subsistence farmland, the industrialization of agriculture, seed patents, subsidies for agriculture, unethical banking practices, and a neoliberal informed agriculture system. For global elites--politicians, policy makers, scientists, academics, corporate moguls from food transnationals--the riots present a moral problem that poses a threat to national security, called "food security." While elites propose market solutions based on the principles of economic liberalism, called neoliberalism, to alleviate food and agricultural problems, peasants and activists are calling for "food sovereignty" or the right to sustainably raise culturally appropriate food for local communities. My analysis of food security and food sovereignty is driven by an orientation to criticism that I call a rhetorical geography, which I outline in chapter 2. In chapter 3, I analyze the discourse of neoliberalism, which influences articulations of food security and sovereignty. The neoliberal promise is that the free market can correct food inequalities facing the global poor. This discourse influenced the proceedings of two Senate Foreign Relations Committee meetings, a Borlaug Dialogue, and an issue of Science magazine all of which were designed to influence food security policy. In chapter 5, I examine the essays and modes of resistance employed by proponents of food sovereignty who are fundamentally opposed to the discourse of neoliberalism and therefore food security. The debate between proponents of food sovereignty and food security not only reveals the contemporary status of food and agriculture, but the way rhetoric influences the nature of this problem and solutions. I argue that the discourse of neoliberalism influences counterfactual perceptions of the market, food, and agriculture.