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By: Randa Larsen, Volume 107 Staff Member

On November 2, 2021, Maine voters did something no other state in the United States has done—they approved an amendment that sets out a constitutional right to food.[1] This Amendment did not come out of thin air. Before the approval, Maine had a food sovereignty law that advocated for more local control over and deregulation of food systems.[2] These laws mark the beginning of the United States moving more into the international conversations regarding food sovereignty and the right to food—which it has largely avoided.[3] This movement could help decrease occurrences of food insecurity and hunger resulting from distribution problems present in the broader industrially dominated food system. Other states that have enacted food-based laws pursuing similar goals, may follow Maine’s lead, resulting in widespread impacts to American food systems.


A. Maine Leading the Pack: The State’s History with Food Sovereignty and Right-to-Food

Maine’s food sovereignty movement consists primarily of small farmers, libertarians, and back-to-land, anti-corporate control activists who agree that local communities should have more say in the future of their food system and supply. In 2017, Maine enacted a food sovereignty law, the first of its kind in the United States.[4] This law allowed local governments to give small food producers and farmers the green light to sell directly to customers on-site and encouraged self-sufficiency in food production.[5]

Then, in 2021, Maine voters were faced with the proposition to create an amendment to the state’s constitution to establish a right to food. Based on unofficial results, roughly 60 percent of voters approved the Amendment.[6] When approved, the Amendment read: “This constitutional resolution declares that all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being.”[7] The Amendment’s purpose is to ensure the right of individuals to grow crops and raise livestock during a time when industrial agriculture and corporatization threatened local and community ownership of food supplies.[8] Opponents of the Amendment critique it for being deceptively vague and threatening to food safety. The Maine Farm Bureau, the most extensive farming advocacy in the state, stated that “Maine’s reputation for some of the best food and best restaurants in the nation is just too important to risk on a vague statement of rights that won’t satisfy anyone.”[9] Nevertheless, the Amendment passed, and the nonprofit WhyHunger called it “a transformative step in ensuring the protection of food as an unequivocal basic human right.”[10]

Typically, in the international community and among some indigenous groups in the United States, food sovereignty is rooted in social and cultural meanings that communities assign to food—beyond access, quality, and equity.[11] The movement takes on a more rights-based approach, prioritizing food as a way of life with individuals and groups having a constant right to good, healthy, culturally appropriate foods. Foods that, due to centuries of oppression and/or dependence on government commodities for sustenance, may have been taken away from them. Thus, activists rely on food sovereignty and right-to-food frameworks to push for new trade systems, agrarian practices, and the protection of indigenous rights. However, “as the concept of food sovereignty has made its way to the United States, the term has taken on a bit of a libertarian bent . . . and [the American Movement] seems to manifest a desire to avoid regulations that currently govern food production.”[12] The history of the United States food legislation demonstrates this by focusing on deregulation of food rather than prioritizing a social rights-based approach.

Maine has broken that trend by prioritizing increased participation and resistance to industrial development, industrial agriculture, and unbalanced power in trade and policymaking by food-insecure groups. Maine’s approach recognizes the human right-to-food, and vice versa, requiring shifts in power from monopolistic concentrations of power in the food system to community-based decision-making.[13]

B. Expanding the Field: Other States’ Enactments of Similar Laws

While no other state has enacted legislation like the Right-to-Food Amendment in Maine, other states have passed laws like food freedom bills that ensure more locally produced food with less regulation.[14] In particular, Montana passed the Montana Local Food Choice Act in 2021.[15] This Act’s purpose is to facilitate the purchase and consumption of local agricultural products, enhance the community around agriculture, and provide Montana citizens with unimpeded access to healthy food so that they know where it came from.[16] Similarly, Wyoming passed the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, the nation’s first food freedom law in 2015, exempting homemade foods from state food safety requirements and allowing for the sale and consumption of homemade goods.[17] Finally, in Colorado, the Ranch to Plate Act passed in 2021 deregulates the sale of livestock and meat generally directly to consumers.[18] All of these acts represent a general trend toward more localized control of a community’s food supply. However, food freedom laws and their proponents often lack some ideological and cultural bond. Unlike other countries and international bodies approach to food legislation, these laws generally lack this explicit idea of food as a human right—although that may be the next step.[19]


Maine’s Right-to-Food Amendment could spur more legislative actions among the states regarding the right-to-food and food sovereignty. Other states, particularly those with food freedom laws, can look to Maine to expand and incorporate food as a human right instead of only focusing on deregulation of food production. Passing food rights legislation, like this Right-to-Food Amendment, is a steppingstone for Americans seeking answers to food insecurity.[20] The Maine Amendment’s sponsor stated that the legislation would help individuals fight hunger and regain control over food systems and supply during times when corporations dominate.[21]

Food sovereignty and the right to food are related to food security—primarily concerned with food availability.[22] More right-to-food legislation fills this gap by helping to ensure the ultimate end goal that every person has access to sustainable, good, healthy, and culturally appropriate food. Food that meets these requirements for the communities that produce and consume it and the connected environment. Doing so ensures that those in low-income communities can control more of the food system they partake in. Thus, food security can benefit from adding in these elements of food sovereignty and the right to food concepts—the “precondition[s] to genuine food security. . .”.[23] Such action combats the food supply being run by unsustainable, industrial, agricultural practices. Additionally, food could also become less of a tradeable commodity and more like a right. And finally, since hunger frequently results from distribution problems, moving toward a right to food will help ensure the holes in the current food supply system are filled.[24]

Overall, right-to-food legislation requires grassroots mobilization. Regardless of the motivation, social movements are necessary for change to occur regarding food systems. Nevertheless, as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right-to-Food stated “One doesn’t have to wait for a constitutional change, one can implement the right to food through any form of government, any level of government, any public agency or institution.”[25] Thanks to Maine’s boldness, the seeds have been planted for food policy change, and we can expect to see an increase in not only legislation, but social movements forming around the right to food in the United States.


[1] See Taylor Telford, Maine Just Voted to Become the Nation’s First “Right to Food” State. What Does That Mean?, Wash. Post (Nov. 3, 2021), [].

[2] See The Right to Produce and Access Land, Position of the Vía Campesina on Food Sovereignty Presented at the World Food Summit (1996) (defining food sovereignty as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their food and agriculture systems”); see also Annette Aurélie Desmarias, La Vía Campesina: Globalization and the Power of Peasants 34 (Robert Clarke, ed., 2007).

[3] See Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 12: The Right to Adequate Food, ¶ 6, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1999/5 (May 12, 1999) (defining the right to food in the international context as “when every man, woman and child, alone or in a community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement”).

[4] Maine Food Sovereignty Act, Me. Stat. tit. 7, ch. 8-F § 283 (2017) (encouraging “food self-sufficiency for its citizens,” focusing on protecting small family farms’ ability to operate, and helping communities legislate and administer rules over food production that was tailored to the needs of the community).

[5] Julia Bayly, Tues 6AM: LePage Signs Food Sovereignty Law, the First of Its Kind in the Nation, Bangor Daily News (June 19, 2017), [].

[6] Maine Question 3, Right to Produce, Harvest, and Consume Food Amendment (2021), Ballotpedia,,_Right_to_Produce,_Harvest,_and_Consume_Food_Amendment_(2021) [].

[7] Me. Const. art. I, § 25.

[8] Patrick Whittle, Maine Passes Nation’s 1st “Right to Food” Amendment, AP News (Nov. 2, 2021), [].

[9] Maine Farm Bureau, Facebook (Oct. 22, 2021), []; Editorial: No on Question 3, but Support Other Efforts to Grow Local Food Systems, Bangor Daily News (Oct. 21, 2021), [].

[10] Press Room, WhyHunger []; see also Telford, supra note 1.

[11] See Elizabeth Hoover, ‘You Can’t Say You’re Sovereign if You Can’t Feed Yourself’: Defining and Enacting Food Sovereignty in American Indian Community Gardening, 41 Am. Indian Culture & Rsch. J. 59 (2017).

[12] Sarah Schindler, Food Federalism: States, Local Governments, and the Fight for Food Sovereignty, 79 Ohio State L. J. 761, 768 (2018).

[13] Maria Chilton & Donald Rose, A Rights-Based Approach to Food Insecurity in the United States, 99 Am. J. Pub. Health 1203, 1207 (2009).

[14] Alexia Kulwiec, Food Freedom Legislation Roundup: Is Your State Moving Ahead?, Farm-To-Consumer Legal Def. Fund (Aug. 12, 2021), [].

[15] S.B. 199, 67th Leg. (Mont. 2021).

[16] Id., at § 1 (articulating the purpose of the Montana Local Food Choice Act).

[17] H.B. 118, 67th Leg. (Wyo. 2021); H.B. 56, 63d Leg. (Wyo. 2015). Also note that these pieces of legislation have been subsequently amended, but the overall meaning remains.

[18] S.B. 21-079, 74th Leg. (Colo. 2021).

[19] See e.g., Ecuador Const., art. 281; Const. of the Bolivarian Republic of Venez., art. 305; Organic Law of Food Security and Sovereignty, art. 9 (July 31, 2008); Bol. Const., art. 309 § 4; G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 11(2)(a) and 11(2)(b), Dec. 10, 1948 (“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself, his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services . . . .”).

[20] Xander Peters, If You Bake It, Can You sell It? A “Right to Food Movement Grows, Christian Sci. Monitor (Jan 31, 2022), [].

[21] Tess Brennan, Maine Becomes the First US State to Recognize the Right to Food in a Constitutional Amendment, Universal Rts. Grp. (Jan. 19, 2022), [].

[22] See Janet Poppendieck, The USA: Hunger in the Land of Plenty, in Frist World Hunger 134, 134 (Graham Riches ed., 1997); FAO, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2001 49 (2001).

[23] Raj Patel, Food Sovereignty, 36 J. Peasant Stud. 665, 665 (2009); see also Ana María Suárez Franco, The Human Right to Food: Lessons Learned Toward Food Systems Transformation, in COVID-19 and Human Rights, 193, 193 (Morten Kjaerum, Martha F. Davis, & Amanda Lyons eds., 2021).

[24] Hannah Wittman, Food Sovereignty: A New Rights Framework for Food and Nature?, 2 Env’t & Soc’y 87, 90–91 (2011).

[25] Michael Fakhri, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Food, Housing, & Racial Just. Symp. (Nov. 10, 2022), [on file with author].