Food Studies International Award for Excellence

Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the Food Studies Research Network.

Award Winner for Volume 8

Learning from Failure: Postwar Efforts to Establish a World Food Reserve

In the wake of World War II, policymakers in nations such as the United States, along with the leaders, staff, and representatives to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), sought to understand and address the short- and long-term causes of food and agricultural problems. This article examines the ways that tensions between national sovereignty and international problem-solving prevented the creation of a world food reserve that could be used to address food crises. For almost a decade, multiple leaders of FAO and panels of experts endorsed the value of establishing some form of reserve that the world could rely on in times of food emergencies. Through three waves of activity in the years after World War II—beginning with the ambitious World Food Board, the more limited International Commodity Clearing House, and the multiple expert-generated plans, including the exceptionally flexible Plan of Three Circles—FAO policymakers and planners were unable to overcome the reluctance of member nations to give up national control over even a limited aspect of agriculture and food production. This article examines the proposals made by FAO between 1946 and 1953 to explore the challenges between state control over agricultural production and international efforts to establish a world food reserve—challenges that persist today. Ultimately, we see that in order to better address global food insecurity, we must understand this critical tension between national sovereignty and international action.


I began the research that became “Learning from Failure: Postwar Efforts to Establish a World Food Reserve” in order to better understand why there is no permanent world food reserve to be used in the event of a famine or food security emergency. I teach classes about the history of the global food system, and one of the perennial questions my students raise is why, in the midst of almost constant food emergencies around the world, are response organizations always raising funds once a crisis develops? I found I did not have a satisfactory answer, so I began researching. As I started exploring sources to try and answer their questions (and my own), I came across a few references to efforts to establish a reserve in the 1940s and 1950s which encouraged me to keep exploring to come up with a more systematic examination of sources which resulted in the article. I was also motivated to complete the article as part of my commitment to public history by showing how historical research can be significant on its own merits but also help inform contemporary policy debates.

—Bryan McDonald

Past Award Winners

Volume 7

Food and Form-of-Life: A Philosophical Argument for Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture

Jody Beck, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp. 1-13


Volume 6

The Political Identity of Food: Partisan Implications of the New Food Politics

Rebecca Harris, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp. 1-20


Volume 5

Tradition and Modernity: Industrial Food, Women, and Visual Culture in 1950s and 1960s Italy

Dr. Silvia Bottinelli, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp.1-17


Volume 4

"Good" Food as Family Medicine: Problems of Dualist and Absolutist Approaches to "Healthy" Family Foodways

Julie M. Parsons, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp.1-13


Volume 3

A Program to Increase Dietary Consumption of Plant-based Foods among University Students

Catherine Faver and Tina Schiefelbein, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp.57-63


Volume 2

GM Foods Regulation: Coming to Terms with the Lay Conception of Risk

Lyne Letourneau, Olga Carolina Cardenas Gomez and Vincent Richard, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp.15-29


Volume 1

Food-Away-From-Home (FAFH) Expenditure Patterns for Ghanaian Urban Households: Effects of Income, Gender and Household Demographics

Robert Aidoo, Kwasi Ohene-Yankyera and Vincent Abankwah, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.1-14