Since 2008, amidst fears of vulnerabilities related to climate change, price volatility and global food shortages, an increasingly conflicted policy field has emerged in the global south. Competing policy narratives provide for rival policy orientations with respect to food policy, land rights, the environment and justice. This paper considers the implications of different choices associated with these rival concepts in one case – that of Indonesian Kalimantan. The paper shows how predominant framings of 'food sovereignty', 'food self-sufficiency' and 'food security' support scalar strategies that empower particular actors and agendas. While narratives focused on national food sovereignty support large-scale food estates in ways that fit a particular politics of food, they overlook the specific livelihood challenges facing rural populations and the problems of food poverty in marginal landscapes. Localist narratives of ‘food sovereignty’ focus on enhancing smallholder access and control over productive resources and diversification in ways that are better suited to the geography of production, but they are yet to address the political anxieties presented by food questions at the national level. If policy choices are to deal with the underlying issues, then the alternative values, guiding assumptions and scalar strategies encompassed by rival narratives need to be appraised and reconciled with the specific livelihood challenges of rural people and the need to secure an inclusive and equitable society in a changing global environment.