Food aid1 comprises one of the most complex and misunderstood instruments of contemporary international policy, though it is widely perceived in simplistic terms of providing life-saving succor to an emaciated child in a desolate refugee camp. In donor countries, it is at once an instrument of domestic agricultural policy, development assistance, and foreign and trade policies, managed through both bilateral and multilateral agencies with heavy involvement from the private nonprofit sector as well as profit-seeking agribusinesses and maritime interests. All these actors make it difficult to appreciate the full range of motivations at play, how the appealing humanitarian image of food aid often gets manipulated for less honorable purposes, and the myriad effects food aid has in various arenas. Widespread misunderstanding feeds ongoing controversy over food aid and undermines food aid’s potential as an instrument of humanitarian and development policy, in particular, due to the use of food aid to serve multiple – and often inherently incompatible – donor objectives.