In Africa, food systems intersect with dynamics such as demographic growth, urbanisation, and climate change, as African food systems are key drivers of livelihood provision, development, and human-environment interactions. The governance of African food systems shapes how food systems are changing as a response to these dynamics, which will have important social, economic, and ecological impacts for generations of Africans. This article positions large land investments in food system changes in central Kenya and northern Mozambique based on a large-scale household survey and interviews, and uses these findings to debate the concept of food democracy. Large land investments contributed to more modern food systems, which impacted land availability, household’s engagement in agriculture, and supply chains. These changes shifted power and control in local food systems. But even in the ‘extreme’ example of land investments, local perspectives challenge what could, and could not, be included in a democratic food system.