Summary Motivated by donor interest in innovative thinking on food security, we conducted an interdisciplinary, triangulation analysis of four divergent conceptual frameworks, each relevant to diagnosing food insecurity in developing countries. We found notable tensions as well as synergistic interactions between agroecology, agricultural innovation systems, social–ecological systems, and political ecology. Cross-framework interactions enhance our understanding of how sectoral and macro-economic development strategies impact on livelihoods, availability, and access. Re-invigorated, more profound dialog between divergent conceptual frameworks enables diagnosis of complex food insecurity problems, and context-specific interventions and innovations. Informed use of divergent approaches constitutes a new ambition for research and practice.