From consumers to food citizens: Three steps your organisation can take now

 In food for thought

As food citizens, we believe in the power of people. We want to and can have a positive influence on the food system. We also know that we express more of our true selves as citizens than we do as consumers.

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said: “Show people as one thing, only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” (Her TED talk here is worth the detour!) So what story do we want to tell?

Organisations working in the food and farming sector have the power to inspire and empower others to be food citizens too. We have a responsibility to help food citizens rise from our current consumerist era. How? Starting with these three easy steps:

  1. Shift our language

The language we use has a significant impact on how we perceive ourselves and others, how we define ourselves, what powers we think we have, what values we adhere to.

How often do we refer to others as consumers, whether in a food system context or not? Research shows that simple exposure to that word disengages even the most robust food citizens within us.[1][2] And what happens when we refer to (food) citizens? People become more trusting, more caring toward one another and more likely to buy into the importance of active participation in our society.

Examples: Rebel Kitchen, Wigan’s The Deal

 

Help! I can’t use the word citizen. What can I do? Don’t panic. Avoiding the word consumer is the first stage. Citizen is the most empowering word based on research, but they are other ways to frame people’s identity away from consumers. Use a word that is inclusive and empowering in your context. Rebel Kitchen talks about rebels. The Food Sovereignty movement talks about people. Wigan’s council talks about citizens. What is crucial is to be aware of which frame you find yourself in, in order to avoid being blinded by it.


Here is a fabulous table done by the New Citizenship Project to get you started!

 

  1.  Share our values

By treating people as food citizens, we inevitably connect on a deeper lever. We share our values, the things that really matter to us, more explicitly. In doing so, we attract others who also share those values and beliefs. Speaking to fellow pioneers across the moment, a key message was “Work with those organisations that share your values, and equally avoid working with those that don’t!”.

How explicit are we about these with our audiences (our customers, our members, our suppliers, our employees)?

What do food citizens stand for? Across the movement, we want to make the world a better place for people, animals and the planet. We believe in protecting those who are most vulnerable. We want to do the right thing for society to thrive now and in the future. We are resilient, persistent, inclusive, trusting, hopeful.

Examples: Incredible Edible, Sustainable Food Cities

 

  1. Empower our fellow food citizens

As we shift the way we speak to and about others, our perceptions shift too. By allowing our audiences to be food citizens, we open the door to a vast range of opportunities. By seeing others as food citizens, engaged and passionate people, the questions we ask them are inclusive. The information we provide is empowering. The power we give them is meaningful. When given the opportunity, we all feel empowered to catalyse and create positive change in and for our community.

Let’s all think of how we engage with food citizens, and where. How much do we invest in people and their personal development? How do we facilitate the opportunities and the platforms for sharing both best practice and lessons learned from failures? How do we let beneficiaries speak for themselves? How do we help our peers feel that they have power to create change for themselves and the community?

Examples: Riverford, Good Food Nation Bill Ambassadors

 

This is just the beginning. As we shift our perception of ourselves and others in the food networks around us, positive change will naturally emerge. So let’s talk to people as citizens, let’s speak and act our values, and let’s share and multiply our power with them.

 

[1] Bauer M.A. et al. (2012) Cuing Consumerism: Situational Materialism Undermines Personal and Social Well-Being Psychological Science [read paper]

[2] New Citizenship Project (2015), This Is The #CitizenShift: a guide to understanding and embracing the emerging era of the Citizen. [read report]

© Hugh Warwick 2019