Good news: people already care.
As citizens, we care about animals being treated humanely, about the wellbeing of the environment, about the livelihoods of those who grow and make our food. Don’t believe it? Before diving into the Food Citizenship movement, I didn’t either. And that’s because by only talking about the consumer, we are missing the bigger picture.
The Common Cause found that most people care more about things like ‘helpfulness’, ‘equality’ and ‘protection of nature’, than they do of ‘wealth’, ‘public image’ and ‘success’. In fact, their research found that 74% of respondents place greater importance on compassionate values than selfish values.
But hang on a minute, if citizens actually do care, ‘why isn’t everyone and every business demonstrating they care through every action they take?’
If our current line of work makes us feel that “people don’t care”, the Common Cause tells us that this is also quite common. In fact, 77% of respondents believe that their fellow citizens hold selfish values to be more important, and compassionate values to be less important, than is actually the case!
So the problem isn’t that we don’t care, but that we feel powerless to act. And when we feel powerless, we are more likely to blame others, shift responsibility onto them and ignore our impacts. It is simply too traumatic to feel responsible and powerless at the same time.
So really the question is: How do we get people that care to act?
First, we must show just how much we care.
We can begin by shifting our narrative from “if only more people cared” to “we care very much and so do our audiences”. We need to saturate our stories with what we do care about, rather than distorting the picture by focusing too much on those who ‘don’t care’.
When we think that others don’t care, we are less likely to engage, whether it is to volunteer, join meetings or vote (!). We feel alienated from our peers. We feel less responsible for our communities and don’t really feel like we fit in anyway. So by showing the true picture of how much we do actually care, we subtly and powerfully encourage our fellow citizens to engage and stand up for the kind of food systems we want – ones that are fair and healthy for people, the planet and animals.
Second, we provide a platform to empower food citizens.
Empowering others is a MASSIVE topic, but here are two core angles that can help us begin to think about it: How and Where.
- Invest in people and their personal development
This can include mentoring, training, networking, mental health. Anything that makes people experience action with positive outcome will nurture their confidence and sense of empowerment.
This could be learning to cook from Better Health Bakery or Lovebread, growing food with The Farmschool or Incredible Farm, or joining support networks like the Food Teachers Centre or The B-corporation.
- Share best practice
- Nurture positive organisational and community culture
Lead by example, clearly state your values and find mechanisms that support these, and listen to your community.
- Share power
Let beneficiaries speak for themselves. This can be done by creating ambassadors (e.g. Good Food Nation Bill Ambassadors, or with the Children’s Future Food Inquiry), or simply by creating a platform where they can share their experiences (eg: Rural Youth Project)
- Invest in regular meetings and networking to strengthen the community
This could be an annual AGM, or an event at the local school, or via a box scheme, or weekly meetings at the office.
- Provide welcoming spaces
We can also ensure that there is an accessible space (physical or online) for people to self-organise (e.g. Participatory City).
- In person
Even if meeting in person isn’t always possible, it is worth investing into it to strengthen the bonds between us. See how Divine Chocolate goes to Kuapa Kokoo’s annual AGM in Ghana, or how the annual ORFC energises pioneers in the UK food sector.
- Within a business
As shareholders (e.g. Riverford, Brewdog, the Co-op, CSA), buying shares to attend AGMs and hold the business to account, or as social enterprise incubators (e.g. Feeding the City). Employees also have a crucial role to play in shaping company culture. How are we supporting them?
- Within communities
- Within a government setting
- At school
This is an entire world in itself, but think of how we can inspire and empower children and young people in such ways that being engaged citizens becomes second nature? (e.g. Flavour school, The Farmschool)
Most importantly, it doesn’t have to be complicated nor is it about create more work for ourselves. What we can do is start with what we have:
- where and when do I have the opportunity to bring people together?
- what can I do in each of these spaces to empower people, make them feel part of a community (some initial ideas here – and in doubt, ask them!)
We can start today!