Harnessing the power of food citizenship

Earlier this month, a group of us had the opportunity to gather around the question “How can thinking of ourselves and others as food citizens, rather than consumers, help solve the challenges of our food systems?”.

After a warm welcome from Dan Crossley from the Food Ethics Council, Jon Alexander, co-founder of the New Citizenship Project, took us through the mindset shift that is currently happening in the wider world, from consumerism to citizenship.

Frankie Ball sharing Soil Association’s story

At the Food Ethics Council, we have been observing this shift accelerating in the UK food and farming sector. Since 2018, we have engaged with food citizenship pioneers across the UK food and farming systems, including individuals working in businesses and civil society organisations (CSOs). Through discussion seminars, system mapping workshops, in-depth interviews and analysis of different models and strategies of engagement in pioneering organisations, we have identified how to accelerate the shift away from consumerism and towards food citizenship. Our latest publication ‘Harnessing the power of food citizenship’ highlights what the key food citizenship principles are, and how we can, as an individual or within our organisations, translate those into simple actions to engage with people as food citizens rather than simply consumers. For individuals working across the UK food and farming sector, this report invites us to reflect on how we nurture ourselves as food citizens and how we can engage with others within our organisations and beyond.

To illustrate how this shift looks like in practice, we invited Frankie Ball from the Soil Association to share the organisation’s journey towards food citizenship (and you can read its story here – page 22-23). We were particularly inspired by the evolution of its Organic September campaign, which went from “choosing and buying organic” to “Together we can make a world of difference”.


Inspiration carousel

The Soil Association isn’t alone in pioneering the shift towards food citizenship. Twelve other organisations joined us on the day to share their stories and have meaningful conversations with fellow pioneers. Participants had the chance to:

  • Hear the story of how farmer and founder of Riverford, the organic box scheme company, Guy Singh-Watson made the notion of employee ownership a reality at Riverford.
  • Discover why and how the Soil Association, leading food and farming charity and organic certification body, has begun the journey of embracing the #FoodCitizenship mindset through its strategy and member engagement.
  • Hear how Good Food Nation Ambassadors were recruited to engage with local communities, increase momentum and campaign for a brighter future for Scotland’s food system.
  • Learn how The Co-op is taking steps to adopt #FoodCitizenship, including how it got its members to brainstorm at the AGM about what to do about plastics.
  • Learn from Climate Change Coaches how to coach yourself and better influence others so that we can all feel more capable about our environmental challenge and get into the kind of action that makes a difference.
  • Hear from Food Works fighting food waste in Sheffield and finding ways to empower its customers and staff.
  • Chat with Chair of Karma Cola and member of the Food Ethics Council, Albert Tucker, about how the Karma Cola Foundation was set up on the principle that the “communities we support know what’s best for them” and the ways the business tries to empower the farmers it works with in Sierra Leone.
  • Be inspired by the story of the powerful and inclusive movement that is Incredible Edible, whose purpose is to “create kind, confident and connected communities” and whose slogan is ‘if you eat, you’re in’.
  • Learn from award-winning cook, community food educator, urban agriculturalist and member of the Food Ethics Council Dee Woods on how they are trying to inspire grass-roots action at the local level with a range of community-led activities and Granville Community Kitchen’s ethos of “empowering community through food”.
  • Hear about why and how Tony’s Chocolonely – recently launched in the UK (having been born in the Netherlands) set itself a mission to make the chocolate sector slave free and how it involves their customers and other chocolate brands in their mission to end slavery.
  • Discover more about the CSA network that supports Community Supported Agriculture – a cooperative membership organisation that brings together CSA farms to connect, exchange their skills and knowledge and promote a fairer, more transparent model of food production.
  • Hear from Chernise Neo, founder of Proof Bakery in Coventry, whose mission is to “serve our community with really good bread and create fulfilling jobs for refugees” and who want to build “a business that provides a sense of dignity, purpose and belonging for its bakers”.
We took community at lunchtime seriously!

Open Space

After a communal lunch, and a brilliant and empowering session with Climate Change Coaches, participants were invited to propose the issues they wanted to discuss as a collective, using the open space format. The following questions were proposed and discussed:

  1. How can we bring a diversity of ideas into the National Food Strategy?
  2. Where are the synergies between positive mental health, food citizenship and healthy eating?
  3. How can food citizenship help us reframe poverty?
  4. How is the term ‘tribe’ negatively or positively impacting food citizenship?
  5. Can we coalesce around the big issues of our time – global heating + biodiversity loss and join as vegetarian/vegans/selective meat eaters?
  6. What defines an ethical food choice and how do we ensure people are making it despite barriers they might face?
  7. How can we bring existing food outlets on board with food citizenship, who see/treat food as a commodity?
  8. Based on everything today, what am I/you/we going to do (differently) tomorrow, next month and next year?

Each group had the opportunity to discuss the context on each theme, share inspiration, ask challenging questions and sometimes even elaborate key principles to keep in mind. You can read the full notes here.

What next

A key theme in the feedback we received at the conference, and since, is how can we all remain engaged with the ongoing food citizenship movement. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Use the #foodcitizenship hashtag to share what you are doing with the rest of the network
  2. Are you working in a particular area that you want to apply food citizenship to? Do you want to share your reflections on how food citizenship can help reframe health and obesity, poverty, food waste, climate change, or anything else that you are working on? We are looking for guest authors for this website. Please get in touch to bring your voice to our food citizenship platform (anna@foodethicscouncil.org).
  3. Do you want to organise your own food citizenship event? From team and community meetings to industry conferences, provide a space to reimagine how your particular area of work can be reframed with food citizenship.
  4. Do you have any ideas, opportunities, funding, to continue our gatherings? How can we continue the rich conversations we started on the 2nd October? Shall we co-organise pop-up events across the country? Is twitter enough to keep us connecting with one another? Can we explore webinars as a format to engage with one another?

See you all again soon!