Gathering to reimagine the food system

At the start of October, the Food Ethics Council brought together a group of people in the food system to explore whether we could reimagine the National Food Strategy as the Nation’s Food Strategy, putting citizens and communities at the heart of what happens next. We were welcomed at OmvedGardens, a beautiful growing space and garden in North London whose team is also asking big questions about food, growing, community and sustainability. It was a lovely, restorative and inspiring venue for us to explore citizen power in the food system.  

We challenged ourselves to name something we were excited for in the future food system. It was a big challenge, given the deep uncertainty we are in and the distress many of us are witnessing and indeed feeling in the face of the inequality crisis. But once we started, the hope came through.   

We were inspired and motivated by Rob Hopkins’ brilliant book From What is to What if, which invites us all to imagine a future where things turn out ok, where we have been able to face the terrible challenges facing us and tackle them by unleashing the power of communities. If you aren’t yet familiar with this work, there is a brilliant video here which explains better than I can. 

Using the power of asking ‘What If’, we tried to unlock the National Food Strategy from a citizen perspective. There was a clear, tangible energy from the people in the room that things CAN change, and indeed, things are changing. We need more visibility of the latter, and greater belief in the former. To put it another way, ‘What if we could spread the local action that comes from harnessing people’s empathy, energy and frustration?’.  We would have to start with knowing what is happening, and where. 

We know there are great things happening already in communities, towns and cities across the UK. You can see some of the ones we came up with here. Community gardens transforming an unloved patch of land, farmers trialling new ways of working, community cooperatives showing that there are markets for local, seasonal food and demonstrating different ways for citizens to be involved to name just a few.  

It’s important to say that we have a deep awareness that these pockets of hope do not diminish the scale of the inequities in the food system, nor the growing challenges in making sure that everyone has access to sufficient good, sustainable food. But identifying hope as a moment in time, as a way to remind ourselves that people power and citizen agency can and do make a difference to the many crises we face, is, we think, foundational to nourishing change. 

We acknowledge that there is no ‘perfect’ solution to fixing the food system. But we also know that there are solutions. Being led by the idea of progress not perfection can help to unlock pragmatic solutions that can make a shift now. And maybe nourish some bigger dreams that we can work towards.   

Overall, the aim for the day was to see if we could reimagine the National Food Strategy as the Nation’s Food Strategy. Not to let decision and policy makers off the hook, but to shine a light on the reasons for hope that do exist: people, agency and community. We are food citizens and together we can build a Food Citizen World. 

Photographs by Will Hearle.