Food Justice in Scotland | Food Citizen Stories

One of the best tools we have in growing and strengthening the food citizenship movement is real stories about those who are doing it. These are both organisations that were set up with purpose, as well as existing businesses who have recognised that the old ways of operating no longer serve them, their communities or the planet. This series of interviews is designed to spotlight these stories, to provide inspiration and practical, pragmatic steps that can be taken to begin or deepen your practice as a food citizen organisation or business.  

Diana Garduño Jiménez, Food Justice Project Officer at Nourish Scotland

Our second interview in this Food Citizenship Spotlight series is with Diana, Food Justice Project Officer at Nourish Scotland. Nourish Scotland is an organisation that works from a whole systems perspective to transition to a just food system. Nourish collaborate with policymakers, communities, farmers, industry, and others, and always work to understand why change is necessary, address the root causes of inequity, and co-develop a transition that does not reproduce injustices in process or outcomesTo achieve this, the human right to food and food citizenship are key guiding concepts in their work. They centre people’s role not just as consumers but as people with the potential to co-design our food systems.

Diana's projects - in her words

The two projects I work on have the aim of empowering people to see themselves as agents of change. The first one is on agroecology, a way of farming which accounts for all the socio-economic-environmental systems involved, aiming to keep healthy relationships within and between them. This partnership project creates peer-to-peer knowledge exchange opportunities for farmers, crofters and growers across Scotland. It’s not about outside ‘experts’ coming and telling them what to do.  Instead, it acknowledges that farmers know their land, they know their place and they have the ability to make change. It’s about creating those spaces in which farmers can learn from and with each other.  

The second project is the Meaningful Participation Panel which aims to support local government to run meaningful public participation in decision-making processes. The context for this is Scotland’s recently passed Good Food Nation Act which requires each local authority to produce a local food plan. We know that for policy to be effective and efficient, and to actually make sense, people need to be part of making it. Often policy is made without people, creating friction because we don’t have ownership over it. Other times, people are involved but the way this is done is tokenistic.  

The Meaningful Participation Panel will advise local authorities on how to do meaningful public participation in the development of their local food plans. The panel was created through open recruitment – anyone with experience of participatory decision-making, from schools and youth groups to local or national government. This led to a wide range of people with different lived experiences becoming panel members. This includes those who are in the asylum process, those who are migrants, disabled people, people with long term health conditions, students, people of different genders, single parents.  


Why this work?

What drew me to this work is the practice of decoloniality, the process of moving away from colonial ways of seeing, being and understanding the world which underpin unjust food systems. I come from Mexico and have moved around a lot. This has enabled me to see different food systems and different ways of relating and being with food. Seeing how other food systems are not only are possible, but already exist and have existed for centuries, mostly under the stewardship of Indigenous people and campesines1 gives me hope to change unjust systems.  

For me, decoloniality is linked with the idea that people are capable of designing food systems, and they should have the structures and processes around them that enable them to do just that. I see the work that I do at Nourish as part of this, empowering people and moving away from certain ways of relating and producing food to different ones grounded in relationships of care for humans and non-humans.  

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘food citizenship’? 

I think food citizenship is an expression of the relationships between people and place and so naturally this will look different in different places.   

However, it is important to highlight the difficulty of using a word like ‘citizen’ as it raises questions on ‘who gets to be a citizen?’, particularly in the context of migration policy.  

Yet thinking about the term more loosely, ‘citizenship’ can also be about people being embedded in a place and thus in socio-environmental systems. The citizenship aspect can bring the idea of rights and responsibilities and the notion of care for these systems – like our systems care for us. So, it’s a recognition of our role in a system in a way that does not harm the system and enables co-benefits between other fellow system agents. 

I think food citizenship is about recognising that agency and moving away from a perspective that only sees people as consumers. Yet the key thing is to make sure people are empowered and enabled to exercise their agency. So, there is a need for people in power to ensure there’s participation structures based on equity that account for power and privilege.  


Can I ask about one of the risks of centring lived experience, which is that when it’s done badly it is really extractive? You can have people being asked to share their trauma and not being taken care of. I know that’s not how Nourish works, but could you say a bit about how you have considered that? 

For Nourish, involving people is about relationship-building.  It is about taking time to know the people that we’re working with and learning from and with them. It is not an extractive process where we ask people: ‘tell me what you think, and I will use it and you will never hear from us again’. Instead, it’s about valuing people’s times and expertise in practical ways like being remunerated but also in the way that the process is held.  

In the Meaningful Participation Panel, we have given people the option to choose whether they would like remuneration or to take part in a voluntary basis with other opportunities to be valued. The option to volunteer is to account for the fact that current migration and benefits policies do not allow people to receive an income but there might still be people under those restrictions that would like to take part.    

On how we hold processes to avoid extractivism, it’s about going slowly, building relationships and trust. It is taking time to get to know people, and for them to get to know you. It is about boundaries and needs in this process and always being guided by where people are comfortable to talk about experiences. For the Meaningful Participation Panel, rather than saying ‘we need people from certain demographics’ we focused on experiences, in this case those who had experiences of participation with that experience then being framed as expertise. They are an expert, and they get to share that expertise on their own terms. We also try to involve people in our projects from the start. In the Meaningful Participation Panel, although we have an agreed outcome, we do not have a defined process – this is being co-constructed as we move.  

What have been the challenges you’ve faced? Are there things you’ve tried that with hindsight you wouldn’t do again?  

With the agroecology project, I’m not a farmer, I’m not from Scotland and I’m part of an NGO based in Edinburgh. So, people can be rightly put off by this… ‘why is this person coming here to talk with us?’ Towards the middle of the project, a group member communicated these concerns. And I felt that I could have done a better job by taking more time at the start to talk to continuously say ‘this is what we’re doing, this is why, we’re not here to tell you what to do, we want to work together’. Also, if you keep communicating it can make people feel more comfortable giving feedback if they feel like the way in which you as an organiser can be improved.   

Another different thing is that I love doing games-based facilitation because I’ve seen it create open spaces for conversation. However, because often people can raise an eyebrow when doing those types of activities, I have sometimes stepped back from doing them. Still, whenever I’ve done interactive and creative activities they have led to better, more open and more participatory conversations. So, I think there’s something about having more confidence and not listening when I say to myself ‘these guys in suits, they’re not going to want to play a game, they’ll think I’m crazy’. Staying true to the creative practice is important. 


Who or what inspires you? 

Someone that inspires me a lot is Santos De La Cruz. He is my Nahuatl teacher. Nahuatl is one of the 68 officially recognised Indigenous languages in Mexico, although there’s many, many more that are not recognised. Nahuatl is the language of the region where I was born. It’s really interesting this relationship that many Mexicans have with this language because many of us don’t speak it. It’s generally not taught in schools; you are first taught English or German or French. And still, nahuatl is everywhere around us, most of the town names and food are in nahuatl or ‘nahua-tised’. In fact, chilli is a nahua word, chocolate (chocolatl) is and avocado (ahuacatl) too.  

My teacher Santos is incredible. He’s someone who really embodies taking things slowly, not taking things so seriously and not being so hard on yourself. He embodies a lot of non-capitalist values and different ways of seeing and being in the world. I’ve learned so much with him, and a lot about our relationship with food. He has this beautiful way of thinking that as Mexicans we are made of tlaoli (corn). This creates relationships of care and responsibility between humans and tlaoli which then underpin more socially and environmentally just food systems. It makes me think… what are people in Scotland made of? And how can thinking in these ways enable more just food systems to emerge? 

I also think that in a way, Santos De La Cruz dances within complexity. What I mean by this is that narratives can become overly simplified. For example, conversations around colonialism can be underpinned by ‘Western people are bad and people from the Global South are good’ and his teaching brings nuance to that. As an Indigenous person he moves away from this fetishizing of non-western ways of being, seeing the value in multiplicity and the opportunities to learn. And I think that’s always something good to remember throughout this work. That it’s always complex.  

Illustrated by Jem Milton

Tell me a story about an impact from your work or where your work has made a difference that you’re proud of.  

For COP 26, we were doing year-long Fork to Farm Local Dialogues which brought farmers and decisions-makers together to discuss how to work together for sustainable and regenerative food systems in the context of climate change. These dialogues were held in many different countries including Mexico, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kenya, Scotland and Wales. The different groups were then brought together in a Global Dialogue at COP26 in Glasgow. It was hybrid meeting where people from Indonesia discussed with people in Scotland the opportunities and challenges they faced, we danced a ceilidh and shared delicious local foods from around the world.  

The way that we held the meeting was critical. We encouraged people to bring an object that represented something that they were proud of. And this triggered the most beautiful conversations where people from different parts of the world found a lot of connections through the objects. For example, Scotland, Mexico and Kenya found that they had similar ancestral food-processing technologies.  

I think one of the best outcomes for me from this Global Dialogue was a reflection from a group of farmers in the Highlands on a conversation that they had with a group of Nahua people in Mexico. The reflection, shared on Instagram, was on how often the news and narratives prevalent in Westen countries about Latin America are about violence or so-called ‘under-development’. However, the Scottish farmers who had been experimenting with growing corn spoke about how these perceptions were all over-turned as they had the opportunity to speak with Nahua people about the milpa growing system (known as three sisters in English) which was developed by Indigenous people in Mexico.  

So, creating spaces which enable valuing and seeing people in the so-called global South as experts, those kind of kinds of connections is what I love the most about my work, because it is a direct contradiction to the logics of colonialism.  


What’s the one thing you want to leave people with? 

Recently, I’ve been learning a lot about how we have conversations. How our emotions come up and what we do with them. I think so many of us have so much learning to do in this space.  Often, we are having a conversation, but we get stuck on a surface level. I am saying one thing, but the other person is hearing something else and we’re both being defensive because we’re not actually hearing each other but we are in ‘you-are-close-to-something-that-is-difficult-for-me-and-I don’t-want–to-go-there’ mode. 

We don’t practice having slow conversations enough. Making sure we are actually hearing each other instead of responding to what we think someone else said. Thinking about how even a tiny change in language can shift a conversation so someone does not feel attacked.  For example, saying ‘what I heard you say is xyz’, as opposed to ‘you said xyz’.  

I think if we want to build food systems where people can be active participants in shaping them, we need to work on how we build relationships and how we speak with each other. It’s important to recognise that like anything, you never stop learning.