Building food resilience

When it comes to food, the role we are usually given as individuals is of the consumer, choosing between products and using our wallets to vote on where and how our food is produced and processed. However, this story about ourselves and our agency in shaping this food system is, at best, incomplete.

Food citizenship is based on three key principles:


Reframe – We are naturally disposed to care, and we need a deeper sense of purpose in our lives.


Empower – We need to have meaningful power in order to sustain that care and purpose.


Connect – We need the support of a community to thrive.

After spending two years (2018-2019) learning about what food citizenship looks like in practice across the UK food and farming sector, the Food Ethics Council is using this framework to explore what it means in the context of household food insecurity. 

There is no place where the consumer story fails more than when people can’t afford good food, i.e. nutritious, sustainable and culturally appropriate food. We recognise that having enough money in your pocket is vitally important. In addition to this though, food citizenship allows us to reframe poverty to disempowerment, expanding the debate beyond simply an economic one, and shedding light on the multiple ways in which resilience – both for individuals and for communities, can be re-built and nurtured.

As we collectively try and tackle household food insecurity, we experience the ongoing tension between the immediate need for food, and the need for a long-term resilience strategy. While some of us are under great pressures to deliver food to those in need – even more so now in light of COVID-19, others can come together to brainstorm what this long-term strategy could look like in the UK.

Can we ease the pressures our colleagues face, and eventually remove the need for emergency food aid alltogether?

At the Food Ethics Council, we have started a process to co-develop this long-term strategy and develop a framework to support community (food) resilience. 

Following the food citizenship framework, we believe that a community that connects and empowers its citizens creates community resilience, with benefits spanning across many socio-environmental issues. We also believe that emergency food aid providers already have the power to do this, we just need to find our way through the ‘how exactly’!

Speaking with emergency food aid providers, we have identified common concerns and common visions towards the future, namely around maximising the community impact these organisations can have, but also the wider collaborations they can foster as community platforms. All this of course, without adding more strain to the already exhausting responsibilities of their daily operations. 

Since July 2020, we have been hosting workshops for emergency food aid providers in Sheffield. Building on our own knowledge from the world of complexity-led design and systems change, we are focusing on more practical innovative ideas that could help connect and empower communities by exploring two key potentials:

  • Identifying untapped potential in current daily roles, especially as an inevitable meeting place where different social interactions naturally occur. This is all about understanding the role of spatial design to CONNECT citizens.
  • New ways to identify and leverage other existing community-based skills and assets to promote local initiatives, while extending an organisation’s network reach. Rather than rely on external inputs, there are resources and power that lies beneath the surface. This is about understanding how to EMPOWER citizens within the context of household food insecurity.

Through this work, we will REFRAME what citizens are capable of even in the most difficult circumstances, as well as the evolving role of emergency food aid organisations as social hubs in this transition. We will develop frameworks that set out what emergency food aid organisations and supporting organisations can do to grow their community building roles, as well as identify key supporting mechanisms from other key institutions, including local authority actions and policy recommendations.

  • Are you an emergency food aid provider that want to build community food resilience?
  • Are you a local authority wanting to support your local food initiatives?
  • Are you a business wanting to bring positive impact to your local community?

We would love to hear from you! We invite anyone who is also facing the same questions and challenges to join our conversations, online , using the food citizenship newsletter as a platform to showcase your approach and insights, or directly via email.