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Environment & ethics   |   Eating & drinking

Why citizens have more power than consumers

Imagine a world where our food sector is vibrant, flourishing and kind to people, animals, and the planet. A world in which our bellies are full, and we all have a say in how food gets to our plate. A world where we collaborate with and work alongside food organisations that are rooted within our communities.

How does that sound to you? Idyllic? Far-fetched?

I have good news: this world is already emerging. In this world, food is a way to connect and empower each other. Here, we treat each other as food citizens, not merely consumers, and we actively participate within our communities to create positive change. If we’ve learned anything from this past year, it is that when citizens are given the most support and freedom to act, we can quickly adapt to changing circumstances.

As food citizens, we use food to come together

We have spent more time this past year at home cooking and talking about food, bringing us together during a time of inevitable disconnection. It has also highlighted how interconnected hunger and social isolation can be. Whether we share recipes online or joined arms to tackle household food insecurity with Marcus Rashford’s campaign, food connects us.

We celebrate and support food producers

In the UK, with over four in five of us living in urban areas, people have long talked about a growing disconnection between us and our food. The argument goes that if it is unclear how and where our food is produced, we’re less likely to value it. This past year, we’ve been celebrating and supporting local producers more than ever. Local production can be supported through our wallets, but also through our ideas, our time and our vision.

Food citizenship
Food citizenship is a movement to empower communities to make active choices. 

Many more of us have become involved with community-owned farms, through organisations like the Community Supported Agriculture network, sharing the “responsibilities, risks and rewards” of farming with producers, Sitopia Farm in London, or as community shareholders of the Kindling Farm in Greater Manchester. These initiatives aim to not only produce more local and fresh food for the community, but also create a space for citizens to connect with each other and our food, celebrating and enjoying food together.

We redefine the purpose of businesses

The places we work are platforms to engage citizens, not just consumers, and we are increasingly redefining what businesses should do for our communities, for animals and our planet. Employee owned companies, such as Riverford, show us how food businesses can be deeply embedded within communities, including their workforce, by becoming employee-owned.

Citizen-led action is creating a cultural shift in how we relate to food and who has power and agency in the food system. We are moving beyond our consumer roles and increasing our capacity to shape the food systems we want and need.

This is just the beginning and there is plenty of work to do. Join us this week as we launch the food citizenship manifesto, celebrate the era of the citizen, and be inspired on what actions we can all take next to build this food citizen world.

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    Anna Cura

    Anna is lead systems strategist at the Food Ethics Council, giving particular focus to the Food Citizenship project. She is the in-house expert on systems change, complexity, framing and the power of language. Her focus is on ethical decision-making in complex environments and co-designing systemic interventions across the UK food and farming sector. She is a zoologist with a Master’s degree in biodiversity conservation from the University of Oxford, and has 10 years’ experience in both the forestry and agri-food sectors, as a consultant and researcher.

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