Earlier in the year I interviewed Food Ethics Council member Kate Rawles about her work. She told me that we need to create a new story about the relationship between nature and humanity.
She explained that “the story we’re told – that nature is vast and has infinite resources that we can take indefinitely, and that we can carry on using nature as a waste dump for ever – is simply not true.”
The main driver in the food system is profit, not the production of good food. And because the food system is part of the dominant story that nature is an infinite resource, the values embedded in the system aren’t values that will help preserve our ecosystems.
So a big question for me is how to create that new narrative for nature and humanity, and, fundamentally, how to weave in those values that support and nurture a more equitable relationship between people and planet.
Here at the Food Ethics Council we have been working on how to use our core values to explain what we do and how we want to produce our food. We have a compelling story about what’s wrong with global food systems, and our mission statement clearly embodies our values of wellbeing, autonomy and fairness. Ethics runs through our veins.
But how do we create a compelling alternative narrative that describes the food system we want, and that inspires others to want it too?
We’ve been working with Brands with Values, an agency that helps organisations big and small to identify their values and develop a brand strategy that embodies those values. After all, as they point out, values are in everything we do, so it makes sense to spend some time really understanding what our values are as an organisation and putting them at the heart of our communications.
It was a fascinating process to sit round a table with my colleagues picking out the five key values that we each thought the organisation embodies. Whilst we did pick out many values in common, there were debates about some aspects of what we do – for instance, do we facilitate or catalyse? Do we empower or equip?
But at the end of the day it was also reassuring that we were – broadly speaking! – on the same wavelength. And what came out of that process was a clearer sense of how to talk about what we do, in a way that really chimes with our organisational values.
So, we know that our food systems need to change, and we know what we need to do to make those changes, but what’s our role?
We challenge people to ask better questions about the food system, explore different perspectives and consider issues more deeply.
We equip key decision makers in our food system with the knowledge, tools and space they need to make ethical decisions for themselves.
We catalyse change by informing, enabling and influencing change-makers in our food systems to help them arrive at practical, actionable and considered solutions.
And whilst we always help people arrive at their own conclusions, we always promote our own position on fair, sustainable and humane food systems.
Knowing our role and articulating it clearly can help us to get beyond the challenges of what’s wrong with our food systems. It gives us permission to sketch out a positive future where everyone engaged in shaping our food system – from governments to citizens – has a deeper understanding of the complexities of food and farming; where they are equipped with the tools to examine those complexities and come up with creative, fair and sustainable solutions; and ultimately build workable, ethical food systems.
These new food stories help to create the new narratives that Kate talked about – they reframe humankind’s relationship with nature, work within the limits of our ecosystems, and are fit to feed us into the next millennia.