When it comes to food, we are most often told that our position is that of the consumer only. Our ability to affect change is limited to what products we buy and we where we buy them from, our power lies in our wallets. However, this story about ourselves and our agency in shaping this food system is, at best, incomplete and, at worst, reinforcing an exploitative, unjust and unhealthy food system.

Food citizenship is a movement which imagines and creates a different way that we can all meaningfully participate in a more just and resilient food system and food future. We know that we are so much more than consumers alone.

It is based on three key principles:

  1. We are naturally disposed to care, and a sense of purpose is central to a fulfilling life.
  2. We need to have meaningful power in order to sustain that care and purpose.
  3. We need the support of a community in order to thrive, individually and together.

At the Food Ethics Council, we spent two years learning about what food citizenship looks like in practice across the UK food and farming sector, identifying where these diverse approaches are already being experimented with, what approaches and strategies have worked and how we can link up as a movement.

Now we use 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 as disempowerment. This means seeing the issue of poverty (and corresponding lack of access to good food) as not simply an economic concern (with economic solutions). Rather individual and community resilience also has social, environmental, political and emotional dimensions. It can be re-built and it can be 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 strategy to eliminate poverty. 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 altogether?

At the Food Ethics Council, we are co-developing this long-term strategy and creating a framework to support community (food) resilience. We invite anyone who is also facing the same questions and challenges to join our conversations, online or using the food citizenship newsletter as a platform to showcase your approach and insights.

This is a movement, the strength of which lies in the diversity and scale of perspectives and people involved. Can we count you in?