Blog by Callum Etches, March 2022

It’s been a whirlwind first two months at Food Matters. As a Project Officer on the Sustainable Food Places programme, I have found myself smack bang in the middle of a national community delivering a food revolution. To say that I have been inspired would be a dramatic understatement. On a daily basis, I have the great privilege of working alongside a network of highly motivated, highly capable, individuals and organisations dedicated to building a better world through food. While I have learnt a great deal in this short time, there has been one lesson that has stood out above others: the need to democratise food.

Food is at the centre of everything that we do, as individuals, and as a society. How we grow, transport, consume and dispose of it, has a greater impact on our health, and the health of the planet, than anything else we do. It is something that we all share a relationship with, something that underlies our cultures, our traditions, and our daily lives. And yet, for most of us, food is something that comes from the supermarket, and how it gets there, or how it is disposed of thereafter, is something very removed from our daily lives.

But things are changing.

COVID-19, BREXIT, the ever-worsening climate emergency and the emerging crisis in Ukraine have exposed the fragility of our relationship with food. As we teeter on the edge of a cost-of-living crisis, more and more people are questioning how the food they eat reaches them, and what this means for their health and the health of the environment.

“More and more people are questioning how the food they eat reaches them, and what this means for their health and the health of the environment”

Despite this growing public consciousness, the options available to those that want to have their say on food remain limited. In the UK, food decision-making has been dominated by supermarkets, industrial food growers and agricultural-technology companies. This commercial dominance has led to food being treated as a commodity – something to be bought or sold in the pursuit of profit – while the social and environmental costs of such an approach have often been dismissed entirely.

As these costs become ever more apparent, many in the UK are calling for more social justice within the food system, where ethical concerns about fairness and equity drive interventions that seek to address structural inequalities. As a 2010 inquiry by the UK Food Ethics Council concluded, the British food system discriminates against many sections of society, and this discrimination causes inequalities that block progress towards a more sustainable food system. The food justice movement seeks to address this by ensuring that the benefits and risks involved in the production, transportation, distribution, and disposal of food are shared fairly across society.

“The processes through which food policy is conceived, designed, and implemented are in need of a radical rethink”

To build social justice into the food system, the processes through which food policy is conceived, designed, and implemented are in need of a radical rethink. To counter the dominance of commercial interest, the spaces in which decisions are made need to be opened up to include the meaningful participation of stakeholders that more accurately represent the many diverse interests and perspectives that form the food system. Food needs to be democratised, ensuring that decisions are made through open governance practices that are shaped by public interest, reasoned debate and representative processes. On an individual level, democratisation represents a shift from being passive consumers to what the Food Ethics Council call, Food Citizens.

At Food Matters, our work seeks to contribute to the development of food democracy. Our ethos is grounded in a belief that people are experts on their own lives and therefore, lasting andTeam working together on a mindmap meaningful change is more likely when those who will be affected by a change participate in the decision-making processes themselves. We support communities to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence needed to make inclusive and representative decisions on the development of their food systems. Grounded in Participatory Appraisal methods, we employ a suite of participatory tools and facilitated activities that engage citizens in meaningful deliberation, enabling them to influence food system decision-making and direct food policy. Our processes are designed to be inclusive, mutually respectful and focus on raising the voices of those who have historically been marginalised and discriminated against within traditional food decision making processes. We facilitate transparent and robust decision-making that strives to develop a strong sense of participant ownership and social empowerment.

“We support communities to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence needed to make inclusive and representative decisions on the development of their food systems.”

In creating new spaces of deliberation that bring together civil society, private sector actors, local governments and citizens in a process of co-learning and shared solutions, our work seeks to radically shake-up the spaces in which food decisions are made; opening them up to a wider set of perspectives, empowering people to raise concerns, and ultimately, providing those that have been disadvantaged the capacity for challenging power.

As I look towards the next few months of my work at Food Matters, I feel emboldened by this sense of purpose. I look forward to being a part of a movement dedicated to social justice, dedicated to strengthening democracy, and dedicated to empowering those previously unheard.

Click here to find out more about our participatory work.

Blog by Callum Etches, March 2022

It’s been a whirlwind first two months at Food Matters. As a Project Officer on the Sustainable Food Places programme, I have found myself smack bang in the middle of a national community delivering a food revolution. To say that I have been inspired would be a dramatic understatement. On a daily basis, I have the great privilege of working alongside a network of highly motivated, highly capable, individuals and organisations dedicated to building a better world through food. While I have learnt a great deal in this short time, there has been one lesson that has stood out above others: the need to democratise food.

Food is at the centre of everything that we do, as individuals, and as a society. How we grow, transport, consume and dispose of it, has a greater impact on our health, and the health of the planet, than anything else we do. It is something that we all share a relationship with, something that underlies our cultures, our traditions, and our daily lives. And yet, for most of us, food is something that comes from the supermarket, and how it gets there, or how it is disposed of thereafter, is something very removed from our daily lives.

But things are changing.

COVID-19, BREXIT, the ever-worsening climate emergency and the emerging crisis in Ukraine have exposed the fragility of our relationship with food. As we teeter on the edge of a cost-of-living crisis, more and more people are questioning how the food they eat reaches them, and what this means for their health and the health of the environment.

More and more people are questioning how the food they eat reaches them, and what this means for their health and the health of the environment”

Despite this growing public consciousness, the options available to those that want to have their say on food remain limited. In the UK, food decision-making has been dominated by supermarkets, industrial food growers and agricultural-technology companies. This commercial dominance has led to food being treated as a commodity – something to be bought or sold in the pursuit of profit – while the social and environmental costs of such an approach have often been dismissed entirely.

As these costs become ever more apparent, many in the UK are calling for more social justice within the food system, where ethical concerns about fairness and equity drive interventions that seek to address structural inequalities. As a 2010 inquiry by the UK Food Ethics Council concluded, the British food system discriminates against many sections of society, and this discrimination causes inequalities that block progress towards a more sustainable food system. The food justice movement seeks to address this by ensuring that the benefits and risks involved in the production, transportation, distribution, and disposal of food are shared fairly across society.

“The processes through which food policy is conceived, designed, and implemented are in need of a radical rethink”

To build social justice into the food system, the processes through which food policy is conceived, designed, and implemented are in need of a radical rethink. To counter the dominance of commercial interest, the spaces in which decisions are made need to be opened up to include the meaningful participation of stakeholders that more accurately represent the many diverse interests and perspectives that form the food system. Food needs to be democratised, ensuring that decisions are made through open governance practices that are shaped by public interest, reasoned debate and representative processes. On an individual level, democratisation represents a shift from being passive consumers to what the Food Ethics Council call, Food Citizens.

At Food Matters, our work seeks to contribute to the development of food democracy. Our ethos is grounded in a belief that people are experts on their own lives and therefore, lasting and Team working together on a mindmapmeaningful change is more likely when those who will be affected by a change participate in the decision-making processes themselves. We support communities to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence needed to make inclusive and representative decisions on the development of their food systems. Grounded in Participatory Appraisal methods, we employ a suite of participatory tools and facilitated activities that engage citizens in meaningful deliberation, enabling them to influence food system decision-making and direct food policy. Our processes are designed to be inclusive, mutually respectful and focus on raising the voices of those who have historically been marginalised and discriminated against within traditional food decision making processes. We facilitate transparent and robust decision-making that strives to develop a strong sense of participant ownership and social empowerment.

“We support communities to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence needed to make inclusive and representative decisions on the development of their food systems.”

In creating new spaces of deliberation that bring together civil society, private sector actors, local governments and citizens in a process of co-learning and shared solutions, our work seeks to radically shake-up the spaces in which food decisions are made; opening them up to a wider set of perspectives, empowering people to raise concerns, and ultimately, providing those that have been disadvantaged the capacity for challenging power.

As I look towards the next few months of my work at Food Matters, I feel emboldened by this sense of purpose. I look forward to being a part of a movement dedicated to social justice, dedicated to strengthening democracy, and dedicated to empowering those previously unheard.

Click here to find out more about our participatory work.

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