Healthy mindset to adapt to climate change? Check.

8th Jan 20 by Claire Woodhill, Food Citizens Project Manager

My next question was to ask what the young people valued – what was the most important thing to them?

Food citizenship is a slippery concept, as I’ve found over the past 18 months piloting new ways to help people in Buckinghamshire think of themselves as food citizens rather than food consumers, and in doing so to waste less food and see the connections between food and the environment. Between September and December 2019, we delivered a series of workshops in the county. We worked with a group of mums at St Andrew’s Church in High Wycombe, and with year 8’s at The Grange School in Aylesbury.

In both sets of workshops, we explored our current food system, dietary trends and the effect our food has on our environment, how it contributes to the climate and ecological crisis.

We also looked at the idea of ‘Food Citizenship’ – how by moving beyond seeing ourselves as passive consumers with no agency, to instead see ourselves as active participants in the system, we can empower ourselves to make meaningful change. Both sets of workshops brought forth encouraging discoveries.

In week 2 of our workshops with the year 8’s (aged 13-14) we stumbled into a conversation on values (always worth exploring when talking about the environment). We had been talking about wasting food in the canteen, how the trend was to ask for more even if you knew you wouldn’t be able to finish it and would throw half in the bin, because the more food on your plate the more you had got for your money.

In this I could see an understanding of the value of money, what was missing was an understanding of the value of food. Pointing this out. My next question was to ask what the young people valued – what was the most important thing to them? Asking this, I was worried I’d be met with shouts of ‘my iPad’, ‘my Xbox’, etc. and that I would have to take them on a journey to find the fundamental answer. I underestimated them.

The instant and resounding answer from all over the room was ‘my family’, ‘my friends’.

If taking personal action, to mitigate the climate and ecological emergency is going to be sufficient to meet the scale of the crisis, for the majority of us in the west this is likely to mean a reduction in our current ‘living standards’. We are therefore going to need to remember what’s truly important for a happy and good quality life. I’m pleased to say the next generation already knows, and it’s the first thing that comes to mind when asked the question. With this mindset already established I know we’re ready and able to make the changes needed: the question is how to catalyse and unlock action from a place which activates these values. There’s lot of interesting research on how to do this, which we will explore as the programme continues.

In our workshops with the group of mums, after walking through the reasons why diet change is integral and likely inevitable in the long run, we talked through how introducing more vegetarian meals to our families might be possible. Although worried about their family’s reception of less meat, all women were keen to make the change – a finding which mirrored Feedback’s experience of talking about reducing meat consumption more widely. People may fear the reaction of others, but they fundamentally feel that this is a good and necessary thing to do. That looks only set to increase, with 29% of 11-18 who currently eat meat wanting to reduce their meat consumption. What the mums wanted and needed to assist in integrating this change was a larger repertoire of vegetarian meals to work with, tasty meals that would win their families over.

Across the UK the message of how urgent the climate situation is has reached people and they are ready to act. What we need now is to encourage and support this transition through new free community initiatives that give people the knowledge and skills to make the changes needed. Beyond providing the practical skills, such initiatives would also help deliver the social and cultural shift needed to bring about sustainable diet change across the whole country.

Our next steps in our Buckinghamshire work include reaching out to a wider audience to test which messages about food and climate have the most impact, and to explore how to help set up practical, locally run initiatives that assists people in increasing the amount of vegetarian meals they eat per week.

2020 is here – described by some as the beginning of ‘the decisive decade’ for the climate emergency.

2020 is also the year Feedback enters our second decade campaigning to end waste and create a healthy and sustainable food system, and we are more keenly aware of our responsibility than ever. We rely on donations from our supporters to carry out this vital work.

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