#TheFoodConversation participant Faisal explores some of the changes he’d like to see to make healthy and sustainable food more accessible.
25th September 2023
The National Conversation About Food is the UK’s biggest ever discussion about food, bringing together people from across the country to ask, what do we really want from food?
In summer 2023, citizens from Birmingham and Cambridgeshire came together to look at the science of what we eat and how we eat it, as well as some of the major challenges within food – from the influence of big corporations to the impact of food on the environment. They also considered some of the policies proposed over the years that could tackle these challenges.
They came from all walks of life, representing the diversity of the nation’s population, and offered many important perspectives on food. The conversation continues into 2024, with citizens from across all four UK nations.
We caught up with participant Faisal about how food fits into his life, his experience of a National Conversation About Food and what he thinks needs to change when it comes to food.
Faisal is a husband and father of two living in Birmingham. He works as an audiologist, helping assess and manage people with hearing and balance disorders – and has an interest in health and fitness.
“I go to the gym and play football every week. I decided to take part in the National Conversation About Food to learn a bit more about the processes behind what we eat, the deal consumers were getting and just what was going on with our food systems.”
For Faisal, it was also an opportunity to reconnect with something often taken for granted. “There's always so much going on in the world and food can sometimes take a backseat. But it’s also a basic necessity, something we all need to eat every single day of our lives. It was just nice to be in a room with people discussing something we all have a stake in.”
Did everyone agree on the same issues and solutions? “Generally, there was a lot of agreement in the room. We all agreed that food is in a bad place and that change needs to happen quickly. There were small differences among the group in terms of what needed to happen first, or how to deal with the problems, but that was about it. Seeing everyone come together and find common ground really gave me hope. You could see just how important food was for everybody.”
Faisal at the in-person session at a National Conversation About Food in summer 203.
Faisal has since started paying more attention to what he and his family eats – but is realising just how hard it can be to shop and eat well.
“I’m trying to buy more healthy and sustainable food, but there are real barriers to eating well. Fruit and veg is more expensive than a bag of crisps. Organic food is two, three or four times as expensive as non-organic food. There are also real time constraints. Who has time to look at the ingredients of every food item, or where it’s been sourced, when they’re out shopping? And then on top of that, there’s influences from media or advertising. My children are seven and ten, and they’re constantly seeing unhealthy food promoted on YouTube or TikTok. Speaking as a parent, it makes it really difficult.”
Faisal is also aware that many people will face even higher barriers to accessing good food. “We both work, so we’re in a relatively stable financial position, but I can imagine that for those on lower incomes it’s a real struggle to buy healthy food.”
While Faisal is trying to make small shifts in his life to be more food and health conscious, he thinks responsibility for a better food system ultimately lies with government.
“I think the burden lies with government 100%. They’ve got the
resources, they've got the money, they've got the decision-making power.
But I’d like to see them engage with and listen to communities more.
Communities know what works, they know what their members need – they
just need to be empowered to deliver.”
Faisal and a fellow National Conversation participant.
He also thinks education plays a huge role, but that this need to be society-wide. “We need something to bring citizens, businesses and health and diet professionals together so everyone can learn from and talk to each other about food. We have centres for employment, why can’t we have something similar for food? I think community food hubs could be really valuable.”
“Everyone has a responsibility when it comes to food. I’d love to see more happening in schools around food education and food growing. Retailers, whether it’s the big supermarkets or a local convenience store, should be open about where they get their food from. One idea that we discussed during the National Conversation, for example, was about having labels on food that show exactly where the profit goes – so then we can buy food where the profits are distributed more fairly. I thought that was interesting.”
Throughout the process, citizens were introduced to a range of policy proposals from the last ten years – a technique consistent with public dialogues exploring the climate and nature crises. And despite differences in background, age, demographic and political persuasion, Faisal and his fellow National Conversation participants agreed: change needs to come from government and businesses.
“Through this process I’ve seen how important food is to everyone and that everyone wants to have a positive impact through food. But change needs to come from the top as well. We need the politicians to get on our side. We’ve got the facts, we’ve got the case studies, and we know where we need help. We need to spread the profits out in our supply chains and make sure everyone can access nutritious and sustainable food, and lead healthy lifestyles.”