So, what do we really want from food?

Citizens are hungry for change

  • Citizens want government and businesses to act
  • No evidence public worries about ‘nanny state’
  • Hardworking families expect those in power to work hard on difficult issues
Why now?

Of all the elements of our economy, one of the things we cannot manage without is food. It is a basic human need, at the centre of some of the biggest challenges we face. Headlines about food security, diet-related ill health, the impact on nature and climate of food production, food bank usage (and more) dominate the media and are part of our daily discourse.

Yet, governments have struggled to grasp the nettle on food system policies.

In this country, attempts to change anything about the system – most recently with the National Food Strategy – have floundered in the face of a narrative that ‘people don’t want a nanny-state telling them what to eat’ and all ‘people want is cheap food.’ But is this narrative even true?

What do people really think about food?

Citizens want government and businesses to act

“We believe this is a national emergency. It is as serious as the climate emergency. As such it needs rapid, collective action; an agreement that food is important.”

Citizen food manifesto, Birmingham

What else do citizens want?

A healthier, greener food environment, including restrictions on junk food advertising, higher standards for catering in spaces like schools and hospitals, and tighter controls on the availability and marketing of ultra-processed foods.

Support for farmers to farm more sustainably, going beyond existing policies with more investments and incentives to do the right things

Taxes and regulations to hold big food businesses to account, such as adopting the polluter pays principle for environmental harm and to reduce production of unhealthy foods

Practical help for citizens to eat more healthily and sustainably, for example by redistributing revenues from taxes/fines on food companies so those on low incomes can afford healthy and sustainable food; better information campaigns about the impacts of the food system; and better labelling.

Visible leadership from politicians and business leaders when it comes to food, and a plan of action that brings together the different parts of government, building on the National Food Strategy.

No evidence that public worries about ‘nanny state’

“The government is scared to be seen as a nanny state. I think that's a cop out. They need to regulate.”

Participant, Birmingham

How the public dialogues work

We commissioned a robust qualitative research process, starting in Birmingham and Cambridgeshire in summer 2023, followed by national polling in September 2023 as phase 1 of a national conversation.

For the public dialogues, 24,000 invitations were sent out to find 80 participants across 2 locations. Sortition Foundation recruited participants through a randomly selected postcode lottery to ensure a representative group of citizens. Demographic criteria include gender, age, ethnicity, disability, education, index of multiple deprivation, and urban/rural addresses. We were also careful to include people on all sides of the political debate.

Consistent with public dialogues exploring the climate and nature crises, we started with the premise that there are problems in the food system that need to be tackled. We didn’t ask citizens to come up with new ideas, but rather tested their appetite for a variety of policy ideas and interventions proposed in the last 7-10 years.

The citizens had the chance to hear from people who have been directly involved in this work over the years including respected academics like Professor Tim Benton (Chatham House), Prof Christina Vogel (City University of London),Dr Kelly Parsons, (University of Cambridge) and Prof Angelina Sanderson-Bellamy (UWA), industry representatives like Judith Batchelar OBE (formerly of Sainsbury’s), and farming voices like Tom Clarke (NFU/AHDB) and Liz Bowles (Farm Carbon Toolkit).  They also heard from leaders of food and poverty charities like Denise Bentley (First Love Foundation) and Heather Buckingham (Trussel Trust) and from NGOs like Helen Browning OBE (Soil Association), Alec Taylor (WWF) and Emma Marsh (RSPB), as well as those involved in the details at a local level like Justin Varney and Sarah Pullen (Birmingham City Council).   They also watched news clips and interviews with experts and campaigners like Dr Chris Van Tulleken talking about specific issues like UPFs. For full details of presentations and speakers please go to Appendix 3 of the full report.

For the More in Common polling over 2,000 people were polled for each question.

Voters across political parties want government to tackle hard decisions

“We want urgent action that prioritises health and wellbeing over profit, through government policies which shift where power is in the food system to make it fairer for farmers and others across society.”

Citizen food manifesto, Cambridgeshire

The findings in full

Download the summary and full reports, and explore the polling statistics.

Citizens tell us what they really think about food


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