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.
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?
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.
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.