So, what do we really want from food?

Latest findings from #TheFoodConversation

  • Food is just not working for everyday people
  • Public back greater government intervention on healthy food
  • Next stage of The Food Conversation kicks off across UK nations
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 disagreement about what people really want from food.

What do people really think about food?

In our most recent film, citizens ask each other this question. They explore how food connects to the big issues in their lives, from everyday finances to the NHS. Watch below.

Food is not working for everyday people

“The majority of people are trying to eat food that is healthier and more sustainable, but the odds are stacked against them. We need to bring this system in order, to ensure there is fairness from farm to fork.”

Yasmeen, Glasgow

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.

The public want more government intervention

“Government isn't going to have all the answers, but they should bring all the different challenges into focus as a vision for the country, because it's our health and it's our life that it's impacting. ”

Sophie, Manchester

How the public dialogues work

We started The Food Conversation in 2023 through a series of workshops with a representative group of citizens in Birmingham and Cambridge, and it will now continue around the UK throughout the rest of 2024. The whole process is designed to be easy to understand and engaging, so that everyone – no matter what their background or interest – can participate. Nonetheless, it is methodologically robust, enabling in-depth conversation and deliberation (similar to approaches developed for citizen assemblies).

Further workshops with citizens – unprecedented in scale – will take place across the UK to understand better the kinds of changes citizens are looking for from business, government and civil society. Throughout the project we will be involving local leaders, national politicians, food businesses and more. We are also building partnerships with organisations who can help extend the reach and scale of the project. Initially reaching 300+ citizens through the workshops, ultimately the project will involve thousands of people through national polling and work with local partners, membership organisations and more.

Taking place in 10+ locations around the UK, each set of workshops (sometimes known as citizen dialogues or deliberative dialogues) will involve about 30 citizens who are broadly representative of their location and invited through a postcode lottery by Sortition Foundation. They will spend 20+ hours together discussing and debating the issues, will hear from speakers and will explore case studies, examining not whether the way food works now needs to change, but how. They will consider different policy and practice changes that have been proposed by others, including the National Food Strategy, and identify what to prioritise and by whom. Participants will also come together for a national summit in 2025, to reflect across the four UK nations and share their views directly with senior policymakers.

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.

Throughout the project so far, citizens have 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). This list will be updated as The Food Conversation travels around the country.

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

We're setting off across UK nations to hear from citizens

“If everyone in the country had the same level of awareness that we do now, I think there would be a huge demand for change from the country as a whole.”

Natalie, Sheffield


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