Consumers urged to engage with food industry and fight for change

Understanding the complexities of the food industry is essential for food manufacturers, but many consumers struggle to understand exactly how their food is produced and the processes it goes through prior to arriving at their local shop or supermarket.

In response to this a new campaign, aptly named Inclusive Food, is stepping in to help encourage consumers to engage with the food industry and cut through the confusion.

The campaign, founded by researchers Dr Anne Touboulic and Dr Lucy McCarthy, is also aiming to promote wider participation in food systems and empower consumers to seek greater transparency over where their food comes from.

“We are active in a range of networks and work with a variety of different organisations to support a movement towards food systems that work better for people and nature,” Dr Anne Touboulic, researcher at the University of Nottingham and co-founder of Inclusive Food told FoodNavigator. “This includes collaborating with Sustain as part of their Bridging the Gap campaign as well as their work around getting fair about farming with the Food Ethics Council. We’re working with local organisations and branches of national initiatives to drive change in our places, such as Fareshare  and Himmah, Nottingham Youth Climate Assembly and Nottingham Green Partnership.”

“One of our main aims is to make the information we have gathered as publicly accessible as possible and join up efforts in order to enable change at scale.”

Inclusive Food is also working with manufacturers, engaging with the farming community. “One of our main aims is to make the information we have gathered as publicly accessible as possible and join up efforts in order to enable change at scale,” adds Dr Touboulic. 

How is the food industry damaging the environment?

Food production accounts for over a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions. And according to the WWF, agriculture is the leading source of pollution in most countries. It utilises high volumes of water and large areas of land, uses chemical pesticides, which can contaminate the soil and nearby water supplies, and can damage biodiversity​. It’s also a crucial driver of climate change, producing around one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The changing climate means we must rethink our food systems. We’ve come to rely on extended food supply chains. In the UK for instance, we import a significant amount of food from locations that are already being disproportionately affected by climate change, which in part results in significant decreases in food productivity. For example, Spain produces most of the fruits and vegetables consumed across Europe, but it is already being disrupted by changing weather patterns, and it is estimated that crop yields will decrease by a further 15 – 30% as global temperatures increase,” explains Dr Lucy McCarthy researcher at the University of Bristol and co-founder of Inclusive Food.

Consumers urged to engage with food industry and fight for change. GettyImages/Monty Rakusen

How can consumers engage with the food industry and how can manufacturers help?

Whether it’s to understand the environmental impact of the food industry or the health benefits of certain types of foods, there is increased interest in understanding where food comes from and what it contains.

UK-based organisation Sustain, which campaigns for healthy and sustainable food systems, offers advice to manufacturers and consumers on all aspects of  sustainability and sustainable practices, as well as providing economic and trade information.

Manufacturers and consumers can also get in touch with the Inclusive Food campaign, manufacturers to understand more about the consumer perspective and consumers to understand how to approach food manufacturers and engage with food production.

“There are multiple levels at which citizens can engage and perhaps the level to start with is to reflect on where their food comes from. We very much see ourselves as researchers and activists and we recognise that we have the privilege of being able to campaign to hold government and corporations accountable, but also for better food systems for all. So we endeavour to do this wherever we can,” Dr Lucy McCarthy told FoodNavigator. “Sometimes as citizens, we can feel powerless or unsure of where to start to drive change and that’s okay. A good place to start can be as simple as asking those important questions about what you eat, and where it comes from.”

Increased awareness also offers a huge opportunity for food manufactures to engage with their customers and get to know them better. Transparency will encourage trust and could lead to customer loyalty, so it’s worth the investment of time and effort.