If we want to bring about lasting change in our food systems, one of the best means of achieving this would be to mobilise a vast army of female shoppers – after all, it is women who make most of the critical decisions when it comes to the buying of food.

I was recently invited by the Chipping Campden Food Research Association, to participate in a programme they’re running to test the extent to which it’s possible to change shopping habits.

They did this by providing one group of young mothers with information (provided by me) about what was wrong with our current food system, and how they could use their purchasing power to buy healthier and more sustainable food. Although I didn’t meet them, there was another control group of mums, not subjected to my propaganda, who will provide the ‘control’ against which to assess any behavioural change.

Talking to these mums was a very interesting experience. Most of the audiences I speak to are self-selecting, and have a prior interest in food and environmental issues. So it was really encouraging to see, that as long as you don’t use jargon, and you make the issues accessible, most people really want to know more about the story behind their food. These women were really interested, both in the provenance of their food and the impact of the production systems on their own health, and that of the environment.

The proposition I put to them, was that if they bought fresh and unprocessed staple foods locally (thus cutting out some of the links in the food chain) they would still be able to afford a more sustainable and healthy diet. Thus improving their personal health, and that of the environment.

Explaining this, I had the impression that they already intuitively understood many of these issues. The experience reinforced my feeling that all ideas ‘have their time’, a moment when they acquire a current context which greatly increases their potency to bring about change.

Of course, all this may be wishful thinking as it may well be that I was simply carried away with my own enthusiasm (arguably not for the first time!) and that there will be little evidence of behavioural change amongst the women who were on the receiving end of my rhetoric. We will find this out in due course, since Chipping Campden have promised to share the outcomes with us at the end of the project, so we shall see!

Photograph by North Charleston

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