On Bank Holiday Monday, the Sustainable Food Trust hosted an Eat-In on College Green, which brought together Bristol’s hungry public to share a meal in support of fairer food systems.

An Eat-In is about building community, being convivial and celebrating what we all have in common, which is to say that you don’t need an “Eat-In Organiser Toolkit” to Eat-In. Use these resources to amplify the impact of your Eat-In and show your community – and your journalists, and politicians – how serious you are about fixing our broken food system. But don’t forget the point, the message, the simplicity, or even the silliness, of an Eat-In: you are organising a potluck that, in our contemporary society, is also a protest. Raise your fist, grab a fork and dig in.

1. Choose a great location

An Eat-In is powerful when it is very public and makes a statement. Public parks or plazas will do, but the most effective Eat-Ins are in radical locations: parking spaces in front of city or school buildings, the headquarters of corporations, the drive-through lanes of fast food chains, farms, super-market aisles, national monuments. Be creative. The location should have thematic significance and/or draw attention by itself. People should notice the Eat-In, ask what you’re doing and wish they were doing it, too.

2. Invite people you don’t know

Food should always be shared, especially in today’s world, where many people don’t have regular access to food that is good, clean and fair. Eat-Ins are an opportunity to meet your neighbours, network with future collaborators, “convert” more citizens into empowered eaters and build the movement to fix our broken food system. Invite friends of friends, farmers and farmworkers, restaurant and supermarket employees, city or school officials and members of the press. Reach out to organisations in your community that work in sustainable agriculture, food justice, public health or education. The dinner table is the perfect place to discuss food and the issues you’re facing.

3. Decentralise the logistics

An Eat-In is a potluck, which means everyone brings or helps to cook food. Do not have your Eat-In catered. Consider asking everyone who’s coming to bring their own plates, cutlery, cups and chairs (even tables!) if you don’t think you can provide them yourself. Ask a local restaurant, school or office for tables, assemble tables from sawhorses and plywood, or (if you must) have a picnic on blankets. Decentralise promotion by inviting five people and asking each of them to bring five more. Embrace spontaneity.

4. Stay on message

An Eat-In is a meal with a political purpose. When you invite people, be clear that you are eating in public in order to draw attention to or build community around your cause. Consider distributing the Eat-In Manifesto or writing your own. Invite leaders in your community to speak at the table. Or give your Eat-In a theme: maybe you’re rallying students to demand more sustainable food in schools; maybe you’re sharing food with neighbours who don’t have regular access to fresh produce; maybe you’re drawing attention to corporations that practice or indirectly approve of animal cruelty; maybe you’re eating foods that your great-grandparents would recognise in order to make a statement about conserving food traditions. Eat-Ins can serve many purposes.

5. Keep it fun

Meals are convivial. Don’t over-politicise your Eat-In or dwell on the problems with our food system. Eat-Ins are an act of celebratory activism: rather than demand that individuals make sacrifices for the greater good, bring them together to celebrate the good we’re all working to achieve. All humans have the right to enjoy themselves. Take back the dinner table.

6. Document it

An Eat-In is a publicity stunt. Notify local newspapers, radio, blogs and journalists before you Eat-In. Make sure someone who’s coming brings a camera and takes pictures. Post the photos on social media and write about the Eat-In on blogs, message boards and in letters to friends. When people ask what’s next, say, “Another one. Bigger. Better.”

7. Follow up

You’ve gathered a group of people who share a passion for trying to fix the broken food system. Use this group to expand your community. Collect the email addresses of everyone who Eats-in and then write a follow-up email with ideas for next steps. Create a listserv or Facebook group to keep everyone in touch after the Eat-In. If Eat-Ins take place all over the country and every group that Eats-in becomes a community of empowered eaters, then we’ve built a network of regional communities (which is to say, a movement). People (and politicians) notice social movements. That’s when things begin to change.

For more ideas, download the full Eat-In toolkit and the Eat-In Manifesto.

Feature image by Steph French

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