Food Wave: Participation as Activism
Taking to the streets of Manchester to build a more sustainable and equitable food city.
Food Wave is a youth-led, international community programme that aims to communicate the vital importance of sustainable food production and consumption in tackling the climate crisis. An EU funded project, Food Wave involves young people living across 21 cities in Europe and Brazil, who are empowered to work collaboratively towards a more sustainable food system in their respective cities.
As a participant of Manchester’s Food Wave, I have been spending my Wednesday afternoons attending Zoom meetings with 30 other young people on issues of food sustainability and justice. Led by local civil society organisations and guest speakers, we have so far explored issues of nutrition, social-justice, food systems, agroecology, policy and governance, and are working on a series of street actions we will use to engage with Manchester residents on such issues.
Since starting the programme, one thing that has struck me as particularly important is the need for a co-productive, participatory and collaborative approach to our activism and intervention. During discussion with Angeli Sweeney from Groundwork Manchester, we explored issues of participation and ownership of youth projects in the city, many of which Angeli has been a part of. She explained that through her first-hand experience of youth work, she has seen the importance of partnership and co-production when engaging with young people in activism. It seemed clear that if we are to encourage more sustainable production and consumption of food in Manchester, a top-down approach that views people as the objects of a campaign would only continue the barrage of information already out there on sustainable diets and climate change. Instead, I think involving people as subjects of a partnership that explores the many ways that we might change our food systems will bring about more just, substantive and sustainable change.
In our second week, Geoff Tansey further cemented this point with a talk on the complexity of the issues of climate change and food production/consumption, which are embedded in socio-ecological systems that encompass all people, at all scales of time and space, and across intersections of injustice. If we are to challenge or change these systems, approaches must also be inclusive of everyone, and everything, in our Earth system, with actions and interventions that are truly participatory and collaborative. Food and climate change are challenges for the whole of society, intersecting with existing power structures and inequalities. Any action on these issues must be sure to avoid reinforcing unequal power dynamics that leave the poorest and most marginalised worse off.
We are now coming up to the final week of the Food Wave programme, and have been tasked with presenting a number of possible street actions and interventions. We will then split into teams to work on each of our chosen projects, whether that be building a community garden, a film project on food waste, a policy action team, a series of community feasts, or a campaign on plant-based diets. In doing so, I hope that any change we might enact will be of a participatory nature, and involve as many views and ideas as possible.
I am looking forward to exploring these different ideas, and attempting to make Manchester a more sustainable and equitable food city.