From Plate to Politics

Your Toolkit to Feed Local Change

In our global effort to promote better, cleaner and fairer food systems, everyone in the Slow Food movement plays a part. It’s not just about one person making a difference; it’s all of us collectively committing to making positive changes in our food systems. As advocates, we understand that what we do adds to a bigger story—one where our food is not only tasty, but also promotes equity and justice and respects cultures and the environment.

Advocacy might sound like a big challenge, but in reality, numerous impactful actions are already happening around us. The key now is to take these actions to the next level, steering them toward changes in policies that can shape how our food systems are regulated. We believe that each person in our network is an advocate, living out the values of good, clean and fair food in their daily choices.

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  • What is this Toolkit?

    • It’s an online and printable guide describing useful steps to help Slow Food activists and leaders advocate for local food policies that promote good, clean and fair food for all.
    • Find out about Slow Food’s advocacy pillar.
  • Who is this toolkit for?

    • You have noticed a problem related to food in your locality and would like to do something about it but don’t know where to start.
    • You are part of a Slow Food Community or convivium and are passionate about policy change.
    • You would like to become part of Slow Food and support its political goals through advocacy initiatives.
    • You have participated in capacity building, events or other programs organized by Slow Food in the past and would like to promote a political shift towards good, clean and fair food.
  • Why work on food policies at the local level?

    • Slow Food believes that local governments (like a municipality, city, metropolis, province or region) can and should play a central role in addressing issues related to the sustainability of food systems.
    • Local governments can act on several different fronts when it comes to food policies: Public canteens, advertising, food waste, markets, education and food aid are just some examples.
    • More broadly, municipalities can shape food environments, as they are the level of government closest to citizens. They are best placed to know local problems and dynamics, all while having access to resources and tools to promote change.

How can you advocate for good, clean and fair food policies at the local level?

Below are the steps that will help you become a Slow Food advocate, explained more in depth below along with guiding questions to ask yourself along the way.

1. Identify the problems and define the change you would like to see

You should start by outlining problems within your local food system that require attention. Think of something that you or your community really cares about. This could range from issues related to food access, sustainability or health (e.g. farmers struggling to access local markets, poor-quality food in public canteens, high rates of obesity, the unaffordability of healthy and sustainable food, etc.). Then imagine the changes you would like to see and how they could positively impact the community. Having a well-defined goal will give you the ambition to move forward.

Guiding questions

What is a food-related challenge in your context?

Why does the issue matter? How is your community affected by this issue?

What is the change you would like to see? Examples of changes could be the promotion of diverse, healthy and culturally appropriate meals in school canteens, the establishment of community gardens or improved methods of waste collection and recycling.

Remember to apply Slow Food’s vision and mission, as well as our policy positions.

2. Understand your local context and do your research

Think of the problem you’ve identified, then narrow it down to focus on how you can act at your scale and how your problem is visible in your community. For this step you will have to research the dynamics of your local food system. This means looking at the different people involved, current regulations on the specific issue (if any) and social, cultural and economic evidence and factors. This will help you picture the road you want to take and the person/entity you would like to influence. Most importantly, knowing about your environment and having credible data will be needed to convince people about your cause.

Guiding questions

What are the local laws/regulations/policies that define your issue? Is there a food policy/strategy in your municipality that aims for more sustainable food systems? If not, is there a climate or health strategy featuring food? Does the administration have a plan to tackle food-related issues (a strategy, an action plan, an official document)?

Is the topic already being discussed by policymakers? Or do you want to raise awareness about an entirely new problem not yet on the political agenda?

  • Who is already working on this issue? What is their position?

    • Is there a food department in the administration? If not, find out which departments deal with food or the issue you have identified (e.g. health, agriculture, trade, urban planning, education, social affairs… It might be more than one!).
    • Who makes decisions related to your issue? What are the power relationships? (Consider for example a scenario where a municipal department proposes reducing animal protein in school meals. However, this initiative may not align with the mayor’s priorities. In such a case you need to take the context into consideration when you think about the best angle to approach the issue.)
    • Which actors have a role in the issue (local businesses, media, schools, hospitals, restaurants, NGOs, universities, research centers, etc.)? What power do they have? Do you have ways to reach out to them?

Are there initiatives/actors promoting good, clean and fair food in your local context, perhaps coordinated by the municipality or other civil society organizations? What are they aiming to tackle? Is their goal close to yours? If yes, take note for point 3!

Tip

Do not hesitate to pick up the phone! If you struggle to find the answers online and your contacts are not answering your emails, try making a call or two. Direct human contact is sometimes the easiest way to get the information you need. Remember that those working in local administration are more approachable than you may think, and usually open to dialogue.

3. Create alliances with actors sharing similar goals

Collaboration is crucial in advocating for food policies, especially when working with limited resources. Establish connections with local community organizations, businesses, restaurants and individuals who share similar concerns or objectives. Use the Slow Food network to help you or start your own community. Building a network of allies strengthens your collective voice and increases the likelihood of policymakers taking notice and feeling pressure to respond to your political demands. Collaborative efforts also bring diverse perspectives to the table, enhancing the overall impact of your advocacy.

Guiding questions

What actions have been proposed to solve this issue, even in other places? Where does your approach fit? Who is leading these actions?

Can you reach out to people who are concerned about the same or a similar issue? Contact the Slow Food network for support if you are struggling, they might provide relevant contacts to reach out to!

If you are part of a Slow Food Community or convivium, are there other organizations that work on similar issues, like environmental NGOs, youth groups, farmers’ collectives or parents’ associations?

Is there a Food Policy Council (or similar) in your municipality? Can you join it or contact it?

Is there an existing network of organizations working on food-related issues that might pick up on your concerns? 

Are there local businesses or local personalities that can help you? (Note: Make sure your goals are truly aligned and that there is a clear understanding of how you can support one another’s work.) 

4. Craft your message and amplify it

Once you have understood where the problem is and who the various stakeholders are and found allies that share your goal, you should now be able to define more clearly what your demands are. Craft a compelling message that succinctly communicates the issue and the change you would like to see. With this message, you will be able to leverage community support for your cause. Personal stories and data can be powerful tools in making your case, as they will make you relatable and credible. Be persistent and consistent in your efforts to ensure that your message resonates with decision makers.

Guiding questions

What solution(s) do you want to advocate for to promote good, clean and fair food, and why?

Can you identify keywords or a slogan to make your message more attractive?

Can you think of good hooks to share your message? (For example, when is the best moment to talk about your issue? Is there something important happening soon, like a political decision, conference or public event?)

Can you outline the concerns of your community in a few points?

What concrete examples can be shared with your audience to communicate the problem? What evidence supports your message?

How can you tailor your message to resonate with diverse audiences, including policymakers and the general public?

5. Get your message heard

This is probably the most important step of this guide. Pay attention and find your way forward! Once you have understood the factors at play in your area and have been able to draft a message that resonates with the people around you, there are various strategies at your disposal to get your message heard by your local government.

Write to the decision makers: An accessible way to advocate for your issue is to write letters.

  • Open letters: Write a letter addressed to one entity and publish it in a local newspaper or online post. You could coordinate with other civil society organizations to write it together, or co-sign it, explaining your concerns and recommendations. A letter signed by multiple organizations has greater weight than one sent by an individual or single organization only.
  • Mail “bombing”: Alternatively, you could also organize a letter/mail writing campaign, encouraging as many people as possible around you to write to their representatives on the same issue, so that the recipient is pushed to acknowledge it.

Set up meetings with local officials or politicians: If you have done your research (Step 2) you should know who your target is. Meeting your decision makers is essential if you want them to understand your issue, your demands and what Slow Food is. It is also a great way to learn about the legislative and administrative processes that are needed to solve the issue. You might find that officials welcome such meetings and are open to inputs and suggestions.

Increase awareness by organizing Slow Food events: To get people talking about the issue, you can open the floor to discussions during dedicated events. Depending on what you want to achieve, there are different events that can be organized. They include, but are not limited to:

  • A roundtable discussion: Gather the various actors (around 10 to 15 people, for example parents whose children eat at canteens, farmers, cooks, politicians, public officials, etc.) who have a role in the issue so that they can share their views, give testimonies and respond to guiding questions that you will plan in advance. The goal is to arrive at recommendations, goals and solutions. The discussion should be closed to the public to allow for a more informal yet targeted exchange among the different stakeholders. Consider organizing it in a restaurant that reflects the Slow Food philosophy!
  • A public conference/debate: Reach out to two or three interesting figures who are affected by the issue you want to tackle and invite them to speak in front of an audience. They can present their experience with the problem, propose virtuous examples that could be part of the solution or simply show data and evidence (examples of speakers could be researchers, activists, farmers, politicians, members of the community, etc.) These types of events are good for raising awareness among a wider public who might not know much about the issue.
  • A demonstration: Having realized that many people care about your issue, you all want to make noise, show your general discontent about a problem and call for change. Together, you can choose a symbolic public place where you want to get your voice heard (this depends on who you want to target) and invite your allies to join you. Be careful! Organizing a demonstration is perhaps the most difficult type of advocacy, because you need supporters and there may be some limitations depending on your area, so be sure to check local regulations first (like what safety measures and legal permits are required).

Show virtuous examples by organizing visits to local Slow Food producers: Farmers, fishers and producers are at the heart of food systems, but often people do not know what goes into their work and the many processes that exist to get food from the field to our plates. Organizing farm visits is an engaging way to get people and municipalities interested in your issue and more conscious of where our food comes from.

Collaborate with local press and media: A big part of advocating for a cause is communicating your work and encouraging people to support you. Today there are many ways to spread the word about a problem that exists and let people know how they can participate. Whenever you organize an activity, make sure that you publish it on social media and that you send this information to the local press, possibly also inviting them to join you if possible. If you can, create a list of local media that you would like to keep informed and send them relevant updates, testimonies and data to encourage them to cover the issues.

 

We love to hear from you! Throughout your journey, share your actions with Slow Food. Tag us on your social media and send us any material that we can help spread.

 

Note on using the logo: Please note that you can only use your Slow Food Community or convivium logo for advocacy activities if this has been agreed with the members of your community in advance and they are in line with Slow Food’s values and positions on different topics (e.g. see the position papers). The official international Slow Food logo cannot be used for these activities. For regulations on the use of the logo please see this document.

Tip

Think of unexpected voices who might share your concerns and be willing to sign the letter. For example, cooks and the service industry can also speak out against pesticides and GMOs.

Write a standard text so that people can just copy and paste or easily recraft your message.

Consider inviting your allies or experts to join the meeting as well, while still trying to keep the numbers reasonable. It might give you more credibility and courage to go there as a small group of organizations. Bringing a printed document to hand over that presents your issues, the facts and potential solutions is also advisable.

The more popular your speakers are, the more people you will engage. Find a good diversity of profiles to make the event more interesting (we discourage inviting only policymakers or only food producers; you want a variety of backgrounds).

6. Evaluate your achievements

Take a moment to celebrate and appreciate the positive changes you’ve initiated. Being an advocate is not always easy, but there are many ways to tackle an issue and to get your voice heard. Reflect on the steps you’ve taken, the alliances formed and the resonance of your message. Continuous evaluation enables adjustments and improvements in your advocacy strategy and helps ensure ongoing success. Advocacy rarely follows a linear path. It is useful to take time to rethink your goals, perhaps to narrow down your research or to think of different paths to take.

Sometimes advocacy can be intimidating and overwhelming, but remember that every effort, no matter how small, contributes to a better food future. Embrace the journey with optimism, recognizing that your commitment has made a meaningful impact, and use these accomplishments as inspiration for future advocacy endeavors.

Get Inspired: examples from
the Slow Food network and communities

Getting inspiration from network advocates and other organizations is one of the best ways to acquire new ideas, strategies and resources that can make current or future campaigns more successful.

In this section you will find case studies and good practices from the Slow Food network around the world.

Collaboration

Slow Food collaborated with the organization The Good Lobby for the development of this guide. In his book Lobbying for Good, the organization’s founder, Alberto Alemanno, outlines five avenues that can be used for advocacy, depending on circumstances, your goals and the institution that you are targeting: Administrative, Legislative, Campaign, Judicial and Political. You can learn more about them in the organization’s own toolkit (see here). To get the thought process going, you can find a short list of activities that you could explore—of course you are encouraged to use what feels most appropriate for you. More than one tool can be used at the same time!

What is Slow Food?

Read up on our story and how you can help us amplify our messages!

Use the Slow Food network to help you!

If you are not part of one already, join or start a local Slow Food group. This will give you more credibility than just as an individual. You can find out about the process and rules to follow here.

Are you struggling to find actionable goals?

You can find more ideas for actions you can take in our Regeneraction Toolkit.

Keep your spirits high.

Even if you encounter obstacles, you can always take a different path. And even if you don’t achieve your goal, you will have started a dialogue and impacted the people around you in a positive way. Changing food policies takes time!

Advocacy can take many different shapes and forms, ranging from friendly dialogue to non-violent protests in the street, but should always be carried out with respect for everyone’s well-being and safety, including your own.