Food Values: a new project with Organic Centre Wales

This is a guest blog from Jane Powell, originally posted here.

What does food mean to us? Is it fuel for the engine, a fashion item, an export commodity, a sensual temptation, a vehicle for culture and celebration, a badge of religious and political identity, or a vital connection with the natural world? It can be all of these things and more, and the stories we tell about food will have consequences for what we choose to eat, and ultimately the food systems that we end up with.

Carrot circumplex

GuestFood Values: a new project with Organic Centre Wales
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Why democratic ownership can make us better people

Human beings show a broad spectrum of qualities, but it is the worst of these that are usually emphasised, and the result, too often, is to dishearten us, diminish our spirit.” – Howard Zinni

In a recent OpenDemocracy piece, I argued that the way we’re living now – over-worked, over-consuming, environmentally-destructive, indebted, isolated and unhappy – has a strong relationship with the models of ownership and decision-making in our institutions.

Why, and what can we do?


Elena BlackmoreWhy democratic ownership can make us better people
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On having more than two sides: how do you describe values?

Common Cause draws on research by an academic called Shalom Schwartz, who divides values into four overarching groups: openness-to-change, self-transcendence, self-enhancement, and conservation. Yeah, right, they’re a bit of a mouthful.


It also draws on work from researchers such as Grouzet and Kasser who use a similar model but that relates to goals.

Kasser Remade


When we’re talking about Common Cause, we often just talk about two values groups that combine the two: ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’. This terminology is pretty familiar to many people now, and it’s particularly useful for telling a simple story of how our society has become more materialistic, more unequal and more selfish – shifting from intrinsic to extrinsic – like George Monbiot recently did in the Guardian.


But as with any simple story, it’s incomplete.

Elena BlackmoreOn having more than two sides: how do you describe values?
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Taking the red pill:
A 10-stop tour of Common Cause

Common Cause ruined my career, it removed a lot of my assumptions, and took me to a more radical perspective. It was like taking the red pill, once you’ve taken it you can’t go back. You see how misdirected much progressive work is.

Martin Kirk, /The Rules, ex Head of Campaigns at Oxfam-GB

Common Cause applies what we know about motivation from social psychology to the big problems facing the world. We’ve had a go at whittling it down to 10 principles…

What is Common Cause?

Bec SandersonTaking the red pill:
A 10-stop tour of Common Cause
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Hate racism, love Finland:
10 ways values link to prejudices across Europe

What do you value in life?

If you ask anybody this question, there’s surprising similarity in what people say. You can generally put people’s values into four broad groups:

  1. Change & autonomy values, such as creativity and freedom,are linked to tolerance and comfort with difference. (Openness-to-change values)
  2. Care & empathy values are all about concern for others and the environment, equality and tolerance. (Self-transcendence, or intrinsic values)
  3. Stability & security values, such as social order and respect for tradition, are associated with maintenance of the status quo and discomfort with other groups. (Conservation values)
  4. Power & competition values are linked to prejudice, discrimination, materialism and concern about status, self and money. (Self-enhancement, or extrinsic values)

We all hold all of these values, but to different degrees. These four groups work in opposition to each other as in the diagram below. Care/empathy values are opposite power/competition, and change/autonomy values oppose stability/security values. This means we’re unlikely to value one set highly if we value the other set highly. (Read more about how this works here!)


Elena BlackmoreHate racism, love Finland:
10 ways values link to prejudices across Europe
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Good practice: Species Champions

Species Champions from Scottish Environment LINK

The initiative was launched by Scottish Environment LINK’s Wildlife Forum in January 2013 – the Year of Natural Scotland – and continues to invite all MSPs to choose from  our list of species that are currently facing significant threats to their future – and then champion their survival. MSPs were encouraged to find out about the species they champion and make a video about why they feel this species is important.


Ralph UnderhillGood practice: Species Champions
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I Am Ecological: changing the story of ‘self’

The Common Cause report shows us that intrinsic values, such as equality and connection with nature, are associated with actions and attitudes towards a fair and sustainable society. Our ability to act for a greater good – as individuals, as a society – in other words depends on how altruistic or unselfish we are, how important it is for us to act in the interest of others than ourselves. In Schwartz´s model, those that he calls ‘self-transcendent’ values are in tension with the ‘self-enhancement’ values on the other side of the circumplex.

The self seems fundamental here. How do we perceive the self? Here is one perspective.

The story of the Separate Self

At the roots of our society is the story of the Separate Self: ‘You are not necessarily a part of anything; you are alone in a world of other separate selves.’ This is an old story, but it has become more obvious in the light of today’s globalization and erosion of community. If you don´t get what you need, you can buy it. If the person who grows your food, builds your house, or takes care of your kids, moves or dies, you can just get it from someone else. If all the fish in the seas get eaten, you can just buy fish from another sea. We don´t belong anymore (and for want of belonging, we instead focus on belongings…).

The notion of ‘self-transcending’ values can be said to be part of this story of separation. Because we are separate from others, we must transcend self-interest in order to care for them.

This logic is often reflected in the way NGOs present issues such as climate change or world poverty. We should do something about it because it is the right thing to do. We should care about other people, even if they are far away and we have never met them. Sustainability becomes a moral issue, and this can feel pretty overwhelming.

How powerful are morality and altruism as motivations for social change?

Picture taken from

Picture taken from

Pella ThielI Am Ecological: changing the story of ‘self’
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International network: A trip to the Nordic Countries

“Let’s make it a movement! For the first time in many years, I feel we can actually change things if enough people want to.”
Camilla Sjöström, Uppsala

In our whistle-stop tour of the Nordic Countries we’ve sea-kayaked through the Stockholm Archipelago, watched the aurora light up Icelandic skies and walked barefoot through Norwegian forests.  Along the way, we met up with the wonderful people who already work on Common Cause, and made contact with others who might. We’ve also spent a surprisingly long time in foreign bookshops looking for large dot stickers to stick on values maps…

Dot exercise

Now we’re back, footsore and fancy-free! We’re ever so slightly disappointed by the endless rain in Wales, and the non-double-decker trains (why can’t we just rebuild all our train bridges?) but rather inspired by what is happening in Iceland, Sweden and Norway.

So what’s going on, and how can you be involved?

Bec SandersonInternational network: A trip to the Nordic Countries
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#ThePowerOfHashtags and the difference between #Kony2012 and #BringBackOurGirls

You’re the Prime Minister… Put the hashtag down and do something real about it if you care.
MT @JosephLWalker

Another complex, socio-political situation, another hashtag, another debate about the merits and pitfalls of clicktivism. #Yawn. And yet there’s a conversation going on at Compare Afrique about the #BringBackOurGirls campaign that I’m finding particularly compelling.

Marissa Jackson argues that rather than a classic case of slacktivism, what we’re seeing this time is something different. She writes:

“The movement to #BringBackOurGirls, which actually originated in Nigeria, has thus far demonstrated the virtues of solidarity and grassroots international cooperation, within and beyond the African diaspora. It has shed much meaningful light on how to make visibility and voice to the invisible and voiceless. It has reminded us all of the value of naming and shaming–naming the girls to remind the world that they, too, are human beings, and shaming terrorists, Nigeria’s incompetent government, and the structural and institutional racism and misogyny that allowed an atrocity of this magnitude to go unnoticed two weeks and unresolved for over three.

As a black woman in the United States, this movement has become as meaningfully encouraging as it is frustrating because for the first time ever, I am witnessing men and women come together to notice when a group of black girls goes missing, and demand decisive action.”

Elena Blackmore#ThePowerOfHashtags and the difference between #Kony2012 and #BringBackOurGirls
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