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Shifting the Lens from Consumer to Global Citizen

Today’s society is at a crossroads. In many ways, the world sees and treats people as mere consumers. We have consumerized almost every aspect of life, from food, fashion, and entertainment to education, elections, and healthcare. We have bought into the belief that happiness and well-being depend to a large degree on personal consumption. And so, we keep purchasing and consuming and accumulating. Yet in the race to consume, some believe we have lost track of what really matters.

According to SHIFT20 keynote speaker April Rinne, when people are treated like mere consumers long enough, it affects how they think and behave, as well as how they see the world and their place in it. For example, according to The Hartman Group, a survey of 1,779 U.S. adults found nearly 4 in 10 consumers believe their purchases have a greater impact on society than their vote. Therefore, today’s consumers, particularly Millennials, see shopping their values as a way to impact change. This sentiment places an immense amount of weight on the purchases people make and widens the gap of inequality tremendously. 

A common theme at SHIFT20, IFT’s virtual event and expo, was the idea that it’s time to change our perspective from consumer to global citizen. According to Rinne, global citizenship centers around the shared human experience, shared values, and shared responsibilities. It recognizes that despite geographic boundaries, our world is an increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies and the decisions we make have far-reaching implications. It is driven by identity and values and seeks to build bridges, mitigate risk and safeguard humanity.

Rinne suggests whether we see people as citizens or consumers is all about our intention toward them. To effectively address the challenges facing the food system, Rinne recommends evaluating future actions through three lenses: distributed innovation, regeneration, and intention. Each of these, she says, amplifies the others. 

Distributed innovation incorporates innovations from everywhere. It involves an open approach to sharing ideas among multiple disciplines. “As history has taught us again and again, innovation thrives when it’s nested within and connected to innovation in neighboring fields,” she explained. Connecting with peers in other departments and facilitating transdisciplinary sharing can open the door to this type of innovation.

Regeneration goes beyond regenerative agriculture, although that is certainly part of it, according to Rinne. “The concept of regeneration says simply ‘better than,’” said Rinne. “Regeneration doesn’t see the world as a series of trade-offs or zero-sum games, but rather as a process of continuous improvement.” With a regenerative mindset, she says, you would ask how can we innovate in a way that makes all constituent parts better.

In terms of intention, Rinne reminded us that innovation is not inherently good or bad. It is simply something new. Whether innovations help or harm depends on the intention of the user. “As innovators and individuals confronted with systemic problems, it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed or like your efforts won’t really make a difference or aren’t really connected to the bigger issues. Next time you’re asked to solve a problem or share your expertise, ask yourself, ‘Is my intention aligned with my values and the outcomes we want?’”

Global citizenship is about values and understanding our interdependence, so you can be a global citizen without ever leaving your country or region. It is practiced at home in how we see and treat people, how we make decisions, and how we weigh the benefits between how something will affect people and relationships, how it impacts the economy, and what it will do to the environment. 

To learn more about what being a global citizen looks like in the food industry, register to access Rinne’s keynote presentation, as well as the entire library of on-demand featured sessions and scientific content on the SHIFT20 website


Rinne, April. "Global Citizen."
The Hartman Group. "Purchase or Voting: Which Has a Greater Impact?" 28 April 2016.
The Hartman Group.. "Sustainability’s Influence on Purchasing." 13 June 2019.

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