What is a food tribe and what is its role in the food revolution?

These value-driven groups have been leading the food movement for decades--sometimes quietly influencing their inner circles, sometimes actively calling for and leading reform.

Eric Pierce, Director of Strategy and Insights

December 17, 2015

4 Min Read
What is a food tribe and what is its role in the food revolution?
Eric Pierce of New Hope Network

Food tribes are the engaged, passionate, self-aware consumers who are confident enough to challenge convention in pursuit of better options for themselves and for others.

Picture for a moment any of the following food tribes: vegan, paleo, freegan, urban homesteader or biohacker. Maybe a stereotype comes to mind, or maybe an appreciation based upon a good understanding the values and beliefs of someone you know. Regardless of what picture came up, I hope to share an idea that may help shift the way you think of food tribes.

Food tribes are often innovators, problem solvers, disrupters, influencers, advocates, trend setters, entrepreneurs, opinionated and self-confident. They tend to be committed to, and guided by, strong values and beliefs, and often act as a broadcast-signal communicating the deepest values of the food revolution.

For the food revolution, food tribes can serve as a source of inspiration or an opportunity to understand and connect deeply to the values driving change in the industry both among the core change agents and among mainstream consumers and companies as well.

Food tribes are the engaged, passionate, self-aware consumers who are confident enough to challenge convention in pursuit of better options for themselves, the environment, animals and society. They have been leading the food movement for decades, sometimes quietly influencing those they love and their inner circles, others actively calling for and leading reform.

Many find their way to their tribe following a desire for something better a better way of being or living. Many are following ethical beliefs and a desire for a greater alignment between their beliefs and their way of living (and eating). Others are looking for a clear set of norms to help them navigate a landscape of unhealthy, unethical and unsustainable conventional food and lifestyle options that have become the norm in our country.

Through the process of adopting a lifestyle which works against cultural conventions, food tribe members need to rebuild their lives around food. As a result, they focus their efforts on building food into their lives and making it a priority, not just a requirement for survival. Regardless of their original motivations or the food tribe they belong to, tribe members usually become more self-aware and conscious of the impact food has on their well-being and on the well-being of others which are part of the food system (environment, animals and society).

Food tribes are important to understanding the food revolution and the changing food landscape. A food tribe is defined as a social group linked by a set of common values and beliefs which shape one's food and lifestyle choices. In most cases tribe values and beliefs are deeply held and often a defining characteristic of one's personal identity. Food tribes include:

  • Gluten-free

  • Vegan

  • Paleo

  • Kill what you eat

  • Food sharing

  • Makers/crafters

  • Food swappers

  • Raw

  • Zero wasters

  • Urban homesteaders

  • Biohackers

  • Body ecology

  • Locavores

  • Freegans

  • Biodynamic

They are an important and driving force of the food movement. While individually their numbers are small, together they create a large impact:

  • They inspire and fuel many of the hundreds of little food movements in the industry.

  • They influence and inspire those around them.

  • Their beliefs motivate many passionate activists.

  • They inspire innovation among entrepreneurs.

  • They influence mainstream culture directly and indirectly.

Today with trust in conventional food norms and companies at dramatic lows, and with the growing consumer awakening and role of higher-order values influencing consumer decision-making, food tribes, with their strong values and beliefs, provide mainstream consumers a source of information, food and lifestyle norms and inspiration.

An overlap in values across different food tribes is helping to create change in the food system. These commonly shared values unite otherwise very different food tribes include:

  • Protecting the environment

  • Valuing pre-industrialized ways of living/eating

  • Buying responsibly-produced food

  • Understanding where your food comes from

  • Supporting local business and small-scale agriculture

  • Growing self-awareness

  • Simplifying aspects of life

  • Buying whole, less-processed, higher quality foods

  • Valuing nutrient rich foods

  • Seeking personalized solutions to well-being

  • Looking to food and lifestyle as medicine or proactive health maintenance

  • Including ethics, environment, animal welfare, social causes in buying decisions

Regardless of your perspective (activist, entrepreneur, manufacturer, farmer, retailer, consumer, etc.) we all can learn something by studying the values and beliefs of food tribes. We don't need to adopt their way of living, but if we study them and listen openly we can be inspired, learn to empathize or work to better connect with the values reshaping the food movement.


How are you engaging different food tribes?

About the Author(s)

Eric Pierce

Director of Strategy and Insights, New Hope Natural Media

Eric J. Pierce is a proven strategic marketing and market research leader with nearly 20 years of research and insights experience. In various consulting roles, Pierce has been instrumental in maximizing the value of his clients’ business and marketing investments and has built a reputation for being a great partner, problem solver and advisor.

Ever curious about the intersection of business and psychology and with a passion for natural products and the resources of New Hope Natural Media at his back Pierce is uniquely positioned to help advance the growth of the industry.

In his role as director of strategy and insights at New Hope Natural Media, Eric is responsible for providing vision and leadership for the NEXT™ brand and its mission to deliver intelligence, insights and innovation to the natural products industry.

Subscribe and receive the latest updates on trends, data, events and more.
Join 57,000+ members of the natural products community.

You May Also Like