Objective Despite the usefulness of quantitative research, qualitative research methodologies are equally needed to allow researchers to better understand the important social and environmental factors affecting food choice and eating habits. The present paper contributes insights from narrative inquiry, a well-established qualitative methodology, to a food-related doctoral research study. The connections between food shoppers and the producer, family, friends and others in the food system, between eaters and the earth, and how these connections affect people's meaning-making of food and pathways to food citizenship, were explored in the research. Design The research used narrative inquiry methodology and focus groups for data collection. Setting Five different food-ways in the Canberra region of Australia were selected for the present research; that is, community gardens, community-supported agriculture, farmers' markets, fresh food markets and supermarkets. Subjects Fifty-two people voluntarily attended eight focus groups with four to nine participants in each. Results From a practical perspective, the present paper offers a guide to the way in which narrative inquiry has been applied to one research project. The paper describes the application of narrative inquiry methodology, revealing the important place of narratives in generating new knowledge. The paper further outlines how phased narrative analysis can lead to a defensible and rigorous interpretive framework grounded in the data generated from people's stories and meaning-making. Conclusions We argue that individual, social and system change will not be possible without further rigorous qualitative studies to inform and complement the empirical basis of public health nutrition practice.