I was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 today for the you and yours show. This very quick interview starts at about minute 29 and you can listen to it directly from the i-player here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001153x
They sent me four questions before hand:
What are food deserts?
What impact do they have on communities?
We don’t cook at home, is this the problem?
If we changed our understanding would this address the issue?
The interview was short. If I had had just a little more time, this is what I would have said:
While it is not right that anyone should go hungry, this new map of local authority estimates of three measures of food insecurity for the UK shows that it is much worse in some places compared to others.
In the UK many are not food secure. Food security is the ability to consistently afford, access and utilise the food needed to maintain good health and wellbeing. When we think of food insecurity, we tend to think of it in relation to low-income countries. More recently, however, as a nation we are beginning to recognise that a significant proportion of the UK population is not food secure. Much of this awareness raising has been as a result of efforts by food charities and campaigns such as that spearheaded by Marcus Rashford.
While this awareness raising has been welcome, the focus has been on those who are at the sharpest end of food insecurity; those who are going hungry.
Food banks have been set up in communities where people have recognised this problem of hunger with the intention of meeting immediate food need.
Hunger is understood as having been hungry at least once in the previous month but were unable to get food. This is our first measure.
We identify two further measures.
Those who struggle include people who have cut back on food or skipped meals. In addition they have received support from their community with food essentials or they indicated they could not get to the shops, could not get a delivery, or were too ill to get food. Those who experience these additional indicators of food insecurity are not typically included in the statistics, which tend to focus on financial reasons for food insecurity.
A further measure are those who worry about being able to adequately supply the food they need for their families and themselves. This latter group are typically considered marginally food secure because they have enough food. However, they may have traded down on the nutritional quality of the food they purchase (Drewnowski 2012). We have included this category because there is firstly, LLP a mental stress associated with food worry. Secondly, these are people who are at risk of having low or very low food security, for example through an unexpected expense, illness or relationship breakdown. We have seen many people over the period of the pandemic who have fallen from this group into the other types of food insecurity.
The burden of these forms of food insecurity includes immediate threats to health and wellbeing (Blake 2019). This burden includes the stress of trying to manage a budget that may not extend sufficiently, the worry about providing adequate nutrition, and the mental load associated with trying to navigate limitations imposed by transportation, inadequate equipment, cost, physical ability and household food preferences. Trading down on food quality and nutrition extracts a price to physical health in terms of diet related illness but it also results in narrower diets and the loss of understanding about what certain foods are and how to cook them. Finally, research demonstrates that those who struggle to access food are also isolated, which has an impact on quality of life and wellbeing (Blake 2019).
Food insecurity is concentrated into places. What this means is that cumulatively the effects of food insecurity include reductions in the ability of a community to be resilient in the face of crisis because community based social networks have been lost. Local foodscapes have become food deserts because the demand for and the supply of healthy food is not present in the place where people live at a price they can afford. The burden of food insecurity also means that people in these communities struggle to see how they can contribute to achieving wider social and environmental goals that shape life in the UK today and help define us as a society.
Many local governments have spent considerable time and resources enabling access to food by supporting food banks whilst also moving those using foodbanks onward. Many are also looking at ways to support those who are moderately food insecure and those who are worried about being able to purchase food that contributes to their health, social and local economic wellbeing. Until now, however, there has not been an estimate of these three levels of food insecurity at the local authority scale across the whole of the UK.
The UK Local Government food security estimates were developed to help provide local level benchmarking. The purpose is to inform the types of services and support that are needed to achieve food security for everyone and to move beyond a focus on food banks.
The data sources and methodology used to create the estimations are briefly outlined in the briefing document. Further background, context, results and implications will be shortly published in the academic literature and this document will be updated with references to those publications. If, in the meantime, you have further questions, please do contact the research team.
The research team would be delighted to hear how the UK LAFI estimations are being used and can be contacted via our emails listed on the briefing. This map was a collaborative research effort between Angelo Moretti (MMU), Adam Whitworth (Strathclyde) and Megan Blake (Sheffield) drawing on survey data supplied by the Food Foundation.
If you would like further information about the Food Foundation data, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
An excel file of the estimates is available upon request.
In June I gave a webinar to an international audience who are part of the Global Open DAta Network (GODAN). GODAN’s mission is to harness data to eradicate hunger and malnutrition across the globe.
The talk is in three parts.
In the first segment I outline the four dimensions of food security as defined by the UN FAO include affordability, access, utilisation and consistency over time. The FAO argue that all four pillars must be in place for a household to be food secure. While the lack of affordability is well recognised as a cause of food insecurity in wealthy countries, other dimensions are often overlooked. Furthermore, some groups are more likely to experience greater vulnerability across these four pillars compared to others.
In the second segment I look at the effects of food insecurity on individuals and households. These effects sediment into landscapes. Moreover, these effects reinforce and amply the problems that give rise to food insecurity in the first place.
In the final segment I talk about my Food Ladders framework. Food Ladders is an evidence-based framework that helps to structure local responses to food insecurity and repair its effects through targeted interventions that catch those who need it most, build the capacity of those who are able, and facilitate transformation in ways that support all of four food security pillars.
I recently participated in a talk with Hannah Pitt about my career as a food geographer. In this talk I purposely did not abstract my experience, but tried to be very open about my journey. You can watch the video of the coffee morning talk Hannah and I participated in with the RGS-IBG Food Geographies research group. I think as more senior scholars that it is important to be open about our journey to where we are.
We all eat. As many as 1 in 5 people in the UK, through no fault of their own struggle to access the food they need to live a healthy life. Our research shows that moderately and mildly disabled people and children–disproportionately bear the burden of hunger. It is not right that in a wealthy country like the UK there is such hardship and struggle. In this short video I talk about the causes and the effects of food insecurity and suggest some of the ways that we can act locally to help reduce hunger and hardship and stress and distress in our communities by helping them repair the damage that food insecurity causes.
For ease I am also attaching the slides so you click through them.
The water laps, and even when it does not lap there is always the possibility. It comes in and overtakes. You worry when it rains and you cannot always predict the damage the rain will do.
When it happens what you have is destroyed. The water permeates and rots the foundation. The damp and disease it carries invades your body. It leaves its traces on the walls. You try to clean the muck and grime from your memories and the material objects that hold them. You think you have it all cleaned up, but then it happens again.
People ask, “Why you don’t leave the flood plain and go up the mountain?” To them, where you live is a choice. Choice is a myth, it is a privilege actually only afforded to a few.
It takes resources and stamina to go up the mountain. You are out of both. It would also mean leaving those things and people behind, whom you have come to love. Those you know you can depend upon. It doesn’t feel like there is room for everyone up the mountain. Besides, they do things differently up there. Living on the side of the mountain requires its own skills and knowledges. You don’t feel you would belong.
This is what it is like to live in poverty in the UK today. A wealthy country, where the people who have gossip in the isles of the supermarket as they choose between buying the whole salmon or the pork roast because they can practice thrift and get three meals by bulk cooking. For those who are struggling financially, the choice is much more stark–“should we get frozen pizza or the micro burgers“. A whole salmon or pork roast is not even an option as it would eat up the whole month’s food budget. What would you eat for the rest of the month. “We will get the pizza. Everyone likes pizza and it will last in the freezer until we need it.If we add a few mushrooms it is also more healthy compared to the micro burger. If we add a bit of tomato sauce it will also taste a bit better.” Pizza is self contained. It does not go to waste. It fills up your family and you can carry it home easily. This is how to practice thrift when your budget is stretched.
We need to repair our social welfare system and our community infrastructures in order to provide a defenses against the impacts of poverty on our neighbours and communities. This system acts like the flood defenses and can prevent future and further damage. But it does not repair the damage wrought by previous breaches. Nor does it help these households and communities settle on higher ground. We start by protecting but we should not stop there. Everyone deserves to be able to feel secure and to be able to define what that security looks like.