Principal Investigator: Professor Carol Wagstaff, University of Reading
Project website: Food Systems Equality website
Overview: Food Systems Equality overview video

Food Systems Equality – Co-production of healthy, sustainable food for disadvantaged communities

Our vision is to provide citizens of culturally-diverse disadvantaged communities with choice and agency over the food they consume. We’ll do this by co-developing new products, new supply chains and new policy frameworks that deliver an affordable, attractive, healthy and sustainable diet.

These communities include families and individuals who are at risk of food and housing insecurity. They often experience multiple challenges in terms of their financial, mental health and physical health.

This project will focus on sharing knowledge and learning from working with people from a variety of disadvantaged communities in:

  • Whitley-Reading
  • Brighton & Hove
  • Tower Hamlets
  • Plymouth.

We’ll also work with food businesses and policy-makers.

This will help provide people living in disadvantaged communities with improved access to fresher food and a balance of desirable, sustainable, affordable and healthy products.

The project will identify opportunities to prevent food loss from ‘mainstream’ supply chains and identify where increased sustainable production of primary food ingredients is needed.

Our research brings together some of the largest food businesses in the country, along with distribution and retail partners that reach into the heart of disadvantaged communities across the UK.

Working alongside government departments and civil organisations, the team will develop a resilient, sustainable and adaptable food system for populations from different regions, age groups and socio-cultural backgrounds.

At the end of the project the consortium will have developed inclusive and robust methods for innovative food products, food supply chains and food/agricultural policies. When implemented at national scale, these will deliver the behavioural, health and economic benefits that a food system should provide for citizens, businesses and the environment.

A baseline of 22% of people live in food poverty in the UK, often reliant on solutions outside of mainstream food systems, including food banks. This doesn’t allow people to plan or choose their diet, or to improve their food security on a long term basis.

Previous attempts at transforming the food-health system to become more equitable, sustainable and integrated have had limited impact. This is because they fail to engage disadvantaged communities in the research process or the policy design. In turn, this leads to a failure to pass on knowledge or social innovation. The disconnect between households, communities and national supply and production networks presents one of the greatest challenges to developing a socially just, healthier and sustainable food system for everyone.

This project will identify and implement the innovations and new configurations of the food system that are necessary to deliver improved nutritional public health and wellbeing for citizens from disadvantaged communities with enhanced environmental sustainability. The team will do this using co-design, co-production and participatory methods that enable major food businesses and community-owned enterprises to engage with each other and with the citizens who consume food.

Project phases

In the first part of the project, we will build a picture of the national food landscape in disadvantaged communities from across the UK. We will also analyse the impact of the current food system on environmental sustainability. We will investigate current corporate, social and government policy frameworks that guide food and agriculture in the UK and across Europe to highlight positive directions for the future.

Together, in phase 2, communities and businesses will co-develop new supply chains, new or reformulated exemplar food products and new policy frameworks.

In phase 3, we will evaluate, adjust and improve these innovations. We will also evaluate the impact of scaling these innovations to basket level and national level, quantifying the potential impact of nationwide changes on the environment and health.

By the end of the project we will have established effective methods for co-creation of policy, products and supply chains that can be implemented at a national level. As a result, every citizen will have the potential to make decisions about their food. They will also have access to a diet that is affordable, attractive, healthy and environmentally sustainable.