Prof Gonzalez and Dr Papargyropoulou are Co-Directors in Urban Food Systems at the Global Food and Environment Institute.
The scale of food insecurity
One in four households with children (4 million children) have experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in the past month in the UK. This means people had smaller meals than usual, skipped meals or did not eat for a whole day because they couldn’t afford or get access to food. This sombre statistic demonstrates the devastating scale of household food insecurity aka food poverty in the UK. The cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated an already fragile situation: in the first 2 weeks of lockdown in May 2020, one in five households were food insecure.
Food insecurity does not affect everyone in the same way. Households with children, Black, Asian and ethnic minority groups, and people with disabilities or on benefits are more likely to be food insecure. Regional inequalities are also prevalent, with the North East being the worst hit with 27.8% of households reporting food insecurity.
The benefits food hubs bring to food systems and communities in terms of food security, sustainability and healthy diets
Food hubs in the UK have experienced a proliferation in the last decade, both in numbers and in the diversity of roles they perform. As the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated growing household food insecurity, many Local Authorities made food hubs an integral part of their emergency food provision response.
The primary function of food hubs is to gather food from growers and suppliers, and distribute it to customers. Some food hubs aim to offer a local and/or more sustainable food supply chain and to deliver wider social, economic and environmental benefits.
Food hubs perform various activities such as food aid provision or surplus food redistribution, food skills training (e.g. food growing and cooking classes), community engagement (e.g. cafés and shared meals), food pantries, social supermarkets, and business training and advice. They often serve disadvantaged communities in deprived urban areas where fresh fruit and vegetables are not very accessible (aka food deserts), therefore performing a crucial role in fighting household food insecurity.
Food hubs also develop more direct links between producers and consumers and hence reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and costs from reduced food miles and food waste. Food hubs support local, small businesses to reach markets, and help build ‘social capital’ and strong communities.
Call for action
Food hubs bring significant benefits to local food systems and communities, in terms of food security, sustainability, healthy diets, and community cohesion. Although these benefits are increasingly being recognised, there is limited policy assistance and funding to support food hubs.
Dr Effie Papargyropoulou, Dr Sara Gonzalez and Dr Gemma Bridge are collaborating with Foodwise and Leeds City Council to recognise food hubs’ value and support them in the upcoming Leeds Food Strategy.
Although there is a call to recognise the true value of food hubs and the benefits they bring to food systems and communities, there is a danger in relying on them to tackle food insecurity. In Dr Papargyropoulou’s recent research, food aid is condemned as a ‘band-aid’ solution. It cannot address the fundamental socio-economic causes of poverty or the systematic roots of food waste, a position supported by the Independent Food Aid Network. As a result, food aid paradoxically reinforces the same problems it attempts to solve and should not be seen as a long-term solution for food poverty.
Instead, food hubs should be supported to strengthen their wider offering to the communities they serve and the local food systems. Food hubs should be supported to transition from emergency food provision to more holistic offering focusing on community wellbeing, healthy diets, local economy and environmental sustainability.
The original article can be accessed here