Hungry for health

As concerns over the cost of living reach fever pitch, our new report reveals what citizens want from food, and who really benefits from 'cheap' food.

9th February 2022

As concerns over the cost of living reach fever pitch, family finances are more tightly balanced than ever. Food, and assumptions about the need to keep food ‘cheap’, have become embedded in public discourse. But who really benefits when the price of food is the only consideration – and what kind of food are we feeding those who are most vulnerable in our society?

Our latest report, Hungry for Health: what citizens want from food, sets out to understand better how people make decisions about food by talking to some of those who exemplify the very people cheap food is supposed to help.

The UK has some of the cheapest food in Europe, a food sector worth over £100 billion, and 4.7 million adults (and 2.3 million children) who are worried about where their next meal will come from. In autumn 2021, we set out to understand the stories behind these statistics and began work with a food charity that is trying to do something different.

Totnes in Devon, where Food in Community is based, is an intriguing location for this charity’s work. Often perceived as an affluent area, in fact Totnes is a community, like many across the UK, where wealth sits alongside poverty. It also demonstrates some of the best qualities of communities across the country – it’s a market town with engaged and connected social networks.

As we spoke to people in Devon, what became clear is that even those struggling the most to afford food feel that ‘affordable’ is about much more than price. We heard from people that they are doing what they can to get good quality and fresh food within their budgets, but the food that is most easily available is unhealthy. This needs to change.

Overall, the story that emerges from this research is that citizens already hold many of the practical (and radical) solutions that go beyond sound bites or advertising slogans. Organisations like Food in Community are succeeding in providing those in need with what they actually need and want. The people we spoke to were clear that food that is good ‘value for money’ is good for people and good for the planet.

This study adds to a growing body of work showing citizens’ strong desires for quality food, regardless of their financial situation, and for more community and social connection through food. It shows that affordability is a dynamic interplay between cost, value and budgets. Furthermore, when asked, the people who are struggling to put food on the table are infuriated that their needs are used to justify and prop up a food system that is doing so much damage.

Responses to Hungry for Health