Food Citizenship and the Public Interest
Submitting InstitutionCity University, London
Unit of AssessmentSociology
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Nutrition and Dietetics, Public Health and Health Services
Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services: Marketing
Summary of the impact
The Centre for Food Policy (CFP) at City University London uses applied
research to develop `public interest' approaches to understanding the
relations between food systems and consumers. A key focus is the tension
between `food citizenship' and consumerism. Our research has long asked
how food policy-makers can address and improve citizenship interests when
faced with both `old' social divisions (inequalities, poverty, poor market
access) and `new' pressures (energy-water-biodiversity footprints,
environmental knowledge deficits, de- and re-skilling). Our impact has
been in promoting policies to reshape the conditions for good, low impact
consumption through: (a) generating high-level debate about sustainable
diets (what to eat) at population and individual levels; (b) identifying
and mapping the cultural and spatial realities that shape consumer
choices; and (c) foregrounding the challenge of health literacy. CFP
proposals have gained traction in food policy locally, regionally and
internationally (including Europe, the USA and Australia), helped by our
long and close relations with civil society organisations (including the
United Nations) and with growing impact on government and companies,
including the major supermarkets.
For over 20 years (since 2002 at City University London), the CFP has
researched the complex dynamics reshaping the consumer relationship to
food systems. We conceptualise this relationship as a tension between food
consumerism and citizenship. In line with our commitment to researching
the `public interest' in food policy, we are interested in how consumers
collectively may make the transition to what we term `food democracy'
The CFP team comprises Professors Tim Lang and Martin Caraher and Dr David
Barling. We study specific examples to see where the public interest lies
and whether problems are framed to support citizenship. Our research may
be grouped thus:
a) Re-defining `good diet' as `sustainable diet' (Lang,
Nutritionists and official guidelines recommend consumers eat fish, yet
fish-stock data justify concerns about unsustainability. The CFP
researched such examples as evidence of general contradictions between
evidence and reality in health, environmental and price signals. In Development
Policy Review (2003), Public Health Nutrition (2005),
Health Promotion International (2006), Proceedings of Nutrition
Society (2013), Food Policy (OUP, 2009) and Unmanageable
Consumer (Sage, 2006), we explored the limitations of choice for
consumers, prefiguring the `choice-editing' argument adopted by the
Sustainable Development Commission (SDC). The case that environmental
impact can lower if health advice is followed was made for SDC's Setting
the Table (2009), but this would require major behaviour change.
Following that, Lang developed a `poly-values' or `omni-standards' model
as a way of capturing the competing and diverse demands on consumer
choice. Barling explored the food system transitions shaping citizenship
in two 7th Framework projects, FoodLinks and PureFood
(see Grants, below). Caraher has injected the local and inequalities
dimension of the food `offer' (see below). Barling and Lang summarised the
food waste and sustainable diets challenges for the UN Environment
Programme (UNEP) (2012) which made sustainable diets a key recommendation.
b) Changed localities where consumers eat: role of local state
(Caraher and Barling)
Barling has researched English local government urban food strategies (EU
7th Framework Purefood Marie Curie project, 2010 to 2014), with a
PhD researcher funded for three years. In City & Hackney Health
Authority London, Caraher mapped fast food sellers in relation to
proximity to schools, defining the visual and physical walk-to-school
experience. In Preston, Lancashire, he explored whether consumers could
access healthy food in local shops and at what cost. In Tower Hamlets, he
focused on the prevalence and spread of fast food outlets, finding that
around schools, fast food outnumbered `healthier' outlets five to one. At
city scale he compared the differential response to fast-food outlet
proliferation in London and New York (NYC), finding that NYC was more
active and engaged across multiple fronts (from planning to consumer
education), whereas London prioritised health education over policy
intervention. With Machell, then a research assistant (now a PhD student),
Caraher researched the role of food co-operatives in London and NYC as
possible ameliorating forces, empowering citizens to eat better and live
c) Health literacy within food citizenship (Caraher and
Caraher and Lang began research on the then unfashionable issue of cooking
skills in 1993 and deepened their analysis between 2008 and 2013. Caraher
conducted the first intervention trial to see whether teaching cooking
skills affects children's fruit and vegetables consumption; it does (Appetite
2012). In Liverpool, he investigated community-based cooking interventions
with families and schools and found that the impact of intervention lasts
longer than expected. Caraher was an original (2008 to 2009) and also
update (2013) co-author of the Hastings systematic review of marketing
impact on children's food intake. Lang researched the scenarios of
consumer and food system changes for Chatham House in a small academic
team (between 2006 and 2009) and theorised the shift from consumers
seeking `value-for-money' in food to `values-for-money' (Environment
& Planning A 2010). Caraher conducted studies in Preston (2008)
and Hackney (Revista Portuguesa de Saude Publica 2009 and since)
which showed how local environments shape health options by sapping
children's spending power. In Preston, people's eating habits and
consequent health were constrained by food costs in local shops. In two
papers (JHEI of Australia 2011; Food Transgressions 2013),
he criticises the idea that the lifestyles of low income consumers are to
blame for poor diets, arguing that resource mal-distribution is more
References to the research
The quality of this research is very high; it has had a major influence
on the agenda in its field.
6. Alder J., Barling D., Dugan P., et al. (2012) Avoiding
Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Foundation of Food Security
through Sustainable Food Systems. Nairobi, Kenya: United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP). ISBN: 978-92-807-3261-0.
• PureFood [Dec 2010-May 2014] EU 7th Framework is a Marie
Curie project considering urban, peri-urban and regional food dynamics to
enlarge scientific understanding of alternative food networks and to train
early stage researchers.http://purefoodnetwork.eu. Total value €2.8m / CFP share €250k.
• Worshipful Company of Cooks — to evaluate effectiveness of Chefs Adopt
a School (CAAS). This was to conduct a first intervention trial to assess
whether teaching children to cook made a difference to food consumption.
CFP value: £32.75k.
• Can Cook (community interest company in Liverpool). 2010-12 Evaluation
of Can Cook activities in Liverpool £40k with £3k extension funding.
• Big Lottery / Sustain (2011-12) Evaluation of Making Local Food Work
Co-op projects £30k.
• Dept Public Health LB Haringey (2013) Fast Food Mapping in Haringey.
Total Value: £15k.
• Caraher was also a beneficiary of collaborative research
grant-aided elsewhere, including:
- Thinker in Residence at Deakin University in Melbourne in
2012/13. This was an award of Aus$20k for c. 3 months' presence in two
- Fellow at Curtin University for Healthways (West Australia) for
two months, 2009.
- Contribution to Professor John Coveney's (2012-13) research on
trust makers and brokers in the Australian food chain. Total value:
Aus$300k / CFP Share: pro bono / researcher paid directly in Australia.
- Health & Medical Research Council A$1.5m grant to create
Deakin University Centre for Obesity Policy Control: Caraher working pro
Details of the impact
CFP impact was visible in key parts of the food consumer-citizen
transition debate, with particular engagement with a core group of NGOs:
Sustain, Friends of the Earth, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the UK Food
(a) International: Lang was invited to co-chair the 2010 process
of producing the first global definition of Sustainable Diets, under the
auspices of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Bioversity
International (part of the UN's global Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research). The definition is now widely cited and Lang's role
acknowledged (e.g., International Union of Nutritional Science World
Congress, Burlingame speech, September 2013) . Lang was invited to
present sustainable diets to the European Commission meeting on
mainstreaming sustainable lifestyles in Brussels (22.08.11). He gave
invited papers on sustainable diets to UN bodies (FAO, UN Environment
Programme, World Health Organization (WHO)) and argued that consumers need
more coherent advice from industry and government. He addressed WHO's
planning meetings for the International Conference on Nutrition 2 (ICN2)
(2013) and the FAO (2013). He gave an invited keynote on the European
sustainable diets experience (the sole non-US presentation) to the US
National Academies of Science's Institute of Medicine, Washington DC at a
two-day science conference preparing for the 5-year review of US dietary
guidelines (2013) . He addressed governmental meetings on sustainable
diets: e.g., France DuALINE (Paris, 2010), Netherlands Food Agency 10th
Anniversary Conference (Rotterdam, 2010) and contributed to the
Netherlands sustainable food position (2011).
(b) NGOs/ Organised Civil Society: The CFP presented at NGO
meetings between 2011 and 2013 and actively helped to create a 31 NGO Eating-Better
alliance launched in July 2013. WWF, the world's largest conservation NGO,
cites CFP as the inspiration for its Livewell project created by
WWF to link health and environmental criteria in population advice and
replace the government's Eatwell plate. This is now being rolled
out across Europe and globally by WWF . Due to his research on public
procurement, Barling was asked to chair the Good Food on a Public Plate
Project (public procurement of sustainable local food, 2005 ff) and Good
Food for Our Money Campaign (2009 ff) at Sustain, shaping public policy
interest in this sphere, e.g., at the London Olympics on fish policy .
(c) Food Industry: After resistance in the 1990s and 2000s, the
sustainable diet argument now receives industry attention. Rayner
(Honorary CFP Fellow) and Lang were invited members of the European Heart
Network Working Party on working with Industry (2010) and clarified `terms
of engagement'. Barling and Lang were invited to meet retailers e.g.,
Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Tesco regularly (between 2008 and
2013). In a 2010 article in The Grocer, following summary research
on declining soil health, Lang challenged retailers to help consumers to
conserve soil. In 2011, Asda completed its soil guide .
(d) Foundations and Funders: Lang was invited to review nutrition
and environment work for the Boards of the Wellcome Trust (2011) and
Carasso Foundation (2013). Lang was invited to join the Carasso Foundation
(international, Paris-based) Science Committee, which is now exploring the
CFP's proposal for an international commission on sustainable diets.
(e) UK Government: Following the SDC sustainable diet
recommendations, Lang was consulted by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA),
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Department
of Health, which led to the FSA creating the Integrated Advice to
Consumers programme (noted by many government processes in Europe,
North America, Australia but closed by the UK Government in 2010).
Between 2011 and 2012 the Environmental Audit Committee held a Sustainable
Food inquiry and supported the CFP call for clarification of sustainable
Changed localities (Caraher and Lang)
CFP research on changed localities has achieved impact through:
(a) Local Authorities: Caraher's mapping of fast food outlets around
schools (conducted for Preston and City & Hackney) is now being
replicated in four cities: Glasgow, Sandwell, Oldham and London (in many
of its boroughs). The Mayor of London worked with the Chartered Institute
of Environmental Health to produce a Takeaways Toolkit for local
authority use, citing Caraher (2013) . This work was cited by the UK
Research Councils as an example of impact. It is also cited in the London
Health Inequalities Strategy (August 2009), the Greater London
Authority and Mayor's strategy. Caraher was invited to be a member of the
London Food Board between 2007 and 2009 and advised the Mayor of London's
food strategy; Lang stood in for him (2009 ff). Glasgow's Centre for
Population Health drew on Caraher's work in Tower Hamlets. Caraher's work
has also emphasised the role of planning to protect consumers from
excessive fast food offer. It contributed to the development of National
Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Public Health Guidance on
the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease (Caraher was a member of the
group which developed the Guidance) and also informed a NICE group on
planning (of which he was also a member) as a public health issue. The
role of planning is also being developed in Australia, with Caraher
invited onto the Brisbane Queensland University of Technology planning
team on health literacy (2012 to 13) and the Melbourne City review (2013)
(b) NGO / Civil Society: The CFP is cited as directly inspiring
the creation of Incredible Edible Todmorden by Pam Warhurst (ex-Forestry
Commission chair and Todmorden resident) . This is the much-lauded
civic initiative revitalising a post-industrial Lancashire town through
citizenship action on food, now an international small town network
growing food in urban space. It is presented as the urban model in
Jonathan Porritt's utopian book The World We Made (2013). Lang
also regularly advises the Transition Towns movement.
(c) Government: Caraher was invited onto the Scottish
Government's Food and Drink Policy aiming for sustainable localism. He is
also a member of the Advisory Committee, Scottish Strategic Research
Programme 2011-2016; and was a member of the Scottish Government's
`think-tank' on `Local versus Global for Scottish Food Producers &
Food Citizenship as health literacy (Caraher, Lang,
The CFP has a long record on the research of health within citizenship.
a) Food and Cooking Skills: Caraher and Lang began work on this
in the 1990s. Between 2008 and 2010 Caraher led a cooking intervention
trial which became key evidence supporting NGO pressure for cooking to be
reintroduced in English schools, successfully negotiating the transition
from Labour to the Coalition. They were consulted in (and informed)
behind-the-scenes discussions in the Dimbleby and Vincent School Food
Plan presented to Secretary of State Michael Gove (2012) .
Caraher and Lang are frequently asked to advise those lobbying for reform.
Since 2008, they regularly meet Jamie Oliver, Raymond Blanc, the Academy
of Culinary Arts (top chefs) and a wide group of NGO and public health
bodies. The CFP was invited by Jamie Oliver and the Prince of Wales to a
stakeholder meeting on cooking and food skills, prior to the School Food
Plan publication. The CFP hosted its 1st (now annual) Food
Symposium on Food Skills in October 2010). A day earlier, the UK
Government launched its own joint Skills Council review of skills needed
in the food industry which reported in 2011.
b) Food provenance. Lang's notion of Food Miles continues
to get traction, both critical and laudatory, in the issue of shortening
supply chains to build consumer trust. Barling's work on Ethical
Traceability (EU research and book) informed CFP public engagement
following the EU horsemeat scandal (2013) which exposed long chain
failings in governance. Lang undertook 70 media interviews in six weeks.
Confidential industry engagement followed (e.g., Marks & Spencer,
Tesco, Asda-Walmart) with Tesco committing to reduce the length and
complexity of supply chains to meet consumer trust concerns .
Following the National Audit Office report on horsemeat (2013), Lang was
invited to meet and discuss the citizenship critique with the entire Food
Standards Agency Board (5th November 2013) and with the Chief
Executive `one-to-one' in August and November.
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Attendee at 2013 International Union of Nutritional Science.
 Institute of Medicine final report due out early 2014.www.iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/FoodForum/2013-MAY-07.aspx
 Contact at WWF.
 Contact at Sustain.
 Asda: http://your.asda.com/aislespy-sustainable-sourcing/asda-and-leaf-launch-sustainable-soils-guide
 FSA www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/iacreport.pdf.
 CIEH Takeaway Toolkit www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/TakeawaysToolkit_0.pdf.
 President, Public Health Association of Australia.
 Coordinator, School Food Plan.
 Tesco and Society report 2013www.tescoplc.com/index.asp?pageid=81.