A multi-scaled approach to everyday food security and community resilience
by Dr Megan Blake, University of Sheffield
Dr. Megan Blake is a member of Reference Group for GMPA’s Food Poverty Alliance. The Alliance recommends place-based approaches to tackling food poverty, to complement city-regional and national action, and the following approach can be used to frame and inform those localised approaches.
Finding innovative interventions for building food secure communities
Food Ladders is a novel, evidenced-based approach for creating household and community resilience by building on the capacity of food to bring people together. Food Ladders is not like existing household food insecurity approaches that focus on the lack of good food within households that then feed that gap. Instead, Food Ladders activates food and its related practices to reduce local vulnerability to food insecurity and its knock-on effects.
Specifically, Food Ladders advocates for:
– Mobilising the more than nutrient, calorie and commercial aspects of food, such as its capacity to bring people together to foster shared understanding and collaboration;
– Creating safe and inclusive spaces for experimentation and interaction with food;
– Using a positive language of empowerment around food;
– Building place-specific levels of support that enable the recognition and enhancement of locally based skills and assets to create transformations in communities.
What is the Food Ladders approach?
Food Ladders are community scale interventions aimed at building local level resilience in the face of food insecurity. The approach was developed for low-income communities to address the wider effects that poverty has on health, wellbeing, and community cohesion. However, all communities can benefit from Food Ladders. The approach is not intended to replace national level campaigns, but instead complements those campaigns and may even foster activism. Food Ladders works with the specific characteristics of places to enable three levels of intervention These include:
Catching. This first rung provides a starting point for those who are in crisis. Such interventions might include emergency food aid, mental health support, access to social services, etc. Catching enables the ability to cope with a shock, whether that be the loss of a job, an unexpected large payment, debt, longer-term illness or relationship breakdown.
Capacity building to enable change. This second rung supports those not currently in crisis, but who may be struggling to afford and/or access good food. Activities include training programmes, shared cooking and eating activities, food pantries, children’s holiday clubs, and voucher schemes. Done in a manner that celebrates difference and is not stigmatising, activities provide residents with accessible choices that relieve the stresses that co-exist with low-incomes, expand skills, and enable the recognition of personal and local assets. These interventions connect people together by creating networks of trust and reciprocity through shared activity around food. This sort of intervention enables people and communities to be more adaptable by expanding what they can bring to the table to make change.
Self-organised community change. This third rung supports communities to realise goals through self-organised projects that capitalise on what is good in communities. Projects meet community needs as residents identify them. Examples include developing a social enterprise based on community cooking knowledge that provides employment, community story-telling that leads to activism, cooperative food growing and food procurement that increases the local availability of good food, regular social cooking and eating activities to overcome loneliness, cross social divides and create intergenerational knowledge transfer.
What can Local Authorities, Community Organisations, Food Alliances and others do to support local Food Ladders?
There is a lot that these different types of organisations can do to support and build Food Ladders, including undertaking mapping, reflective reviews and evaluations of existing practices. There is a longer description of Food Ladders with pointers for how different types of organisations can start building food ladders in their area.
The research behind the Food Ladders approach:
Food Ladders was developed through a series of interdisciplinary research projects funded by the ESRC, MRC, and The N8 AgriFood Programme, involving local authorities, food industry actors, national charities and community organisations across the UK, which enabled a better understanding of what is working in communities and where different levels of resources and challenges are situated. A special mention goes to Gary Stott (Community Shop and Incredible Edible) and Samantha Siddall (ECO), Rupert Suckling (Doncaster Metropolitan Council), and the teams at Greater Manchester Poverty Action and FareShareUK.