Families and Food in Hard Times: European Comparative Research

Hidden hunger is a growing issue in developed economies. According to UK food policy charity Sustain, an estimated 8.4 million people in the UK struggle to get enough to eat, a situation that will likely worsen due to the effects of the current global pandemic. GODAN remains convinced that Open Data is the solution to this growing concern, and will be talking to UK-based organisations who are already using data and evidence based research to alleviate both the short-term (hunger, malnutrition) and long-term (socioeconomic inequality) effects of hunger, to better understand the challenges involved.

In the UK and elsewhere in the global North, Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated stark health and social inequalities that widened in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis and so-called austerity measures that diminished the welfare state. Low-income families with children are among those hardest hit, with growing numbers experiencing food insecurity and accessing ‘emergency’ provision including food banks, school meal parcels and vouchers.

International comparative research has the potential to shed light on the conditions in which households experience food insecurity and the range of resources on which families draw to feed themselves in times of crisis. However international research on household food insecurity has tended to be quantitative in nature and treat the household as an undifferentiated unit, whilst qualitative research has generally been conducted at the national level and focussed on ‘lived experiences’ to the exclusion of identifying social causes. Furthermore, research on poverty and food insecurity has rarely set out to examine the experiences of children.

In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, Families and Food in Hard Times (2014-2019), funded by the European Research Council, set out to address these gaps. The study applied a mixed methods embedded case study design to examine the ways in which social contexts and social positionings mediate the extent and experience of food poverty in three European countries: the UK, Portugal and Norway.

In the first part of this talk our panelists introduce the study and how it conceptualised food poverty in wealthy societies. In the second part, they discuss the study’s mixed methods design and its focus on households as resource units. Finally, in part three, they cover some of the study’s findings and recommendations, and draw some lessons for research and policy in the current crisis.

Join the GODAN Working Group on Food Poverty to connect with other organisations and stakeholders working in the area and join the debate.


About the Panelists

Dr Rebecca O’Connell is a Reader in the Sociology of Food and Families at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education. She is co-author, with Julia Brannen, of Families and Food in Hard Times (2021) and Food, Families and Work (2016) and with Abigail Knight and Julia Brannen, of Living Hand to Mouth: Children and food in low-income families (2019). She is co-editor with Ulla Gustafsson, Alizon Draper and Andrea Tonner of What is Food? Researching a topic with many meanings (2019). From 2011-2017 Rebecca was co-convenor of the British Sociological Association Food Study Group. In addition to her substantive interests, Rebecca has an interest in research methodology, particularly mixed and multi methods research. She is a trustee of the charity School Food Matters.

Prof Julia Brannen is Emerita Professor of the Sociology of the Family, Thomas Coram Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, London, and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Science. She has an international reputation for research on family lives of children, young people and parents. Topics include work-family life, intergenerational relations, and food in families. She also is known for her expertise in methodology including mixed methods, biographical approaches and comparative research. Recent single and co-authored books include: Families and Food in Hard Times: European research (UCL Press 2021); Social Research Matters: A life in family sociology (Policy Press 2019); Living Hand to Mouth: Children and food in low-income families London: CPAG; Fathers and Sons: Generations, Families and Migration (Palgrave 2015). Food, Families and Work (Bloomsbury 2016). 

Moderator: Kathryn Bailey, Head of Communications, GODAN