UK Food Insecurity and Social Eating Initiatives

Social eating initiatives are an increasingly popular way of providing meals for the public in the UK.  These organisations provide a limited menu of low-cost meals prepared using food surpluses and serve meals communally to improve social inclusion.  The value of these initiatives is often conceptualised critically; conjoining of food insecurity and food wastage appears to instrumentally feed customers and reduce food wastage, but in ways that are stigmatising, and which position them as passive recipients of food charity.

In this presentation, Marsha Smith from Notingham Trent and Coventry Universities, argues that group eating, or commensality, is a distinctive but largely unexplored dimension of these initiatives. From this perspective, social eating is not simply a consequence of reducing food waste or food insecurity. Instead, these initiatives are valued because they counter societal trends; such as the rise in social isolation, and the displacement of the shared mealtime. They also enable participants to actively engage and contribute to public life, and they meet the need for social bonding, pleasure and conviviality.  Social eating initiatives can be understood as creating moments of commensality that shore up the structure, and enrich the fabric of, social life.

The presentation, entitled Eating on Purpose: Understanding the emergence of social eating initiatives through the lens of commensality, emphasises the value of a ‘more than food’ approach and calls for the positioning of social eating initiatives within public policy.


About the Speaker

Marsha Smith gained ten years’ experience in award-winning community food initiatives before returning to academia to undertake a PhD in social eating. She has worked for Coventry University, the the University of York and the Future Food Beacon of Excellence at the University of Nottingham as a community researcher, and written pieces in the CURB and Future Food blogs, and submitted written evidence for a House of Lords Select Committee. 

Marsha contends that public meals at mealtimes, using surplus foods, can be viewed as a response to food insecurity and food wastage but are better understood as a new form of commensality, or group eating practice. Marsha’a work around the value of social eating initiatives develops this ‘more than food’ approach.

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Twitter: @eatingonpurpose

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