The COACH project analyses collaborative agri-food chains with its aim to drive innovation in territorial food systems and improve outcomes for producers and consumers. In order to facilitate and systematise project outcomes, all COACH actions oscillate around “Spotlights” – 8 cross-cutting themes illustrating particular aspects of collaborative agri-food chains in territorial food systems.
The scope of the Accessibility and Social Equity Spotlight covers strategies and practices addressing inequity in the food system, which enable wider access to fresh local food for low-income or traditionally excluded constituencies and marginalised groups.
Many people and communities across the globe struggle to realize their right to food and nutrition. Hunger and food insecurity are again on the rise globally, and Europe is also following suit. According to the 2021 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, 8.1% of the European population experiences moderate food insecurity. This statistic reflects the marginalization and discrimination that many people face in accessing a decent income to meet their basic needs.
In order to ensure equity within territorial food systems and enable equal access for all to food no matter how many barriers they face, collaborative agri-food chains should be considered holistically and in correlation with the realization of human rights. The right to food and nutrition, simply put, is the right to feed oneself, family, and/or community in dignity. There is no one strategy for realizing this right, yet programs, policies and actions should be informed by those who are most marginalized within the food system.
RIGHT TO FOOD – ‘this human right may be defined as the right, alone or in community with others, to be free from hunger and malnutrition, to have physical and economic access at all times to adequate food – in quality and quantity – that is nutritious and culturally acceptable or means for its procurement in a sustainable and dignified manner, while ensuring the highest level of physical, emotional and intellectual development.‘(FIAN, 2016)
Governments have the duty and obligation to ensure the conditions for people to have access to adequate food. In many countries across Europe – due to decreasing or insufficient social welfare policies, low wages and insecure work, people are not making ends meet. Food accessibility is a part of this picture. Many people and communities do not have a good choice, access to fresh foods, or sufficient income to cover more nutritious or locally produced options. Accessing foods is a complex dynamic of availability, accessibility and social, cultural and material conditions (Berggreen-Clausen et al., 2022).
Among reasons why people struggle to access fresh and local food are:
- Easy accessibility of fast and processed foods (Addo et al., 2019).
- High cost of healthy food, low cost of processed foods and low incomes (Chaufan, Davis and Constantino, 2011).
- Not enough time available to cook which leads to convenience foods (Addo et al., 2019).
- Lack of understanding of food labels (Moffat, Mohammed and Newbold, 2017).
- Limited availability and accessibility to the traditional food of ethnic and national minorities (Amos and Lordly, 2014).
- Lack of culinary skills (Amstutz et al., 2020).
- Poor/inadequate public transportation (Cerin et al., 2019).
- Limited language skills (Judelsohn et al., 2017)(Moffat, Mohammed and Newbold, 2017).
- Fear to access government food assistance due to being undocumented (Carney and Krause, 2020).
For people in disadvantaged situations, eating fresh and healthy food is a matter of balance between acceptability, availability (culture foods), accessibility (transportation), and affordability (high cost). Quality, price, time and convenience are also important considerations when making a shopping decision.
Many local, small and medium-scale producers are aware that people cannot access their products. But when they themselves are also struggling to have a viable business, and even themselves struggle with access to sufficient financial resources, there is little they can do. However, in the end, many food rights advocates argue that it is not their responsibility, but it is the State’s. Therefore, addressing inequalities across and within the food systems is a fundamental part of greater food accessibility and ensuring decent living conditions for food producers and consumers within the territory. While addressing existing inequalities and improving access to adequate food, it is important to consider that women and female-headed households disproportionally experience poverty. It is crucial to address gender inequalities while advocating for food accessibility and social equity. Due to gender stereotypes and the patriarchal opinion that women are responsible for food preparation, unmarried men have a tendency to eat a lot of convenience food (Willis and Buck, 2007). Disadvantage women who are expected to provide the caregiving services, cook and work, often do not have enough time or support to prepare fresh and healthy meals for their families (Bojorquez et al., 2018). These and many other reasons show that there cannot be a food system transformation without recognising women’s rights and gender equality.
While food systems were already deeply unequal before 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the vulnerabilities of industrial food systems and social protection systems. With experiences of poverty and inequalities further fuelled by the economic downturn and livelihood insecurities during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to rethink how our territorial food systems can fulfil the right to food and nutrition of those who are experiencing marginalization and social exclusion (Jafri et al., 2021).
The experiences shared from the COACH project Beacons are examples of how food accessibility can be increased for those who experience income inequalities. Examples and experiences shared elaborate on the opportunity to support producers with sustainable technologies and the importance of the right to food and land. A number of COACH Beacons advocate for food sovereignty, which is “based on the right of people to define their own food system and to develop policies on how food is produced, distributed and consumed” (Kay et al., 2018). It follows from this that it is necessary to acknowledge the right to food and the right to land to create equitable and sustainable food systems.
Lack of access to adequate food often results from pre-existing inequalities linked to gender diversity, racial and disability injustice. The Granville Community Kitchen (GCK) has been created in response to the entrenched deprivation, disenfranchisement, and ongoing fragmentation of the local community in South Kilburn, where a high percentage of its members is on a low income and experiences chronic food insecurity.
In its approach towards the transformation of localised food systems, co-creation of a community abundance, healing, and resilience, GCK adopts four principles: dignity, right to food and nutrition, agroecology, and food sovereignty. They underline that:
The right to food is not about charity, but about ensuring that all people have the capacity to feed themselves with dignity.Beacon’s Spotlights Template
The above message is a fundament of their initiatives implementing a holistic approach that aims above the simple provision of food. GCK runs a community kitchen, a community garden, a food aid service, and a solidarity box scheme. All these services aim to provide the South Kilburn community with access to nutritious, affordable, and sustainable food. Their work contributes to supporting citizens with long-term health conditions, learning disabilities, those experiencing household food insecurity, but also asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, women, racialised groups, single parents and large families, working people on low incomes, homeless and rough sleepers, older people.
Learn about the Granville Community Kitchen directly from its members:
Granville Community Kitchen’s practices are innovative because they implement a tiered pricing system as an attempt to radically re-imagine the food system, encouraging participants to think about and build community health rather than focusing on the individual. Encouraging those who pay a bit more for food enables access to organic products to those who otherwise couldn’t overcome the price barrier.
[GCK] decided on a community kitchen model rather than a food bank because we wanted to centre people, centre the most marginalised, to enable people to have some dignity. We came to gather as a community to decide what was needed. And we started by providing meals, cooking together, and offering meals that were either free or low costs with the food coming from our local community garden, or purchased from local shop owners, so that we were keeping that money within our community.Beacon’s Spotlights Template
Dee Woods, the co-founder of the Granville Community Kitchen, highlights the importance of the economic impact of their action on society because decent work and fair wages are considered the main ways of lifting people out of poverty. As an organization, GCK pays above the London Real Living Wage and is a registered Real Living Wage employer. Unfortunately, they cannot afford to hire big staff and they must rely on volunteers. The lack of financial support for initiatives advocating for access to food and social justice is a common problem raised in all beacons’ templates focusing on this spotlight.
Manos Verdes ASDECOBA uses pre-existing inequalities to engage with a community and provide its marginalised members with high-quality food. The objective of their work is to sustain people who experience social exclusion. Project participants working in the garden are men who have been or still are in prison and migrants. The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) created with their work supports 30 families, other projects, catering for older people living in rural areas and two kindergartens.
ASDECOBA project also created an organisational innovation: it invites socially excluded people to participate in assemblies and decision-making. On top of that, the food recipients do not expect the food to be organically certified. They rely on the relationship rich in trust resulting from regular visits to the garden and understanding of how people work there.
Along with Granville Community Kitchen, the Manos Verdes team agrees that food banks and charities are not a solution to food insecurity since they are often dependent on supermarket donations and fail to address the structural causes of food and income insecurity or advocate for the diverse needs of marginalised communities; they are short term solutions to deeper issues. The ASDECOBA CSA is located in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city of Salamanca. From the project’s point of view, food banks and food stamps do not contribute to transforming food systems and addressing food insecurity since they do not influence people’s habits. Participation in the project gives migrants and prisoners a sense of community, supports their mental health, and provides opportunities for obtaining new skills and work opportunities.
The Netzwerk Solidarische Landwirtschaft e.V. Solawi (NZSL) and Solawi Erlangen focus on the financial barrier that prevents people from accessing adequate food. As members of the Solawi network, they encourage colleagues to use the ‘bidding round’ method to better understand different financial circumstances and ways to act in solidarity with the community. The contribution round method allows network members to choose their fees according to their income. Bidding rounds allow CSAs to communicate a reference value instead of a price per share. Each CSA member can indicate what they would like to pay. This method helps people overcome the price barrier and creates a dialogue about inequalities in the community. According to NZSL:
There is a big misunderstanding in more privileged circles that people with less money have more time they can invest. This is a problem because less money does not mean that you have more time you could instead spend in projects helping out; time resources of marginalised groups are also an issue which makes it hard to get involved in participatory solidarity projects.Beacon’s Spotlights Template
Network of Exchanges of Knowledge and Know-How on the Accessibility of the AMAP that aims at capitalising on initiatives and practices for increasing access to agroecological food, reappropriating one’s food and emancipating people from consumerism suggests a similar technique to bidding rounds: double solidarity baskets. In its work, they aim to ensure that there are no beneficiaries but only actors whose actions focus on low-income families and farmers who are allowed to cover just a part of the basket’s price, e.g., 5 out of 17 euros. The rest of the price is voluntarily paid by community members in a better financial situation.
This network is innovative in its work because of its strong engagement in public policy and civic mobilisation, which during the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the success of the national recovery plan dedicated to combating food insecurity through connecting people with local producers.
BEACONS’ WHO CONTRIBUTED TO THE ACCESSIBILITY AND SOCIAL EQUITY SPOTLIGHT ANALYSIS