Monthly Archives: November 2015

Growing your own food: filling some knowledge gaps using European data

This article was written by Dr Lee Stapleton (SPRU, University of Sussex) and was originally posted on the Sussex Energy Group website on the 14th of January 2015.

Growing Your Own Food: Filling Some Knowledge Gaps Using European Data

Growing food for personal and family consumption is a significant global activity, but one that has received insufficient academic attention, particularly in developed countries.

There are many benefits of growing your own food which can be categorised into: (a) those associated with the activity of food growing e.g. physical activity and personal independence; (b) those associated with the output from the activity e.g. safer and higher quality food; and (c) externality benefits that are not directly related to either the activity or the output e.g. lower ecological footprint.

Working with Andrew Church and Neil Ravenscroft at The University of Brighton and Richard Mitchell at The University of Glasgow, we used data from the European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) to address three areas of particular concern: the prevalence of growing your own food and how this has changed over time; the individual and household context in which growing takes place; and whether those who grow their own food are happier than those who do not.

On average, there was a marked increase in households growing their own food across Europe. In some cases, the UK included, the proportion of households which grow at least some of their own food has more than doubled between 2003 and 2007, to reach approximately 15% of total households.  Overall, this increase is largely associated with poorer households and thus, possibly, economic hardship. In the UK however the increase in households growing their own food is predominantly associated with older middle class households.

Across Europe, those who grew their own food were happier than those who did not.

The article concludes that claims about the gentrification of growing your own may be premature. The dominant motive across Europe (despite the UK evidence) appears to be primarily economic — to reduce household expenditure whilst ensuring a supply of fresh food.

You can read the full article on Elsevier.

Dr Lee Stapleton is a Research Fellow in SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit) working principally in the EPSRC-funded Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand CIED. Lee StapletonPrior to joining SPRU in September 2013, Lee was employed at The University of Brighton where he worked on projects concerned with ecosystem services, the environmental social economy and personal food growing.


How Much has Food Research Changed in the Past 40 Years? New Event Announced

Food systems have seen many changes, innovations, and challenges during the past 40 years. Research on food-related issues has responded to changing food systems and demands through developing new areas of inquiry, new methods, and new forms of interactions with food systems.

BSUFN are hosting a short series of discussion groups on the topic of changes in food research over the past 40 years. These discussions are intended to provoke critical analysis of changing food research priorities by asking whether the food-related issues under investigation have really changed.

To inform the discussion we will draw on two readings, listed below.

‘Food Aid?…Or Weapon?’, Chapter 8, pages 192-213 in: Susan George (1976) How the Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons for World Hunger, Penguin

‘Food governance: a rapid historical review’, Chapter 1, pages 11-30, in: Nora McKeon (2015) Food Security Governance: Empowering communities, regulating corporations, Routledge

There are many other texts which are highly relevant to this topic and it is not necessary for you to read these two suggested chapters in order to join the discussion. No prior knowledge or preparation is required so please join us if you are interested in the topic. If there are other readings you would like to suggest please let us know and we will be able to propose them for follow-up discussions in January.

The discussions will be held on the following dates and we will organise more follow-up discussions should there be interest and additional readings suggested.

Monday the 14th of December 2015 – 12:30 to 14:00 – Fulton Building room 102, University of Sussex campus, Falmer, Brighton

Monday the 18th of January 2016 – 12:30 to 14:00 – Fulton Building room 111, University of Sussex campus, Falmer, Brighton

If you are unable to attend either of these discussions but you would like to contribute your thoughts on this topic, please feel free to e-mail us ( your ideas on comment using the box below.

There is no need to register your attendance for the discussion groups, just come along and join the conversation. As the groups will be held during lunchtime, please feel free to bring your lunch with you.


New Event Announced – Agro-Chemicals Symposium: The Future of Fertilisers and Pesticides – 8th Jan 2016

The Brighton and Sussex Universities Food Network are pleased to announce that we will be hosting a one-day symposium on the topic of agro-chemicals. The symposium will be held at the Univeristy of Brighton on Friday the 8th of January, from 10am until 4pm.

The use of agro-chemicals became widespread during the period known as the Green Revolution in the 1950s and ‘60s, and has continued to increase in use since. The nature of agro-chemicals varies from plant-specific to mass-produced NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) fertilisers, and from household weed-killers to mass spraying of toxic chemicals.

However, the range of agro-chemicals is now coming under scrutiny. The natural resources which common forms of fertiliser are made from are being depleted and pesticides are increasingly being identified as having a negative effect on environmental and human health. The presentations during this symposium will take a critical look at the future of agro-chemicals

This symposium addresses highly topical issues associated with the use of agro-chemicals. The morning session will focus on fertilisers with the threats of peak phosphorus being discussed from different perspectives. The afternoon session will focus on pesticides, particularly highlighting the harmful effects that pesticides are having on human and environmental health.

Two Keynote Lectures

We are delighted to be welcoming two distinguished speakers to give keynote lectures during the symposium. Dr. Robin Sen (Manchester Metropolitan University) is a highly regarded soil microbiologist and has much expertise in microbial interactions with plants and uses for crop production. He will be giving us his perspective on the threats of peak phosphorus to global food security.

We will also be joined by Professor Dave Goulson (University of Sussex), an ecologist who is well renowned for his research on bees. He has undertaken influential research on the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee populations. He will be presenting on the interactions between bees, pesticides, and politics.

A full provisional programme for the symposium is available here.

The symposium is free to attend but space is limited so please register your attendance here.

The Agro-Chemicals Symposium is kindly supported by the School of Environment and Technology, University of Brighton.

Does collaborative working have a bias in favour of ‘safe’ subjects and questions? Hastings Bites Back taster workshops 2015

This post is shared by BSUFN member Abigail Wincott of the University of Brighton.

This weekend, Bella Wheeler from the University of Sussex and I ran creative research workshops with members of the public, at the Hastings Herring Fair. As well as raising awareness about social and cultural research into food, the activities were used to generate ideas for a new collaborative food research project in Hastings – Hastings Bites Back.

boy_box_twitter wideWe demonstrated three creative techniques used in generating ideas and working through them during research projects. With a sizeable pile of magazines, old books, catalogues and adverts, some glue sticks and scissors, we asked visitors to create collages to express what interested them about food.

We also had a big roll of wallpaper lining paper and some marker pens, for mind-mapping using words. Both mind-maps and collage were used by the Art on the Breadline project in Brighton this year, to generate and develop their ideas. Jotting down words on the mind map was by far the most popular technique with visitors.

And finally we had a props table with a treasure chest, full of ornaments, toys and other assorted objects. The aim of this table was to get people to think about who and what were involved in the food networks or food stories they were starting to think about, and about how they are linked to each other. This activity was developed from ideas I encountered at the AHRC Connected Communities workshop in Newcastle-Under-Lyme last year.

I waherring_fair_blog1nted to be as open as possible at this stage. To find out what other people wanted to research not just what I thought would be interesting. It seems that one of the main points of going to the trouble of involving complete strangers in research collaborations is that they think of things you would never think of, or think about familiar ideas in ways that feel fresh to you.

That’s why I chose the joke false teeth and a stick of Hastings rock for the project publicity materials – to avoid labelling the project in advance as ‘healthy eating for kids’ or ‘local heritage’. With that in mind, we still knew we had to prompt people with some questions, so we chose ‘What food issues are important locally?’ and ‘What do we need to know more about?’

But what came out of the exercise couldn’t be described as fresh. The questions themselves load the dice in favour of certain themes of course, because of their attempt at neutrality. The word ‘issues’ conjures up all the ‘issues’ we hear reported in the news, or by health workers or teachers. And ‘important’ seemed to tend to nudge people to saying what they think is widely perceived to be important. Obesity. Sustainability. Local.

Alison James’s wonderful 1982 study of children’s subversive sweet-eating culture* would surely rarely come out of such a brainstorming activity?

By saying as little as possible to steer fellow participants, we actually bias the project from the outset in favour of the usual palette of topics and questions found in government or NHS literature, celebrity chef campaigns and the news headlines: healthy eating, obesity, how can we make people cook ‘properly’, sustainability, local and seasonal.

As amind_map media studies person, I was aware of how few people thought a research project might subject sources of information to scrutiny, or seek out under-represented or under-examined cultures and practices.

Actually, in spite of this, some people at the fair did propose less popular themes like convenience and finding the time to make food. Someone wrote ‘ideology of education’. One woman was interested in combining her knowledge about nutrition education with a passion for expressive dance. But it’s generally very hard for us to ‘think outside the box’ and perhaps even less so, when we’re trying to think collectively, and trying too hard to choose what we think everyone else will agree matters most.

Surely the best social and cultural research challenges and questions, draws out things we had neglected to notice, or throws our comfortable assumptions up in the air. At the very least, it is always an inquiry, and never just an opinion. Yet most of the visitors shared views, rather than questions.

The issue for future workshops is to find techniques to encourage us all to go beyond our well-rehearsed opinions, to stop us privileging dominant ‘issues’ when generating ideas for research. I’d be interested to hear from anyone with experience or ideas in this area. They could feed into plans for our coming project workshops, when we’ll choose what to research and how to go about it.

*James, A. (1982) Confections, Concoction and Conceptions, in B. Waites, T. Bennett and G. Martin (Eds) Popular Culture: past and present. London: Croom.