Creative Associates - food insecurity
Short documentaries can be a powerful means of engaging people with social issues at the same time as challenging assumptions and prejudices, a new study has suggested.
The research assesses the impact of a film that resulted from a participatory food research project that aimed to explore creative methods to better understand the food experiences of vulnerable communities.
Food: On the Margins in Plymouth was produced by the University of Plymouth and media company Fotonow CIC, with support from the University’s Creative Associates programme.
Originally developed in 2019, it captured the voices of six individuals who were experiencing food insecurity and documents the dilemmas they were facing on a daily basis.
It also heard from frontline workers, in food banks and other emergency food providers, who were tirelessly supporting vulnerable people to provide them with food at times of crises.
Writing in the journal Sociological Research Online, the study’s authors say they film illustrates the realities of food insecurity to those with the ability to catalyse food system change.
In reaching a wide public audience, it continues to be used regularly as a knowledge-exchange resource by public health practitioners, educators and non-governmental organisations alike.
Against a backdrop of ever-rising food prices and household bills, they say the messages within it – and the challenges highlighted – are perhaps more relevant now than ever.
Dr Clare Pettinger, Associate Professor in Public Health Dietetics at the University of Plymouth, has spent many years examining how food poverty is impacting vulnerable people across Plymouth. She developed the vision for Food: On the Margins in Plymouth and is the lead author of the new study. 

Our hope in producing this film was always that it would provide an insight into the lives of people struggling financially, or for other reasons, to access a healthy diet and the benefits that can bring. It was a hugely rewarding project to work on, and resulted in a really powerful film that highlights key themes including the impact of mental health issues, food affordability, the quality of food on offer, and the importance of all agencies working together to address the problem. Despite it being four years old, we believe the film has the potential to continue engaging publics through sharing important food stories. By giving people a voice, it also serves as an example of how we can convey wider sociological discourses that can build community capacity, resilience and social capital.

Clare PettingerClare Pettinger
Associate Professor in Public Health Dietetics

Some of the issues raised through Food: On the Margins in Plymouth are now being explored further through the FoodSEqual project, a £7million initiative funded through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF).
The project unites researchers and food industry representatives with charity leaders to reimagine how food policy, products and supply chains can be developed. It is also working with disadvantaged communities to jointly imagine new solutions that will ultimately address a lack of access to healthy, sustainable food.
Professor Carol Wagstaff, from the University of Reading, is Chief Investigator on the FoodSEqual project. Commenting on the new study, she said:

The original version of this film was made in what feels like a very different era, when pandemics and cost of living crises weren’t part of the global agenda. However, because of them, it feels more topical than ever and I still find it incredibly moving. In 2023, an even bigger proportion of our society is struggling to eat a healthy diet while others still face impossible choices of whether to eat or heat their homes. As we approach another winter, that urgently needs to change and the whole of society has a role to play in challenging our food system.

  • The full study – Pettinger and Ellwood: Food on the Margins: A Creative Film Collaboration to Amplify the Voices of Those Living with Food Insecurity – is published in Sociological Research Online, DOI: 10.1177/13607804231182005.

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