Bite-size paper: Food provides a powerful ‘catalyst’ to empower individuals


In many cities in the UK, there are high levels of social and economic deprivation, with research showing that marginalised groups and those on the fringes of society often make compromised food choices and are subject to ‘food poverty’. 

This paper shares results from a project, Food as a Lifestyle Motivator, in which creative methods of investigation were used with homeless adult males to examine food-related experiences in order to facilitate their engagement in wellbeing discourse.

The study took place in Plymouth, which has pockets of serious social and economic deprivation. Homelessness is on the rise nationally and Plymouth has seen increases in levels of homelessness relating to welfare reform, mental illness and disability. As homeless groups tend to have more food-related health problems than the general population, understanding their eating habits is crucial.

A sample of homeless service users in Plymouth was given disposable cameras to photograph their food activities over ten days. These people then volunteered to share their photos in a discussion to bring about meaning to their food experiences. This method of research has been used for decades, but its use is only just starting emerge in food research. 

Discussions with nine participants about their images and food experiences led to the emergence of five themes showing that food holds meaning, provokes emotion and exerts power. Discussions also portrayed that a food environment can become an important social meeting place, and food preparation can provide companionship and occupation.

This research will be used to inform health education practice, aid with the design of services for marginalised groups and address nutritional health inequalities.