Geoff Tansey

Food, nutrition and poverty

An overview

In this talk, Liz Dowler looks beyond a narrowly scientific, reductionist approach to food, nutrition and health to the bigger picture of what makes for healthy people and communities and the role food plays in this. She puts food and nutrition in its wider social and cultural context, discusses rising inequalities in food, nutrition and poverty and how nutrition components have been used to define poverty lines, least-cost diets and the problems with that. She also discusses local action around the world and the need for food justice based on fair shares, fair play and fair say for everyone. You can read more about the Food Justice report and work on minimum income on other pages on this site

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The running order for the video is as follows:

Introduction. 0 - 7 minutes 25 seconds

Part 1. Beyond a scientific, reductionist biomedical approach: 7 min 25 sec - 10 min 34 sec

Part 2. Links between food, nutrition and poverty: 10 min 34 sec - 20 min 17 sec

Part 3. Rising inequality, food and health: 20 min 17 sec - 26 min 53 sec

Part 4. Local action and policy change: 26 min 53 sec - end

Download the transcript

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Further reading

See books by Elizabeth Dowler listed in the column on the right, and other publications by her:


Dowler, E. (2014) ‘Food banks and food justice in “Austerity Britain”’ ch 12 in: Riches, G. and Silvasti, T. (eds) First World Hunger Revisited, Basingstoke: PalgraveMacmillan. There are also chapters about several countries, rich and poor, including updates by Poppendieck (on USA) and Riches & Tarasuk (on Canada).

Caraher, M. and Dowler, E.  (2014)  ‘Food for Poorer People: Conventional and “Alternative”  Trangressions?’  ch 11 in:  Goodman, M., Sage, C. (eds) Food Transgressions: Making sense of contemporary food politics, Aldershot: Ashgate.  This chapter challenges the idea that local actions can deal with food poverty.

Dowler, E. (2012) ‘How should we eat?  the principles and practice of just food’  ch3 in J. Hopkinson and A. Smith (eds) Faith and the Future of the Countryside.  Norwich: Canterbury Press pp42-66.

Dowler, E., Kneafsey,M., Cox, R. & Holloway, L.  (2010) ‘Doing food differently: reconnecting biological and social relationships through care for food’ in: N. Charles & R. Carter (eds) Nature, Society and Environmental Crisis, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. This chapter presents evidence on local food initiatives about reconnection – also some are low income households; all case studies are in UK bar one (Italy).
Dowler, E. (2004) ‘Food and poverty: insights from the UK’. ch 3 in Maxwell, S. and Slater, R. (eds) Food Policy Old and New, pp33-41. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. also published (2003) Development Policy Review, 21, 5-6, 569-580.

Dowler (2003)  ‘Food and Poverty in Britain: Rights and Responsibilities’. in: E DOWLER & C Jones Finer (eds) (2003) The Welfare of Food: rights and responsibilities in a changing world, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp 140-159. also published (2002) Social Policy and Administration, 36, 6, 698-717. 

Dowler, E. and Leather, S. (2000) ‘Spare some change for a bite to eat? From Primary Poverty to Social Exclusion: the role of food’, in: Bradshaw, J and Sainsbury, R. (eds)  Experiencing Poverty, Aldershot: Ashgate, pp 200-218.


Dowler, E. and Lambie-Mumford, H. (forthcoming 2015) (eds) ‘Hunger, Food Poverty and Social Policy in Austerity’, special issue Social Policy and Society

Lambie-Mumford, H. and Dowler, E. (2014 in print) ‘Rising use of “food aid” in the United Kingdom’, sp issue on food banks British Food Journal.

Dowler, E. and O’Connor, D. (2012)  ‘Rights-based approaches to addressing food poverty and food insecurity in Ireland and UK’ Social Science and Medicine, 74, 44-51  special issue on human rights to health.

Kneafsey, M., Dowler, E., Lambie, H., Inman, A. and Collier, R.  (2012)  ‘Consumers and food security: Uncertain or empowered?’ Journal of Rural Studies, 28, 1-12.  this and next paper (Crit Public Health) are based on UK consumer views on rising food prices and food security.  might be useful but less critically so.

Dowler, E., Kneafsey, M., Lambie, H., Inman, A. and Collier, R. (2011)  ‘Thinking about “food security”: engaging with UK consumers’  Critical Public Health, 21, 403-416.

MacMillan, T. and Dowler, E. (2012) ‘Secure and sustainable? Examining the rhetoric and potential realities of UK food security’ Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 25, 2, 181-204. 

Elizabeth DOWLER  (2008) ‘Food and Health Inequalities: the challenge for sustaining just consumption’ Local Environment 13, 8, 759-772.(special issue on inequality and sustainable consumption)

Dowler, E.A. (2008)  Policy initiatives to address low income households' nutritional needs in the UK.  Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 67, 3, 289-300.

Elizabeth Dowler and Martin Caraher  (2003) Local Food Projects - the New Philanthropy?  Political Quarterly, 74, no1, 57-65.

Morris, J., Donkin, A., Wonderling, D., Wilkinson, P.  Dowler, E. (2000)  A minimum income for healthy living. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health   54, 885-889.

Dowler, E. (1997)   Budgeting for food on a low income: the case of lone parents.  Food Policy 22, 5, 405-417.


IDS and Oxfam (2013) 'Squeezed: Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility, Year 1 Results', download here

Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam (2013) 'walking the breadline: the scandal of food poverty in 21st Century Britain', download here

Cooper, N., Purcell, S. and Jackson, R. (2014) Below the Breadline: The Relentless Rise of Food Poverty in Britain,CAP-OXFAM-Trussell Trust, download here

CEBR (Centre for Economics and Business Research) (2013) Hard to Swallow: the facts about food poverty, report for Kelloggs, available here

Davis, A., Hirsch, D. and Padley, M. (2014) A Minimum Income Standard for the UK in 2014, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

De Schutter, O. (2010)  ‘Food Commodities Speculation and Food Price Crises.  Regulation to reduce the risks of price volatility’, Briefing Note 02, download here

FEC (2010) Food justice: the report of the Food and Fairness Inquiry, Brighton: Food Ethics Council. download here

Lang, T., Barling, D., Caraher, M. (2009) Food Policy: Integrating health, environment and society, Oxford: Oxford University Press.  especially ch 8 ‘Inequality, poverty and social justice’.

Poppendieck, J. (1998) Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement. New York, Penguin Group.

Poppendieck, J. (2014) ‘Food Assistance, Hunger and the End of Welfare in the USA’, ch 13 in:  G. Riches and T. Silvasti (eds) First World Hunger Revisited, Basingstoke: PalgraveMacmillan.

Riches, G. (1997) ‘Hunger and the Welfare State: Comparative Perspectives’, in G. Riches (ed.) First World Hunger: Food Security and Welfare Politics, Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1-13.

Riches, G. and Tarasuk, V. (2014) ‘Canada: Thirty Years of Food Charity and Public Policy Neglect’, ch 4 in G. Riches and T. Silvasti (eds). First World Hunger Revisited, Basingstoke: PalgraveMacmillan.


Life in a time of food price volatility is a four-year (2012-15) research project to monitor the impacts of, and responses to, volatile food prices in poor communities in ten developing countries involving Oxfam and the Institute for Development Studies.






Liz Dowler

Elizabeth Dowler, a public health nutritionist, is Professor of Food & Social Policy in the Sociology Department at the University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.  She draws on science and social science in working on food poverty, security, rights and justice; local food initiatives; policy evaluation and ‘reconnection’ to sustainable food systems. Liz is a member of DECC/Defra’s Social Science Expert Panel, and was previously on Defra’s Council of Food Policy Advisors. 

In 2014 she was a member of the External Expert Ex-Post Evaluators for Framework Prorgamme 7 Food, Agriculture, Fisheries and Biotechnology for the European Commission. She is also a member of the Iona Community, a dispersed Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice.  She does brief international consultancies evaluating food policies and previously worked in the global South, often for international agencies, and was based at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. 

Her recent books, with colleagues, include: Reconnecting Consumer, Producers and Food: exploring alternatives (2008) Berg; Challenging Health Inequalties: from Acheson to 'Choosing Health' (2007) Policy Press; Welfare of Food: rights and responsibilities in a changing world (2003) Blackwellls; Poverty and Social Exclusion North and South (2003) Routledge; Poverty bites: food, health and poor families (2001) Child Poverty Action Group.


This video is a public good, open education resource that is unrestricted in non-commercial use (for commercial purposes or in commercial organisations permission is needed). If in doubt please contact Geoff Tansey. Please respond to the survey as this feedback will help in taking this 'virtual academy' work further. Suggestions for further materials to be linked to this page or added to this series are also welcome. Liz Dowler is currently not available for follow-up via the internet.