We’ve begun! Our new research project will explore the links between local food and wellbeing in the East of England (Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk).  Regular updates here.

‘Wellbeing’ is currently a fashionable concept. Just out this week, the Office of National Statistics have released a number of publications on the measurement of national wellbeing, which includes interactive tools for local mapping of wellbeing. These map counties and local authorities in terms of scores along four dimensions: respondents ‘life satisfaction’, ‘worthwhileness’, ‘happiness’ and ‘anxiety’. All four dimensions were measured on a 10-point scale; key findings are listed here and results are here.

Maps show that Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex score in-line with or above UK-wide percentages of respondents reporting medium or high life satisfaction; all three counties have a higher percentage of respondents reporting feelings of happiness than the UK-wide figure. Finally, compared with national averages, Suffolk and Essex had a lower percentage of people reporting having felt ‘high or very high anxiety yesterday’ than the UK-wide percentage, but Norfolk was higher.


Local food and well-being

Photo: Jules Pretty

Under cherry-trees

Soup, the salad, fish and all

Seasoned with petals.

– Basho.

We recently advertised 2 PhD positions at the University of Essex, looking for researchers to explore whether relocalised food systems could contribute to individual and community wellbeing. Our starting premise was that, “Food produced with a light ecological footprint, as a collective community effort, and distributed through short food chains could contribute to achieving sustainability, resilience and improved wellbeing.”

‘Local food’ often conjures images of happy, healthy people, green landscapes and beautiful-looking crops (see the collection of images here, for instance). Thrown into the mix is also a promise of ‘resilience’. Unsurprisingly, the movement to ‘relocalise’ food systems is gaining ground. Carol Trewin (2003) describes the spread of local food initiatives in the UK. At the end of her report, cites a claim from Food for Britain, that “significant and measurable financial benefits (are) coming from the revival of interest in local food”.

What about ‘wellbeing’? How do individuals and communities benefit? There is more research and writing on what is lost in globalised agricultural systems than there is on what is gained through more local systems. In an early review of the local food movement in the USA, Gail Feenstra cites some of the early writing on the link between local food and happier, healthier, more democratic communities: Hightower (1973, 1976), who talked about the corporate control of agriculture, and Wendell Berry’s work (1977), describing the loss of community and culture that ensues from the rise of mechanised, corporatised, intensive agriculture. And there is also the supply-side to consider: what does localisation imply for the producers who grow crops that are sold globally? Does the movement towards relocalisation also place adequate emphasis on fair and ethical trade and sourcing?

Our research will examine what’s already known and use community studies in the East of England to demonstrate what individuals gain, how communities change, and whether environment and society reconnect as a result of local production and consumption.

We’ll post updates as we go along, and introduce our new PhD students once their selection process is through.