Liverpool City Council, fresh food caterer Can Cook and the food alliance Feeding Liverpool are collaborating with researchers from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection, Vetinerary and Ecological Sciences (IVES) and the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) in a cross-disciplinary, food system science approach to improving food access and security.
Food insecurity has been heightened worldwide due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but will also become a key challenge as our climate continues to change. This long-term challenge disproportionately affects marginalised groups, and approximately 2.2 million people experience food insecurity each year in the UK, making us one of the worst-performing nations in Europe. Waste food, inefficient delivery systems and low nutritional value are some of the key issues that must be overcome.
Within Liverpool City Region, Feeding Liverpool and Can Cook have both reported that their clients struggle to find affordable and convenient transport to their preferred grocery stores that does not take too much time to access. Within Liverpool, there are areas of very poor food access which contain two or less supermarkets or convenience stores.
Food system science brings together knowledge and expertise to address the biological, behavioural, management and environmental challenges around making, delivering and accessing healthy food. To address food insecurity across Liverpool City Region, this new partnership will develop targeted approaches that maximise local resources and create sustainable and fair food systems with resilient supply chains.
The team have created the interactive Liverpool Food Mapping Dashboard, which combines existing university research and open-source data around the distribution of stores, their opening hours and accessibility. The dashboard is a tool for local stakeholders and policy-makers in food retail and infrastructure planning to improve access, for example modifying transportation routes and zoning regulations. It will also monitor the changes in food access over time, acting as an analytical tool to score different areas and provide ‘what-if’ modelling for varying scenarios.
The techniques used to develop the Liverpool Food Mapping Dashboard also have implications for other projects. Since the launch, the team has received much interest from other researchers and relevant parties interested in the methodology and its applicability to future projects. They’ve joined with collaborators at the University of Liverpool and Feeding Liverpool to apply for funding to begin further work that would integrate food pantries into the map, along with using the mapping tool to investigate food environments of food pantry users and determine how food pantries fill niches within the local food environment.
There are many across Liverpool who are passionate about good food access, and this novel interdisciplinary work will have long-term impacts on food security across the city. Having a public-access dashboard which can be used to monitor the changes and forecast different scenarios will allow all business, no matter their size to get involved in improving access to nutritional food. The teams have already begun checking with residents to gather feedback on changes from those struggling to access good quality food, and are also looking at how this can be implemented in other UK cities.
Dr Naomi Maynard, Network Coordinator of Feeding Liverpool said: “This dashboard is an important tool as Liverpool works towards a Good Food Plan. With several ‘food deserts’ in Liverpool – areas containing two or fewer supermarkets or convenience stores – understanding and improving food access is vital for our city. This dashboard will support all of us working to create a city where everyone can access good food to make wise, well-informed decisions.”
About the department
The University of Liverpool team work with researchers in an interdisciplinary approach to improving human health through what we eat and ensuring equitable access to nutritious food. Researchers from across the university work collaboratively on research projects, including teams with expertise in management, environmental sciences, psychology, infection, global health and history.
The Virtual Engineering Centre offers support to clients as they explore the adoption of digital technologies in order to solve key industry challenges.
- Professor Jonathan Rushton, Professor of Animal Health and Food Systems Economics
- Dr Grace Patterson, Postdoctoral Research Associate
- Dr Andrew Levers, Executive Director Institute of Digital Engineering and Autonomous Systems
- Dr Ana Campos Marin, VEC Technical team leader
- Dr Yang Zhang, Project Engineer, VEC
- Shaun Johnson, Student, VEC
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