University of Sheffield Senior Lecturer, Dr Megan Blake, is working to help increase social good within food redistribution


University of Sheffield Snr Lecturer Dr Megan Blake: Food justice

University of Sheffield Snr Lecturer Dr Megan Blake: Food justice

In the UK, 8.4 million people are struggling to afford to eat. The chronic stress associated with this can affect relationships, the ability to make decisions and it can contribute to social isolation. This makes communities and individuals less resilient to the shocks associated with limited food choices. Using surplus food can however empower communities.

Poverty related food insecurity is a problem, as is food waste. But Dr Megan Blake from the University of Sheffield's Department of Geography has been working with charity partners to improve the social good of surplus food. Dr Blake, a Researcher at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Geography, works with a network of surplus food redistribution charities, including FareShare and Community Shop. Her aim is to improve how food is distributed to maximise its social good and change community-based approaches to the problems of food insecurity. 

An inspirational researcher in Sheffield

Dr Blake joined Sheffield Geography first as a visiting instructor in 2000, then as lecturer in 2002. She was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2010. She received a PhD in Geography from Clark University in 2001.

She is a recognised expert in food security and food justice. She has an established international reputation for her research focusing on three intersecting strands: 1) Surplus food chains and practices of redistribution 2) Community organisations, social innovation and self-organisation, and practices of resilience 3) Social inequalities. Her work is underpinned by a practice-based theoretical approach and she works closely with local and national scale organisations and local authorities to achieve research impacts that make real change.

Dr Blake is actively involved in public dissemination and has organised and facilitated a number of community engagement events and conferences, has been an invited commentator on national and international TV and radio programmes, and has published in and been quoted by national and international press.

She is the creator of Food Ladders, which is a multi-scaled and asset-based approach that uses food to increase everyday food security, connect communities and increase local resilience by reducing vulnerability. Her film, More than just food, illustrates the ways in which community based food ladders can change places. The Food Ladders approach is being adopted by FareShare.

Dr Blake's mission to feed communities

Statistics show that, in the UK, 8.4 million people are struggling to afford to eat. The chronic stress associated with this can affect relationships, the ability to make decisions and it can contribute to social isolation. This makes communities and individuals less resilient to the shocks associated with limited food choices. 

Despite this,1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK annually, of which a good proportion is still edible. By better understanding how to redistribute surplus food from across the supply chain to consumers, and adopting a new approach to food insecurity, Dr Blake is on a mission to combat food waste and build more resilient communities.

Helping FareShare make a difference through surplus food

Dr Blake has reassessed the data profiles of the 11,000 charities FareShare work with. Before the reassessment FareShare had an idea of how they were supporting groups and charities. “We knew we worked with many food using organisations and we gave them surplus food and they ran a service for people. But we were quite limited in what we understood about the groups we were supporting," said David Brown, Systems & Support Manager, FareShare.

Through Dr Blake's work on the data profiles, FareShare has been able to overhaul the way they understand the organisations they work with and how they use food. Now, FareShare knows how and when their organisations use food, receive funding, focus services and address social challenges. This allows them to match food to organisations more intelligently.

“Megan has been instrumental in the way that we use data to inform decisions around how we work with charities — what type of food they need and how we can help charities increase their capacity or ability to take more food," adds Kris Gibbon-Walsh, Head of Network Partnerships, FareShare.

Helping Community Shop maximise positive community impact

Dr Blake initially worked with Community Shop to write the foreword to their impact report in 2018. This rapidly evolved into a discussion with Gary Stott, the Social Enterprise’s Director, about how Community Shop could maximise their positive impact on communities they work with.

“Megan has challenged our thinking about the activities we promote, the language we use when talking about food and poverty, the programmes we deliver and the way we interact with our members and communities to change the way we act so we can do as much as possible in terms of impact,” said Gary Stott, Director of Community Shop.

Based on work with Dr Blake, Community Shop have also evolved a way of thinking which focuses on the values of Food Ladders. “There’s a need to understand the multiple levels of intervention both in the food system and the ways individuals engage with it. It’s an approach that could be applied to most communities to help build resilience at times of food insecurity,” Gary adds.

Read more about Megan's work in her Feeding Communities report.

Dr Megan Blake University of Sheffield

Join women making a difference at the University of Sheffield

The work Dr Blake has done in the area of food maximises the social good that can come from waste product. 

Do you like the sound of working with inspirational women like Dr Blake and making a difference through projects and research of your own? Search and apply for academic or support roles with University of Sheffield today.

 

 

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