Geographies of food: food waste and food poverty

Dr Mags Adams (

Concerns about food waste and food poverty are key themes in contemporary food research.

Food waste is a serious concern in the UK and beyond. Metcalfe et al (2012) show that food waste has risen up the waste policy agenda in the UK with Defra (2011) labelling it ‘a priority waste-stream for action’. While Defra (2011) state that ‘around 50% (8.3Mt) of all UK food waste comes from households’, Gustavson et al (2011: 5) have shown that, globally, food waste is created primarily within the food supply chain. Within this context, Defra (2011) point out that at least 60% of UK food waste is avoidable and could have been eaten at some point.

Food poverty is also a serious concern in the UK and beyond. People are now spending more on food but eating less, with the poorest 10% of UK households now spending almost a quarter of their income on food (CEBR, 2013). The number of people fed by food banks has increased with an estimated 500,000 people reliant on food aid in the form of food banks and food parcels (Cooper & Dumpleton, 2013). The Food Ethics Council has shown that at least 4 million people suffer from food poverty.

This research will investigate the paradox of simultaneous high levels of food waste and high levels of food poverty in the UK. Taking a qualitative approach, the successful candidate will research households’ food practices, looking at the relationship between food acquisition (shopping, food banks etc) and food waste production and reduction. The research will tackle some fundamental questions about the relationship between people and food: about how food waste and food poverty are defined and framed; about how food poverty is understood and experienced; about the way in which policy debates engage with household practices around food consumption.

A sensory ethnographic methodology will be used whereby households will be encouraged to use a range of methods to capture their everyday food practices. Go-along interviews will be conducted over the course of the research to supplement the auto-ethnographic data. It is expected that this research will have significant impact in contemporary policy debates.

Work will include:

  • A comprehensive review of literature on food poverty and food waste
  • A pilot study to refine the sensory, ethnographic methodology
  • The requirement to complete the PhD within three years
  • Presenting research at UK or international conferences
  • Publishing co-authored papers with research supervisors
  • Contributing to teaching with the Geography and Environmental Management programme
  • The research will provide a longitudinal study of food waste and food poverty over a three year period


  • CEBR: Centre for Economics and Business Research (2013). Hard to swallow: The facts about food poverty.
  • Cooper, N. & Dumpleton, S. (2013). Walking the breadline: The scandal of food poverty in 21st century Britain. Oxford: Oxfam GB.
  • Defra (2011). Government Review of Waste Policy in England 2011. Defra. Available at:
  • Gustavsson, J., Cederberg, C., Sonesson, U., Van Otterdijk, R. & Meybeck, A. (2011). Global food losses and food waste: extent, causes and prevention. Available:
  • Metcalfe, A., Riley, M., Barr, S., Tudor, T., Robinson, G. & Guilbert, S. (2012). Food waste bins: bridging infrastructures and practices. The Sociological Review, (60), 135-155.

The ideal candidate will be someone with an interest in contemporary food debates, with excellent analytical skills. The ability to draw on a range of qualitative research methods including, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, sensory methodologies, digital methods and to recruit participants from a range of backgrounds including households, service providers and policy makers is essential. You will be expected to participate fully in the postgraduate research community at the University of Salford and to maintain frequent and regular contact with the supervisory team.