A community-based participatory research approach to understanding social eating for food well-being

Nadina Luca, Marsha Smith, Sally Hibbert

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


Social eating initiatives’ are framed as a specific type of community-based food service that provides opportunities for people to eat together in local spaces using surplus food. These initiatives provide a meal that is fresh, affordable and more environmentally friendly than fast or convenience foods. In this research, we build upon the food well-being model to explore how food consumption is experienced in these community settings and the role of social eating projects in shaping the different dimensions of people’s foodscapes. We adopted a community-based participatory approach and engaged in a series of dialogues with staff volunteers and coordinators at four ‘social eating initiatives’. We also conducted 45 interviews with service users and volunteers at three sites in the Midlands region.
The role of community-based food initiatives responding to hunger by utilising surplus food to feed local populations is often conceptualised critically. However, closer attention to the experiences of staff, volunteers and customers at these spaces, reveals them as sites where knowledge and experience of food is being developed with this contributing to a sense of well-being beyond nutrition. Shared food practices and eating together contribute to social capital and are important dimensions of food well-being that are significantly restricted by food insecurity. The ‘food well-being’ model envisages a shift in focus from health, defined as the absence of illness, towards well-being as a positive relationship with food at the individual and societal level. In the concluding remarks of this article, it is suggested that this holistic conception is required to understand the role and function of social eating initiatives.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationEmerald Open Research
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • social eating initiatives
  • community food
  • food insecurity
  • food waste
  • surplus
  • community-based participatory research
  • food well-being


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