How Can We Fix Our Broken Food System?

What role can the voluntary sector play in putting things back together again?

By Graham Brown, CVS Sector Development Lead for Food Coordination
Friday 28th July 2023

I don’t think you would find anyone who would disagree that food is vitally important to our health and wellbeing: not only do we need it to stay alive it also gives us pleasure, allows us to share and celebrate and connects us to our land, different cultures and to our neighbourhoods, friends and family.

I’d only been in my new role as Sector Development lead for food coordination for a few days when one of the year’s most important reports on the state of the UK food system - ‘The Broken Plate’ – was released by The Food Foundation. The report looks at a range of different metrics covering affordability, availability, quality of our diets, and the subsequent impact of all of this on our health.​

The report highlights many of the underlying factors of food insecurity. There are three findings that jumped out with particular relevance to my new role. The first two are affordability and the cost of food. The most deprived fifth of the population would need to spend 50% of their disposable income on food to meet the cost of the Government recommended healthy diet. This compares to just 11% for the least deprived fifth. More healthy foods are over twice as expensive per calorie as less healthy foods. I’ve first-hand experience of their impact on some of the most vulnerable across our communities from my previous role running a surplus food Grocery in Macclesfield. And I know many reading this article will have first-hand experience too from their work supporting communities.

The other is the availability of low-cost food outlets. Across the UK 1 in 4 places to buy food are fast-food outlets. This rises to 1 in 3 in the most deprived areas. How does Cheshire East score on this scale? Well, one of my first priorities is to map out the availability of community food provision across Cheshire East. Alongside this, we will look at the proximity of fast-food outlets, supermarkets and convenience stores.

The Food Foundation have now released its latest Food Insecurity Tracking report. This is an online survey of 6,000 adults in the United Kingdom which asks a series on questions on whether people were food insecure. The headline figures don’t make great reading:

  • 9 million adults (17% of households) experienced food insecurity in June 2023
  • 3 million adults (5.9% of households) reported not eating for a whole day because they couldn't afford or access food
  • 23.4% of households with children reported experiencing food insecurity in June 2023 compared with 14.8% of households without children

(Data collected by YouGov Plc between - 26th-30th June 2023)

For anyone involved in food, a read of both The Broken Plate report and Food Insecurity Tracking report will be time well spent.

So, if we look at the opening statement again – how much of it is a reality for communities across Cheshire East?

There are no easy answers to addressing food insecurity. The experience from across the UK is that it requires a local cross-sector approach - including charity, voluntary and faith groups, local government, health care, and the private sector – looking at the whole food system. This is where my new role will be pivotal. Another key priority is to convene a Cheshire East food alliance or partnership. This group will provide the stewardship in the form of a food strategy and action plan. They will also look to influence change at a national level.

I started working as a Chef aged 16 in Edinburgh. With my last role at Cre8 and my new role at CVS Cheshire East it feels like my career has come full circle. How exciting!

Thank you to those groups I’ve already managed to visit or speak to. There’s clearly a lot of anticipation – but I’ve been made to feel very welcome.

The Cheshire East food partnership will launch in October. If anyone else would like a chat about food (or vinyl records– one of my passions) or would like to join a workshop to shape the strategy, please get in touch ( 

About Graham

Graham has joined us from Cre8 in Macclesfield where he managed their surplus food Grocery and was a member of the food partnership. Prior to that, he was a Grocery volunteer. He’s also held volunteer food roles at Macclesfield-based food cooperative Scoop and Scales, and the Hope Centre - supporting the delivery of over 10,000 meals to those living in homeless shelters during the Covid lockdown. His background is in marketing, and he has over 20 years of experience across a range of sectors including Economic Development, Government, NHS and Higher Education.

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