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OP131 The preparation of emergency food parcels: a qualitative study of food banks in portsmouth and brent (UK)
  1. Denise Ndlovu1,
  2. Steven Cummins1,
  3. Claire Thompson2
  1. 1Public Health, Environments and Society, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2Centre for Research in Public Health and Community Care, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK


Background Food insecurity is the physical, social, and economic inability to access safe, sufficient, and nutritious food. Exacerbated by COVID-19, the provision of emergency food aid, via food banks, continues to increase. Research on emergency food parcels in the UK has primarily focused on their nutritional content. However, the place-based processes and considerations involved when preparing food parcels are not well documented. This study explores how food banks incorporate dietary and nutritional needs and preferences when assembling and distributing food parcels.

Methods An ethnographic study of a purposive sample 23 food bank staff and 21 long-term food bank users from eight food banks in Portsmouth and Brent was undertaken. Fieldwork was conducted between February and October 2021. This involved in-depth semi-structured interviews, focus groups and observations. Data were imported into NVivo 12 software and analysed using Braun and Clarke’s six stages of thematic analysis.

Results Four main themes emerged: (1) food availability, (2) provision of sufficient food, (3) restricted choice, and (4) bounded agency. Embedded in local food systems, food banks can provide food parcels containing two to three days’ worth of food. However, this is dependent upon availability as food banks acquire food mainly through donations and surplus. Food banks must therefore balance providing food parcels that are ‘sufficient’ in terms of calories, variety and familiarity whilst meeting dietary needs and accommodating the household context in which food is prepared and consumed. Food bank users are often encouraged to help construct their food parcel, indicating which food items they were more likely to use. However, this flexibility in food choice is bounded by the internal food bank supply chain and the food practices of the food bank.

Conclusion The extent to which food banks accommodate household dietary needs and/or preferences is, in part, dictated and constrained by their use of food donations and surplus food. As such, understanding the factors that shape what goes into food parcels and their nutritional composition is key to: i) identifying how food bank practices can reproduce structural marginalisation and dietary inequalities and ii) informing future interventions to improve the nutritional practices of food banks.

  • food banks
  • food insecurity
  • dietary inequalities

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