Urban Food Systems

More than half of the world’s population now live in or around a city, with urbanisation in many parts of the world occurring more rapidly than the food system can cope with.

Cities are exciting places for people to live and work, but are also places with high levels of health and wealth inequalities. A key marker of inequality is access to safe and nutritious food.

Improving food supply and nutritional health among city dwellers requires a multidisciplinary approach, looking at the complex and varied ways in which food reaches cities, how it is distributed, and how consumers make food choices. 

Our projects

Food Hubs for Food Security

The Food Hubs for Food Security project is a collaboration between the University of Leeds, FoodWise Leeds, and Leeds City Council. The project aims to provide a strong evidence base for the impacts that Food Hubs bring to the communities they serve and the broader food system. The project also aims to build a convincing case for policy support and funding for Food Hubs. Support and funding can help Food Hubs expand their offering, strengthen local food systems, and increase food security and sustainability of the overall food system.  

The project team worked with Food Hubs and relevant food actors across Leeds to identify the impacts of Food Hubs. Through a series of interviews, surveys and focus groups, four key positive impacts were identified: strengthen healthy, local food systems; improve wellbeing; support local economies; and enhance sustainability.  

Download the Food Hubs for security, health, inclusive growth and sustainability policy brief (PDF).

An interactive online Impact Evaluation Tool was also co-developed. The tool helps Food Hubs to evaluate environmental, social, and economic impact. The tool can be used by Food Hubs to capture impacts, support their strategic development and secure funding.

Read more about the Food Hubs for security, health, inclusive growth and sustainability project.

Markets 4 People

Traditional markets have played a significant role in the UK's towns and cities for centuries and, in more recent times, have particularly supported deprived neighbourhoods by providing affordable food and start-up business opportunities as well as fostering social inclusion in increasingly diverse cities. However, they have been affected by radical changes in global retail trends and public sector cuts which are relegating them to the side-lines. At the same time, markets aimed at high income shoppers and tourists, specialising in food, local produce, fashion and crafts, are on the rise. Our research responded to an urgent to understand the current situation of markets and their potential community value. 

Read more about Markets 4 People

The Urban Food Observatory

Professor Caroline Orfila is leading a hub for multidisciplinary research, which draws together researchers and stakeholders with an interest in food, nutrition and health. The Observatory is exploring new approaches to tackle challenges associated with urban food consumption and its economic, health and social consequences. The Observatory adopts a food systems approach that encompasses urban farming and distribution, innovative manufacturing and consumer behaviour. 

Leeds resilience to climate change

Dr Paola Sakai is leading work with stakeholders across the Leeds City Region. They are developing a series of workshops to lay the foundations for action towards enabling a climate resilience food system that promotes health, sustainability and food security. They have developed a number of scenarios for the future of the Leeds food system, which are laid out in a brief following the first Leeds Food System Scenarios Workshop. A second workshop Leeds Food System Pathway identified the key priorities for action, which were laid out in a policy brief delivered to the Climate Emergency Advisory Committee. This has led to an exciting endeavour that is producing food in vertical farms and glasshouses using geothermal energy from mines. You can read the full Policy Note for ‘Using geothermal mine water energy for food production in Leeds’ on the Policy Leeds website.

Food procurement

Led by Dr Eleonora Morganti and funded by the N8, the project focuses on the impact of both Brexit and climate change on food supply chains at a city level. This project is developed by academics and experts working on local supply chains, public procurement legal frameworks and sustainable food partnerships. The Universities of Leeds and Lancaster are working together to map the context of city level procurement in both cities, focusing in key anchor institutions, such as schools and hospitals. 

Sustainable food transport in cities

With increased urbanisation and economic development, cities are expected to face a variety of challenges including food access and air quality issues. Led by Dr Eleonora Morganti, the project explores how to promote the transition to cleaner, non-fossil fuel technology in transport while preserving capillary food distribution across the city. The project will respond to new challenges related to e-commerce and to changing consumption habits in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Addressing micronutrient deficiencies associated with the double burden of childhood malnutrition in China, a combined food system framework

Prof Yun Yun Gong is leading a three-year Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research (BBSRC) funded project that will assess the increasing double burden of malnutrition (DBM) including under- and over-nutrition, and the micronutrient deficiencies in children from economically diverse regions in China. They will identify the barriers and drivers for promoting effective uptake and scaling-up of existing food system-based interventions. The project will be delivered through a close partnership with the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute of Nutrition and Health, the China National Health Development Research Centre, and outside China the National Institute of Nutrition in Vietnam and The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) South East Asia Region.

FAMISHED (Interactions between food waste, surplus and hunger)

This project is funded by the N8 AgriFood Resilience Programme and led by Dr Effie Papargyropoulou from the Sustainability Research Institute. FAMISHED aims to critique the ‘win-win’ narrative around food surplus redistribution and food poverty alleviation, and propose alternatives that work towards tackling both the immediate urgent needs and long term priorities that address the root causes of food poverty and systematic food waste generation. This project brings together interdisciplinary academic expertise across the universities of Leeds, Sheffield, and Newcastle, and co-produces knowledge with a network of stakeholders from the retail, government and the third sector.

Our leading researchers

Dr Sara González is Professor in Critical Human Geography in the School of Geography. She is interested in critically analysing the political and economic transformation of cities, neoliberal urban policies, gentrification and contestation. She has a particular interest in traditional food markets and how they play an important community role for people in low incomes and more generally how food interplays with processes of urban development. 

Dr Effie Papargyropoulou is Associate Professor in Sustainable Food Networks. Her research focuses on two main themes: food systems, food waste management and food consumption; and low carbon cities, decarbonisation of human activities and climate change mitigation. Her research is transdisciplinary by engaging with academic and non-academic stakeholders, and interdisciplinary by combining approaches from various fields.

Our collaborations

The issues of urban inequality are international in scope and the Urban Food Systems programme is developing collaborations with industry, research institutions, policy-makers and charities worldwide. 

Regionally, we are working with Leeds City Council and Foodwise Leeds (formerly Leeds Food Partnership) to understand the Leeds Food system.

The University of Leeds has been designated as a World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre in Nutritional Epidemiology, the first of its kind in the world. The Nutritional Epidemiology Group at the School of Food Science and Nutrition assist WHO in developing nutrition policies. 

We are also working with the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

The African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence (ACoE) in Food Security was awarded to the University of Pretoria in 2018. The award aims to facilitate a network of researchers in exploring solutions to food security challenges in Africa.

N8 AgriFood Programme: The University of Leeds joins the universities of Durham, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York to combine the expertise of these eight most research intensive universities in the North of England. The AgriFood programme aims to tackle the challenges faced across the entire food system through three research themes: Sustainable Food Production, Resilient Supply Chains, and Improved Consumption & Health.

The University also has several collaboration agreements in Food Safety (with Jiangsu University), Food Science (with Wageningen University, Massey University and Zhejiang Gongshang University), Food Science and Bioprocessing with Zhejiang University.


For enquiries about Urban Food Systems, please email the Global Food and Environment Institute via globalfood@leeds.ac.uk.