More Than Food: Older People And Community Food Spaces Report

Food insecurity is defined as ‘lacking regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth, development and an active and healthy life.’ In Liverpool, one in three adults are food insecure – worrying about how they will afford food, reducing both the quality and quantity of food they are eating and, in some cases, even skipping meals and going hungry. The cold weather – combined with the rising costs of food and energy – has made this winter particularly challenging.

For Liverpool’s older residents, this is a sobering reality. Around 1.7 million pensioners in the UK are living in poverty, with rates of deep poverty also steadily increasing and currently standing at 8% for this group. While financial difficulties are typically considered the main driver of food insecurity in younger age groups and amongst families, food insecurity in older people is much more complex.

Older people are dispropotionately affected by malnutrition, with an estimation of as many as 1 in 10 people over 65 at risk. Malnutrition can play a role in causing a variety of co-morbidities and loss of indepence in older people, contributing to a loss of energy, muscle strength and coordination which in turn can lead to falls, difficulty with shopping, cooking, eating and self-care. Medical, physical and social risk not only contribute to malnutrition but often intersect, creating a vicious cycle:

  • Medical conditions and certain medications can lead to a loss of appetite, nausea, weight loss and difficulties in both making and eating food
  • Social factors such as bereavement, social isolation, loneliness and attitudes towards nutrition and weight can affect am individual’s interest in food and their motivation to eat

These factors tend to have a cumulative effect and increase in presence as people age. Although the older generation adapt in order to mitigate these issues, all it takes is an accumulation of seemingly trivial everyday problems such as lack of seating or reduced public transportation to make people increasingly vulnerable to food insecurity.

It is in these circumstances that community food spaces can make a hge difference. Community food spaces are commonly led by local community members and organisations who have good food at the heart of their work, with many initiatives also connecting people who use their service to activities and support beyond food provision. They also play a large part in tackling local food waste by using surplus food that would otherwise have gone to landfill. Such organisations in Liverpool have been credited for being more than just a place where individuals can access affordable, nutritious food. Indeed, these spaces have been praised for building a strong community that provides both support and connection to those who are in need. With operations such as this exisiting all across the city, it is possible to assess them in order to gain an insight into the role they play in providing support to older people beyond just their food provision.

Feeding Liverpool have written a report that illustrates the multi-faceted nature of community food spaces and highlights their ability to help older adults in a variety of ways beyond just food provision. This is especially important when the complexities of food insecutiy among the elderly are considered; there are numerous transitions that occur later in a person’s life that demand forms of adjustment and adaptation in order to cope with the challenges these present. In order to mitigate these issues, older people can often find themselves dependent on multiple support systems – of which community food spaces can be one.

The report finds that community food spaces are welcoming organisations, run by members of the community for those in the area. While they work to address people’s immediate food needs, they also serve to build a more sustainable and healthy community for the long-term. Indeed, these spaces have the potential to tackle social isolation, allow people to learn new skills, enhance mental and physical wellbeing, and knit neighbourhoods together – particularly thorugh intergenerational relationships.

You can read the report here.