Diversity, Equity and Inclusion across the Sustainable Food Places Network: an evidence review

Currently, our food system - from a local to a national level - mirrors the intersecting, structural inequalities that exist across our society.

How did this evidence review come about? This work originates from a project enabling knowledge exchange between local food partnerships in Sheffield, Bristol and Rotherham and researchers at the University of Sheffield, City University and the University of Cambridge.[1] The project was undertaken in collaboration with Sustainable Food Places.[2]

Currently, our food system - from a local to a national level - mirrors the intersecting, structural inequalities that exist across our society. Mainstreaming equity, diversity, and inclusion in the culture and practice of local food partnerships is therefore essential in delivering on the core objectives of the SFP network.

As part of this project, a series of workshops was convened including one that focused on race, equity, diversity and inclusion (REDI) - the diversity, equality and inclusion framing used by SFP. The discussion identified a number of barriers to mainstreaming REDI, including capacity, concerns around tokenism or overburdening already marginalised communities, absence of existing communication channels, and a real or perceived lack of expertise (see Fig. 1 below). However, knowledge exchange and supportive reflection between local food partnerships was also highlighted as a valuable, short-term means of addressing these barriers.

The recently-launched SFP evidence database was identified as a potential platform for ongoing horizontal knowledge exchange. Below, we consider this opportunity in the context of the REDI activity taking place across the breadth of the SFP partnership.

What does the SFP database tell us about REDI across the partnership?

50 pieces of evidence attributed to 21 local food partnerships (LFPs) are listed on the SFP database under the REDI sub-topic. While this is a relatively small subset of the REDI-related work taking place across the partnership, the reported actions demonstrate the considerable effort that is being made in this area.

Emerging themes: The majority of work reported in the database is external (e.g. project delivery), as opposed to organisational (e.g. recruitment practices). Broadly categorising evidence as relating to people, culture, or practice further suggested that broader efforts to embed REDI within cultural engagement around food system issues are currently under-represented in the database, compared with actions reported in the context of project delivery or partnership development (see Fig.2 above).

Language and framing: Much of this work was couched in a liberal language of equity, diversity and inclusion, for example ‘celebrating diversity’. There were far fewer references to anti-racism and none to decolonization.

Types of activity: The wide range of actions reported included cooking programmes, community gardening, conversation cafes and recipe hubs. Outreach and event organisation, as well as actions relating to information access (such as translation of key resources) were frequently mentioned. Some partnerships reported using creative methods to engage less frequently heard communities, such as producing short films.

Reflections: Some evidence included reflections or learnings, echoing workshop discussions within this project. These entries highlighted intentions to involve potential partners or participants in project development at an early stage, and ensuring community input is compensated. Two pieces of reflective evidence mentioned existing SFP resources, the ‘REDI for Change’ toolkit,[3] and a session at the SFP conference:

“...we reviewed our strategy around REDI, which identified the need to adopt a more proactive approach to seeking out groups, individuals and communities whose voices are currently not heard in the regional food discussion.”

Target demographics: The most commonly identified target demographics were ethnic and religious minorities. Children and youth, and refugees and asylum seekers were also among the most commonly referenced groups. The most infrequently referenced demographics included people with disabilities, the LGBT+ community, and older people.

And where are the gaps? A small number of reported actions addressed REDI at an internal (organisational) level. Those that did were primarily related to recruitment, with no mention of other actions highlighted in the ‘REDI for Change’ toolkit, such as developing a REDI statement of commitment, strategy or action plan. Similarly, only one food partnership reported demographic data describing their reach, and none reported demographic data for their staff or steering group. Some types of activity were also less prevalent in REDI-related actions compared to the database as a whole, for example commercial aspects of the food system and food growing.

Recommended next steps:

For Local Food Partnerships (LFPs):

  • Making space for supportive reflection, both within and across LFPs
  • Enhanced reporting of REDI activity, including organisational REDI
  • Utilisation of the SFP database and/or listserv to share resources such as REDI statements or policies
  • Consideration of REDI as a cross-cutting theme, as well as a stand-alone objective


For Sustainable Food Places:

  • Centralised provision of training for SFP members in REDI issues and opportunities for mentoring and staff development
  • Discussions within this project identified the value of supportive reflection in the context of the sensitive issues inherent in REDI-related work. Support and encouragement for LFPs to share lessons learned - in addition to examples of success - may add value to efforts to encourage partnership-wide knowledge exchange. Creating avenues for this purpose may include further developing the SFP database, for example to include synthesised pieces of evidence not assigned to specific LFPs, or facilitating online or in person discussions.
  • Data relating to organisational REDI-related work may in some cases be sensitive in nature and unsuitable for making publicly available, and is therefore less well represented in the SFP database. However, the barriers identified during workshop discussions within this project (e.g. lack of capacity and expertise) suggest that the opportunity for increased horizontal knowledge sharing regarding this work is likely to be beneficial for LFPs. Opportunities to address this may include:
    • Expansion of the SFP database or ‘REDI for Change’ toolkit to include examples of organisational resources developed by SFP partners, such as REDI statements or policies
    • Provision of guidance or resources relating to monitoring and evaluation from a REDI perspective
  • It might also be useful to extend this kind of analysis of REDI actions to other thematic areas that are searchable on the SFP database.

[1] The project was funded by a Synergy grant from the ‘Transforming UK Food Systems’ programme, led by the H3 research consortium (www.h3.ac.uk) in collaboration with the FixOurFood (https://fixourfood.org/) and Mandala consortia (https://www.mandala-consortium.org/). Additional input was provided by Birmingham’s Healthy Food City Forum and SFP network.

[2] The Sustainable Food Places (SFP) network spans more than 95 food partnerships from towns, cities, boroughs, districts and counties across the UK, united by their work towards fairer, healthier, and more sustainable local food systems.

[3] The ‘REDI for Change’ toolkit is available at: https://www.sustainablefoodplaces.org/about/diversity-and-inclusion/#:~:text=The%20REDI%20Review%20Tool%20is,reflect%20on%20their%20current%20behaviour

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