Beans as a tool for transformation

Roger Sykes, Programme Manager for Beanmeals, explains how partnering with organisations and individuals is helping to reveal the obstacles to achieving change in the food system. 

BeanMeals, Environmental Change Institute Oxford University

As a high-fibre, low-cost food that also benefits the earth, does the humble bean have the potential to trigger transformation in the food system?

That’s the question we’re asking in the BeanMeals team. Based at the University of Oxford, our project brings together food systems thinkers from several UK universities and non-academic partners. Using Leicestershire as a testbed, we’re working with Leicester City Council and Leicestershire County Council – both areas are part of the SFP network and share our aim to learn how to achieve food system transformation.

Replacing imports

BeanMeals takes a fork-to-farm approach, which means we’re starting with the consumer and working back through the supply chain to the grower. The forks are in the hands of pupils in six primary schools in Leicestershire and a diverse set of local households. The University of Warwick, which has developed the two varieties of bean used in the study, is our farm.

We want to find out if demand for these beans, adapted to thrive in our climate, can make a dent in the thousands of tonnes of dry beans imported weekly from around the world. Like all pulses, beans are nitrogen fixing, which this makes them food system champions in themselves!

Local partnerships

In our consumer research, we’ve been supported by partners, including – local authorities, headteachers and school caterers to schoolchildren and parents who’ve approached the research with enthusiasm.

We’re also testing whether scaling up consumption of these beans could provide new opportunities for enterprise, working with Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) and the Food and Drink Forum.

The work is revealing obstructions that can prevent us getting UK wholefoods onto UK plates; these range from local procurement policy and lack of processing facilities to wariness of unfamiliar foods and lack of cooking know-how.  If you’re curious about our work, check out our latest videos to see some delicious bean-based dishes being cooked (and eaten!) in schools and at home.

Sue Holden, Leicester City Council Project Manager Prevention, Public Health, and Gavin Fletcher, Sustainable Food Partnership Coordinator at Leicestershire County Council are leading the local authority partnerships. They agree about the value of BeanMeals’s local focus and systems approach. “The engagement across the food system has enabled a greater understanding of local supply chain interest, the acceptability of beans in meals, and generated huge excitement in the potential to grow and consume UK pulses,” adds Gavin.


Food systems insights

The research will draw to close in November 2024. We’re keen to share our findings with everyone with a goal to change our food system for the better. Resources from our research insights will be available for Sustainable Food Places members and other organisations. The project is also holding two events later this year to share learnings with local and national stakeholders.



To find out more, contact Roger Sykes, BeanMeals Programme Manager; e-mail

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