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Professor Lynne Kennedy

Professor Lynne Kennedy is Professor of Public Health and Nutrition, as well as the Head of the Department of Clinical Sciences and Nutrition at the University of Chester.

She has written a blog considering how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting food supplies, and the nation’s need for food security (which is the ability of a government to provide sufficient food for its population). Within the article, Professor Kennedy questions how ‘food secure’ the country is, when, despite evidence of food being still available ‘in relevant abundance’, an increasing number of households are unable to access a sufficient amount of socially acceptable foods on a regular basis.

Writing in her blog, Professor Kennedy says: “Despite initial signs of stockpiling behaviour and rising panic over possible food shortages or for some unknown reason specific products, generally, the amount of food available is still in relative abundance. Moreover, serious questions have been asked about the emergency preparedness, readiness or ability of the nation’s food supply chain to feed the whole population. … Where a country, region, household or individual is unable to achieve this it is defined as Food Insecure. Globally, for reasons such as extreme climate, drought and famine, in addition to economic or political reasons, food insecurity is more likely to be experienced at a national or regional level in low and middle income countries. Nonetheless as research over the past few decades has shown, even high income countries such as the UK have an increasing number of households who are unable to access a sufficient amount or quality of socially acceptable foods on a regular basis.”

As Professor Kennedy points out, this accounts both for the rising number of families or individuals in our society experiencing food poverty, who go without food on several days a month, and for the widening nutritional inequalities that contribute to the social disparities in health and wellbeing in this country.

Professor Kennedy adds:“The need for food security is apparent during times such as the present, when the need to manage access and availability of food supply to the whole population is critical. Nonetheless, there appears to be limited talk or action on this matter of national security; the retail sector is largely left to its own devices to ‘ration’ certain commodities for example ‘four tins of beans per household …’. Whilst this addresses availability – there is less urgency to address affordability and accessibility (to all).”

Professor Kennedy raises the issue that a national food system cannot happen without unity – including at governmental level - and in a society where profit is currently valued above other considerations. She says: “Consequently, in some societies such as ours the food system continues to be determined by the need to generate considerable profits for the shareholders of the small number of private and global organisations in our current ‘food system’. (This) will unfortunately require a massive shift in political ideology. Perhaps post coronavirus is this time – where support for public services and public sector workers is the highest in decades and people recognise the need for community support and cohesiveness – from the community up.

“The need to balance both – social justice and profitability – is undeniable, however all systems function best when they reach a certain balance or equilibrium. It is time now to reconsider and re-set what equilibrium is in our food system.

“Others are asking whether we need to introduce a National Food System. The idea builds on the principles of our National Health Service, which was introduced following the Government‘s Beveridge Report (1942) to address and overcome the unco-ordinated provision and limited access, primarily restricted by affordability, of formal medical, charitable and informal, unregulated health care practice.”

She concludes: “A National Food Service will need to recognise the complexity of a National Food System and go beyond the current narrow and predominantly biomedical view of the role of food in our society, as a primary means of preventing all ills… To quote the widely used mantra of public health nutritionists, food is more than a physiological requirement it is also a social and cultural requirement. Therefore a National Food System would, as its NHS counterpart aspires towards, be there to coordinate the different actors and agencies within this complex food system to achieve the UN goal of Food Security for all.”

The full blog can be read at: https://www1.chester.ac.uk/news/securing-access-food-during-pandemic?list=5517

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