The Human Ecology of Urban Food: Understanding Environmental Justice through Participative Research in Community Projects

Graeme Sherriff

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis employs participatory research in community urban food projects to understand not only what these projects can contribute towards environmental justice but also how the issues they raise influence the way that environmental justice is conceptualised. Following protests in 1970s USA, environmental justice has developed into a protest movement and an area of policy and research that appears to be reconceptualising sustainable development discourses around notions of social justice. In particular, concern has been raised about the inequitable distribution of exposure to environmental pollution and access to environmental resources, exclusion from democratic decision making, and lack of recognition of particular understandings of an experiences of the environment, not only in planning but in the environmental movement itself. Where food has been discussed, it has been almost exclusively in terms of food accessibility, yet the intimate relationship between food, health and the environment and social impacts of the food sector globally, means that it is an important theme in understanding environmental justice. The two main case studies are understood through four conceptual lenses: involvement, access, protection and recognition. Interviews with supplementary cases and representatives of the policy community in Greater Manchester put the case studies into context. The discussion that follows addresses crosscutting themes including the dilemma of relying on volunteers, the importance of recognising cultural differences, and the tensions between pursuing democratic involvement at the same time as adopting health promotion and sustainable development as normative frameworks. In doing so, the food sector is found to pose particular challenges to the development and operationalisation of the environmental just concept. The thesis therefore not only raises important issues and tensions in environmental justice, but also shows how urban food projects can contribute to addressing these.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Manchester
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2005


  • environmental justice
  • food
  • health
  • sustainability
  • urban
  • participation


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