The Last Resort: Everyday Relational Geographies of Food Insecurity and Charitable Food Aid in Stoke-on-Trent, UK in Times of Austerity and Crisis

Student thesis: Phd


As a result of austerity policies and radical welfare retrenchment, both food insecurity and food charity have proliferated within wealthy nations since 2010. Whilst this has provoked a significant, international and interdisciplinary body of academic work, more attention is needed with regard to the ways in which food insecurity is experienced within the everyday relational spaces of family, friends and wider social relationships. Emplaced within Stoke-on-Trent, this research was conducted with five families and twenty-one community organisations prior to, and during the Covid-19 pandemic. A unique empirical contribution of this thesis lies in demonstrating the specific ways food insecurity intersects with gender within a particular geographical and political context, in relation to whom is most likely to experience its everyday impacts, and in relation to who is predominantly providing food aid provision. In arguing that food insecurity is gendered in a whole host of different ways within multiple everyday practices, enmeshed within the myriad spaces and multiple relationalities of everyday life, this thesis builds on existing understandings of everyday food insecurity in the UK. In adopting a relational approach to explore food insecurity, more holistic understandings of the hidden and often personal ways in which social relations and identities are reconfigured in and through myriad spaces becomes possible. Food provisioning in this context engenders exhaustion and is overlaid with feelings of guilt and failure. Building on discussions of maternal altruism in low-income households, I argue that this practice constitutes a specific corporeal facet of food insecurity for mothers’ health and self-worth. Through paying close attention to participant mothers’ accounts, this thesis provides powerful insights into how shopping for food on an inadequate income is fraught with stress and anxiety and can be viscerally experienced as scary and panic-inducing. In so doing, this thesis empirically contributes to discussions of the harmful consequences of food insecurity for mothers’ health and emotional well-being. This thesis reveals how the reproductive foodwork embedded within food insecure homes is also emplaced within low-income communities across Stoke-on-Trent. Much like the repetitive foodwork within the household, the labour of organising food parcels, and the planning, cooking and packaging up of meals for struggling families is shaped by gender and is recreated within the context of multiple temporalities, spatialities and relationalities. This reproductive foodwork increased during the pandemic as successive national lockdowns exacerbated food insecurity across Britain, engendering exhaustion in volunteers. In bringing together feminist understandings of care with the notion of foodwork, I create space for recognising and acknowledging the caring practices of those working tirelessly to ameliorate hunger within increasingly care-less neoliberal states. In expanding the notion of ‘foodwork’ to make this reproductive work visible, I build on feminist scholarship that has critically reflected upon the increasing reliance on women’s unpaid reproductive work and emotional labour under neoliberal policies of austerity and in times of crisis.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSarah Marie Hall (Supervisor) & Stefan Bouzarovski (Supervisor)


  • Covid-19
  • Gendered Reproductive Foodwork
  • Charitable Food Aid
  • Food insecurity
  • Austerity

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