Covid-19 and sustainable food systems: building a shared learning resource

Coronavirus (Covid-19) is having huge impacts on the food system here in the UK and globally. It is bringing into sharp focus how and where our food is produced, processed and consumed. It has also highlighted a number of issues, including: 

  • the vulnerability of just-in-time systems, that in some cases stretch far beyond UK borders, to unpredictable shocks. It reminds us of past catastrophic events, such as foot and mouth in 2001 and the 2007-08 food price spikes;  
  • the differentiated nature of impacts within agri-food (contrast retailer (multiples and independents) and food service experiences of the crisis, for example);  
  • the labour shortages in the horticultural sector; 
  • the number of vulnerable groups who are now more than ever before food insecure, given their dependency on food banks and charity and the significant socio-economic food inequalities in society;  
  • the role of supermarkets in food provisioning (we have a private food governance model) and their role and responsibilities in responding to the crisis;  
  • the role and importance of online retail, including, but not only, online supermarket retail;  
  • the agility and ability (or not) of producers, processors, retailers and other food providers to adapt their supply chains to deliver food direct to households;  
  • the need to re-localise food systems, rebuild regional processing infrastructure (abattoirs, wholesale markets) and shorten food chains to improve food system resilience;  
  • the range of public, private and civic initiatives (at individual, industry and community levels) that have, and are still emerging, to respond to the crisis. 
A near deserted M5 – Late morning Sunday 26th April

This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the impacts, actions, activities and food policy lessons. Since the crisis started, I, like many of us I suspect, have spent quite a lot of time reading Covid-19-related articles, most of them via Twitter or other social media, as well as key sources such as ‘The Syllabus Politics of Coronavirus list‘. It is also clear that a wider scope of expertise will be necessary as we come out of the lockdown (see ‘Exiting a Pandemic’).  Some have concerns about the science behind the virus and the modelling and politics of disease emergency management generally, but many have related to food system resilience and sustainability. It has become more apparent that even if you just read Covid-19 food system articles, it would be hard to keep track of all that it is out there, from growing, distribution and retail through to food security impacts and much more.

Empty freezers in a Cheltenham supermarket

The purpose of this blog post is to share some food system resources that I have found useful (and to which my CCRI colleagues have contributed) and to propose that we find collective ways to track and organise this material, and in particular, articles related to food system sustainability. We should do this for two main reasons: first, the material and resources are useful to those on the ground and some of it is in danger of getting lost in the ‘information fog’; and secondly, tracking it is important to record and learn how we organise and implement food system emergency responses at different scales. In other words, we can use these resources for food system resilience planning now and in the future. 

With this in mind, in this resources list, I have begun to organise selected resources that I find useful. I am loosely calling this my ‘Covid-19 sustainable food systems list’. It is a list of resources organised into different headings reflecting my sustainable food systems interest. The premise is simple: to collate, and begin to organise, food system resources that I (and hopefully others) have and will find useful now and in the future. It is not just a resource for academics like me, but also for food system actors and practitioners. For example, I am interested in the response by local food and civic networks and short chains, reflected in the list, but it will be important to develop the list to be broader and more inclusive in terms of food system coverage, including, for example, resources that track the way supermarkets are organising their response. I have included articles, resources, websites, etc. that I find useful. Some articles are academic commentaries connecting the crisis to wider social science work, but the majority are food system resources created by food NGOs, food charities, etc. Most of the sources included, for now at least, are related to the UK food response (it makes it more manageable). We can also add blogs and perspectives from other agri-food researchers and practitioners, if folks would like to contribute. 

What might be the next steps?

First, look at my attempt to organise my ideas and resources and please send comments and edits to expand and improve my efforts. 
Second, please send me, via email or Twitter (; @DamianMaye), other Covid-19 food system resources that you think should be added to the list. I have included links to websites and other resources, with the date accessed. If you suggest a resource, please make sure to send the link too, so I can follow it up. I have also listed key organisations that are collating materials and coordinating responses and please send others, as my list is just a starting point. 
Third, as the material comes in, I will revise, improve and update the list and can restructure/rework the taxonomy as necessary (to make it better/more accessible).

This is really just a start, from my perspective. I hope it is useful and a worthwhile project and I look forward to receiving comments, ideas, improvements and other links to add to the list.

Thanks for reading and stay safe everyone.  

Prof. Damian Maye
Professor of Agri-Food Studies @DamianMaye