The FOCAS Project.

The FOCAS project (Food, Convenience and Sustainability) addresses the contested category of convenience food and considers its significance for environmental sustainability and public health. Conventionally regarded as among the least healthy and most unsustainable of dietary options, ‘convenience food’ provokes ambivalent feelings among consumers. Welcomed for its ease of preparation and speed of use, it is frequently counterposed to morally approved notions of ‘proper’ home-made food, using fresh ingredients, cooked from scratch.

This project will examine four different kinds of ‘convenience’ food: processed baby-food, supermarket ready-meals, workplace (canteen) food, and food-box schemes. The case studies demonstrate the diversity of ‘convenience’ food, highlighting the complex socio-technical assemblages that underpin their provisioning and the ethical dilemmas to which they are subject.

  • Processed baby food is rarely marketed as ‘convenience’ food, posing questions about its consistency with culturally-approved notions of maternal responsibility and care.
  • Supermarket ready-meals are increasingly popular throughout Europe but pose questions about public health, sustainability and waste.
  • Work-place food provides the opportunity for ethically-informed collective procurement and can offer healthier alternatives to other eating options but may result in restricted choice (especially for those with special dietary needs) and quality can be affected by competitive pressures to reduce costs.
  • Food-box schemes are marketed as a healthy and sustainable alternative to supermarket shopping but raise questions about the transport and energy costs of home delivery and the environmental costs of wasted food.

In contrasting but complementary ways, each case involves the interplay between sustainability, health and convenience, including the way these competing discourses are negotiated in practice.

Taking a ‘theories of practice’ approach, our work examines the largely taken-for-granted, routine and socially embedded character of food-related behaviour. The project seeks to understand the different ‘stocks of knowledge’ that consumers use when making food-related choices and the extent to which these create barriers and opportunities for healthier/more sustainable modes of consumption.