Families and Food in Hard Times

Families and Food in Hard Times

European comparative research

Rebecca O'Connell, Julia Brannen


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Food is fundamental to health and social participation, yet food poverty has increased in the global North. Adopting a realist ontology and taking a comparative case approach, Families and Food in Hard Times addresses the global problem of economic retrenchment and how those most affected are those with the least resources.

Based on research carried out with low-income families with children aged 11-15, this timely book examines food poverty in the UK, Portugal and Norway in the decade following the 2008 financial crisis. It examines the resources to which families have access in relation to public policies, local institutions and kinship and friendship networks, and how they intersect. Through ‘thick description’ of families’ everyday lives, it explores the ways in which low income impacts upon practices of household food provisioning, the types of formal and informal support on which families draw to get by, the provision and role of school meals in children’s lives, and the constraints upon families’ social participation involving food.

Providing extensive and intensive knowledge concerning the conditions and experiences of low-income parents as they endeavour to feed their families, as well as children’s perspectives of food and eating in the context of low income, the book also draws on the European social science literature on food and families to shed light on the causes and consequences of food poverty in austerity Europe.

Praise for Families and Food in Hard Times‘Original, rigorous, empathic. This is a ground-breaking contribution to transnational food and social policy research, which gives voice to the lived experiences of children and low-income mothers unable to feed their families. Containing moving testimony, this book is essential reading for changing public policy to the progressive realisation of the right to food for all, even in Norway.’ – Graham Riches, University of British Columbia

‘Using the lens of food insecurity, this sensitive, fine-grained, cross-national and multi-tiered study offers important insights into poverty as experienced by children and mothers. It represents a valuable contribution to the academic literature but should also be read by politicians, policy-makers and practitioners.’ – Ruth Lister, Loughborough University


Rebecca O'Connell:

Rebecca O’Connell is Reader in the Sociology of Food and Families, Thomas Coram Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education. She is co-author, with Julia Brannen, of Food, Families and Work (2016) and with Abigail Knight and Julia Brannen, of Living Hand to Mouth: Children and food in low-income families (2019) and co-editor of a new collection, What is Food? Researching a topic with many meanings (2019). From 2011-2017 she was Co-convenor of the British Sociological Association Food Study Group. In addition to her substantive interests, Rebecca has expertise in research methodology, particularly mixed and multi methods research.


Julia Brannen is Emerita Professor of Sociology of the Family, Thomas Coram Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. Julia’s career in research spans four decades: an international reputation for research on family, work-family issues, intergenerational relationships, and food in families. She is also well-known for her expertise in methodology including mixed methods, biographical approaches and comparative research. Her latest book is Social Research Matters (2019).