What is a Right to Food University?

University of Kent campus

Becoming a Right to Food University: launching our work with the University of Kent 

The Food Foundation is excited to be launching the Right to Food University project alongside the University of Kent.

Building on our work in tackling food insecurity and influencing national policy, we’ll be supporting Kent with our expertise and insights into what it takes to ensure everyone can access and afford healthy and sustainable food.  

Together, we have jointly set up four missions that seek lasting solutions to the cross-cutting challenges of tackling food insecurity and the environmental crisis together. 

Why a Right to Food approach?  

Inspired by a visit to Kent Law School from Michael Fakhri, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food in March 2022, this project aims to move away from a narrative that sees food as a commodity and instead views food as a fundamental human right that everyone is entitled to, no matter what their means. (Click here for more on Fakhri’s visit and conversations with our Young Food Ambassadors).

The University of Kent’s commitment is a timely response to rising food prices which have left many students facing food insecurity.

In September 2022 The Food Foundation found that 26.3% of full-time students who responded to our survey were experiencing food insecurity.

The Student Money and Wellbeing Report 2023 reports that third of students surveyed (34%) either have or are considering going hungry or cutting down on their daily meals due to the cost of living crisis.

The University of Kent and Kent Student Union have responded by offering free breakfasts and subsidised meals amongst a package of cost-of-living support for students.

With support from The Food Foundation they conducted a cost of living survey among students and are about to conduct a similar survey for staff.

"The Right to Food initiative has collaboration at its heart and we could have no better partner for this initiative than the Food Foundation, said Philip Pothen, Director of Engagement, The University of Kent.

"They bring insight, expertise, a passion for advocacy and an extraordinary commitment to healthy, affordable and sustainable food to this work and to our mission to share our learning with others.

"We hope other organisations will join us in this important, challenging and exciting initiative."

Kent are not the only university to step up and support their students and staff during the recent cost of living pressures.

But by adopting a 'Right to Food' approach they are looking beyond short- term fixes to seek ways of ensuring their own students and communities across Kent have long term access to healthy food.

What does a Right to Food University look like?

Fakhri explained in his lecture at Kent’s law school the right to food is not only a goal but also an “organisational tool”; one that brings people together to decide what 'adequate' food means for them culturally, for health, and for the environment.

The Right to Food University steering group brings together staff from across the university – from academics in social and natural sciences, to sustainability, catering and communications teams – alongside the Kent Student Union, and The Food Foundation.

This is a truly collaborative initiative that looks at all the ways in which the University can have a positive impact on the food system.

"Working in partnership with The University of Kent staff and Kent Union has been inspiring," said Tilda Ferree, Project Officer, The Food Foundation.

"Conversations about food has brought so many teams from across the University together already.

"Despite the current pressures on universities, their staff and students, there seems to be a real desire for change, from the Vice Chancellor to student groups, and to support their region. Now that we have launched, we’re excited for the next steps."

Using food to connect to local communities, Kent is also ensuring that addressing food insecurity is a central part of their civic engagement.

The University is supporting innovation in horticulture and plant-based food businesses as part of the Growing Kent and Medway partnership, conducting research alongside farmers as part of the Positive Environmental Futures research theme, developing a student gleaning project alongside Produced in Kent, and exploring how it can offer kitchen space to a local food charity.

This is just the start: Kent has ambitions to collaborate with schools, local authorities, charities, providing volunteers from their staff and student body, hosting knowledge sharing events and prioritising local produce in their procurement practices.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: "Whilst national progress on food policy continues to be too slow this project promises to offer a blueprint for local level action that will inspire similar anchor institutions across the UK.

"We want to show what can be achieved when we work together at a regional level, bringing in the voices of those most affected by food insecurity and working across business, public and third sectors.  

"Projects like The Right to Food University have the potential to provide evidence of impact that will demonstrate to national decision-makers what more needs to be done to support everyone to eat well."

The Food Foundation and Kent will be monitoring the progress of The Right to Food University missions – the challenges and successes – in the hope that this project inspires other higher education institutions across the country. 

I am looking for...