Transforming urban food systems

The Mandala Consortium is finding out more about how we can transform urban food systems for planetary and population health.

Mandalas represent wholeness and interconnectedness. It is only through studying and tackling the whole, interconnected system that brings food from the earth to our mouths that we can hope to change it for the better.

Centred on the city of Birmingham and the regional economy of the West Midlands, Mandala brings together internationally renowned teams from the Universities of Cambridge, Birmingham, Warwick, Exeter, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Our funders

The research is being funded through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF), and is part of the £47.5M Transforming the UK Food System for Healthy People and a Healthy Environment SPF programme.

Birmingham’s food system

Birmingham is home to over one million citizens, with over 100 languages spoken between them. Every day, they make a huge number of food decisions. With a city full of culture and flavour there is no shortage of great options.

Food challenges

And yet, here in Birmingham, across the nation and overseas, the food we eat is creating huge challenges for our health, our environment and our climate. One in four children in Year 6 in our city are living with obesity, more people than ever are struggling to afford enough, good food and issues like food waste, pollution from agriculture and plastic packaging are causing serious harm to the planet and the systems that support life on Earth. Why have we found ourselves in a position where our food choices are having such negative impacts? These are urgent issues for governments, societies and businesses globally.

What is the food system?

Getting food from where it’s grown to people’s plates is complex, involving many companies, sectors and processes. We call this the ‘food system’. Making this food system work better is a difficult and urgent challenge that will take a lot of thought and coordination to solve. And, while some solutions are emerging, the priorities for action to make a difference for everyone remain unclear.

Where Mandala comes in

The Mandala Consortium wants to help find and co-ordinate a number of solutions to these pressing problems over the next four years. Mandala is working closely with Birmingham City Council, which has already begun work on these challenges with a wide range of citizens, food businesses and other organisations in the city.

Through our work, we want to map and better understand all aspects of the city’s food system, embracing its complexity and identifying the challenges and the opportunities.

We want to find the most powerful ways to help people eat a healthier, more environmentally friendly and affordable diet, whilst supporting, sustaining and celebrating the amazing food businesses they have on their doorsteps. These are likely to include new ways of procuring healthier and more sustainable foods in the public sector, and developing online systems to help businesses find and use more locally grown food.

Through our research, working with people on the ground in the city, we’ll collect evidence on how feasible certain ideas and solutions to improve our food system are. We’ll then work together with those people to develop, co-ordinate and prioritise the most important ways to make positive changes happen.

Lastly, we’ll evaluate the impact that these solutions have had. We hope to demonstrate how food can be made healthier, more affordable and less harmful to the environment but still profitable.

We will share our learning, not just in Birmingham but around the UK and internationally so that others can learn from Birmingham’s experience.

Find out more