Mapping the Production-Consumption Gap, Health Outcomes and Potential Circular Economy of the Leeds Food System

Internal co-investigators outside the Faculty of Environment also include: 

In Europe, cities are typically home to three-quarters of a country’s population with this figure growing year on year. The food systems of these large and increasingly growing cities are recognised as not being sustainable, equitable or resilient in terms of total locally produced calories or macronutrients. Though globalisation and lengthening of agrifood supply chains has brought many benefits to many regions, they have further reduced the food and nutrition resilience of many cities and transferred many of the environmental and long term sustainability impacts of agriculture to developing and regularly ecologically important regions.

The fragility of these global supply chains, that supply many cities with a significant proportion of their food, has been witnessed in several areas following recent financial, climatic and pandemic driven disruptions to food availability. A greater understanding is thus needed of the lived reality of a modern city’s ability to sustainably and equitably feed itself in both the short and long term. From short term crisis management to increasing access to affordable and nutritious food, to reducing the environmental impact of food production, processing, provision and waste, such knowledge is valuable on a variety of strategic local planning levels.

Led by Professor Caroline Orfila and Dr Paul Jensen of the School of Food Science and Nutrition, supported by a multidisciplinary team of collaborators from across the University of Leeds, the food system mapping project has duly sought to understand how increasingly urbanised populations are affected by and can affect the form and function of local food systems.

Initially, focused on the Leeds city metropolitan area, data on a wide array of food system aspects and impacts have been collected, including for local farming activities and scales of production, the specific calorie and nutrient demand of the city’s residents (based on council ward gender and age profiles), the scale and range of community growing activities (such as allotments and community gardens), the scale and range of food outlets and offerings (from takeaways to fresh food outlets), the scale and range of food poverty support schemes (such as food banks), various aspects of residents’ living environment (such as access to green space), and a variety of food-related health outcomes (including, rates of adult and childhood obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease).

To date, the collected data has been used to perform a detailed spatial analysis of the Leeds food system which has helped to shape and offer answers to a variety of cross-cutting social, economic and environmental questions.

Questions being explored include:

  • How self-sufficient is the city in regards to being able to sustainably feed itself from local production, both in respect of absolute calories and nutrient provision?
  • What long-term and developing relationships exist between the city’s food system, access to different food types and the local health outcomes of both adults and children?
  • What opportunities exist to optimise existing food system actors and other underutilised city assets for increasing nutrition equitability and sustainable production within the city?

The project has led to engagement with a variety of stakeholders and will help to inform local policy briefs, contribute to local planning and create the platform for further essential research into the form, function and potential evolution of urban food systems. Moving forward, the project seeks to use the ongoing outputs of the Leeds city mapping and system analysis project to initiate, compare and contrast similar studies across the north of England which is home to significant levels of urban deprivation and related food poverty and poor health.

Exploring how the north of England’s extensive food system activity, from production and processing through to all aspects of local, regional and international food import and export logistics, could be used to address many of the health, economic and environmental inequalities witnessed within its cities, holds great potential for assisting the equitable and sustainable development of the region.

Publications and outputs

Orfila, C. (2020), Mapping the Leeds Urban Food System. Meet the Researchers: Our Future Food Webinar, 23rd April, 2020. Available from:

Jensen, P.D. & C. Orfila (No Date), Mapping the Production-Consumption Gap of an Urban Food System: An Empirical Case Study of Self-Sufficiency and Resilience. Food Security (Submitted).