Food Lives - diary

About Food Lives project

Food Lives is part of a 5-year research programme funded by UKRI and led by University of Reading, FoodSEqual. Food Lives Tower Hamlets is run by Wen and University of Sussex and is taking place on the St George’s Estate, Shadwell. The project looks at the role food plays in our lives and the importance of history, culture and heritage to our food habits.  

Our researchers are currently using two research methods – food shopalongs and food diaries. Here we explore how the food diaries research works and how you can get involved: 


What do local people think about what they eat and cook?

Our food diaries record how our research participants, mostly women, from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets make decisions about what to prepare, cook, and eat; the range of influences on those decisions; and the skills women in particular have in feeding their families. 

Our research approach is participatory, meaning our participants have more control over what they tell us.

Through this research we aim to understand how the food system and policy landscape shapes what and how we eat. Once we have a better understanding, we have the potential to transform these systems to improve our food lives.


How the Food Diaries research works

We asked volunteers to take a photograph of everything they ate and drank, where they ate or bought it from, and who they were with, over a 1-3 day period. We asked questions such as: what are you eating? where are you? And who are you with?

 Here’s some of the photographs of food shared by our food diary participants:




Street party cake

Street party cake


Breakfast crunchy nut clusters

Chicken wings with cucumber

Chicken wings with cucumber

Hosting a meal

Hosting a meal

Rice, daal, potato borta, broccoli borta & tomato chutney, jojobi chutney, zara lembu & green chilli

Rice, daal, potato borta, broccoli borta & tomato chutney, jojobi chutney, zara lembu & green chilli

Side salad

Side salad

Eating out

Eating out

Some of the key things we’ve learned:

  • How varied people’s shopping, cooking and eating is – even in the same Bangladeshi community on the same estate, and even in the same family  
  • Health is understood in different ways even by the same person
  • Cost is one of the main factors in decision making  
  • Importance of the sharing of culture in the meals provided, ensuring that children and families eat their ethnic, racial and faith related foods/meals
  • Evidence of food experimentation across different cuisines  
  • Interest in challenging the use of plastic and food waste  
  • The need to consider children when budgeting, planning, preparing and shopping for food. Some women cook several meals or adapt dishes because of children’s preferences, allergies etc.
  • A wide variety of foods are eaten from home grown, through to market bought, 
    shop bought, prepared food  
  • Families do eat take-aways out of convenience or as a treat  
  • Evidence that the women knowledgeably ‘make do’ and have skilful expertise over ingredients, time, kitchens, preferences
  • Shopping and cooking are time consuming and labour intensive 


Want to take part?

We would like to continue to find out more about how Tower Hamlet’s locals use food and the choices they make about food and why.

If you’re interested in taking part sign-up by emailing Elaine at or phoning/texting Shazna 07706 736125 or Sajna 07706 736166

You can find out more about the FoodSEqual programme: or on Twitter at @foodsequal 


About FoodSEqual

FoodSEqual is a 5 year programme funded by UKRI, which is part of the ‘Transforming UK Food Systems’ SPF programme.

The project is working with local communities to help provide them with choice and agency over the food they consume, by co-developing new products, new supply chains and new policy frameworks that deliver an affordable, attractive, healthy and sustainable diet.  


Find out more about Tower Hamlets Food Partnership




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