Visiting the vegetable stalls at Watney Market

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 are local people’s food shopping habits?

We asked volunteers to take a researcher from the University of Sussex food shopping with them and talk about their shopping as they went. The researcher made notes, and (with consent) sometimes recorded and took photos of them and what they bought.

We were able to learn what volunteers buy to eat, where they buy it from, and what influences their food buying choices. 

In this way, we discovered the complex demands and skills involved in this seemingly ordinary but complex and labour-intensive process, often affecting women more directly and intensely than men.


How the food shop along works

Our researchers accompanied women going food shopping.

Location: Wherever they usually do their shopping – the market, the supermarket, a small local shop or the food bank. 

Typical duration: 30 minutes – 2 hours 



Choosing tomatoes for a salad – vine tomatoes taste better


Visiting the vegetable stalls at Watney Market

Visiting the vegetable stalls at Watney Market


Uri (Bangladeshi bean) - checking for freshness

Uri (Bangladeshi bean) – checking for freshness


Silver pomfret package

Silver pomfret package


Weighing a mirgal fish (1)

Weighing a mirgal fish


Some of the key things we’ve learned:

  • People shop frequently and in different ways – it’s quite complex because balancing different priorities: what have I got in my cupboard/fridge; people’s likes/dislikes; allergies and logistics of carrying; complexity & skills (cognitive)
  • The residents we spoke to mentioned that they: Go to the supermarket for fruit and vegetables because it  stays fresh for longer and they go to the market for cultural vegetables
  • Participants would like healthier oils and access to cheaper organic fruit and vegetables. Participants are price-comparing cooking oils – olive oil, mustard oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil – and will purchase oil from different shops and sometimes this may be a little further away than their usual place of shopping.  This adds extra time and effort to their shopping process.
  • Cost-of-Living Crisis: some participants are having to buy cheaper supermarket brands and must make decisions to leave some products for a later date.
  • Often, participants will go shopping just after dropping the children off at school. This allows them time to cook earlier and have the evening free to do other things. 



Bagging up some coriander for curries, garnish and salad

Bagging up some coriander for curries, garnish and salad

Selecting chicken breasts from the halal range in Iceland

Selecting chicken breasts from the halal range in Iceland

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 at 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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