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Food Poverty and urban struggles during COVID-19: the social reproduction of unequal London and the false narrative about the ‘pandemic-led crisis’

Lorena Lombardozzi, Jeanette Copperman and Carolyn I. Auma

January 2021

This paper analyses the crisis of social reproduction through the dynamics of urban food provision in times of COVID-19. The rise of food poverty due to austerity policies resulted in an upsurge of political mobilisation and mushrooming of local coping strategies to support the social reproduction of cities. In this allegedly pandemic-led crisis the responsibility to compensate for the lack of care services, food and wages among vulnerable groups has become increasingly individualised because “austerity involves a territorial reworking of the state through which forms of care, social reproduction and intervention are increasingly sourced from communities themselves” (Strong, 2020; p.212). Through semi-structured interviews with civil society organizations and charities, ethnographic research with local food groups and food banks in North-East London and analysis of secondary material, this paper firstly explores how local food solidarity initiatives organise and mobilise people, manage commodities and urban space to tackle food poverty in North-East London during the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, by using the concept of localised resistance to the corporate-led food system, this paper explores the inter-scalar tensions between the state-level and localised food solidarity initiatives to highlight the inadequacy of the current food system in tackling urban food insecurity. Through a social reproduction framework, the paper shows that the state-led food strategies, based on short-term, scattered, top-down and under-funded initiatives have been both the cause and consequence of the current food poverty crisis. Ultimately, the article proposes to reverse the order of causation: rather than claiming that COVID-19 has created a food crisis, we claim that COVID-19 has only shed light on pre-existing contradictions in the provision of food in urban areas. The crisis has for long been contrasted by local strategies of solidarity, often in contraposition with both market and state.

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