New research takes a fork-to-farm approach to assess the potential of bean-based meals

22 April 2022

A newly launched research project by the Universities of Hertfordshire, Oxford, Hull, Liverpool and Warwick is subverting the ‘farm-to-fork’ paradigm, to assess how UK-grown beans can help tackle the issue of HFSS (high in fat, sugar and salt) food.

Thinking beyond the can: mainstreaming UK-grown beans in healthy meals (BeanMeals) is one of 11 projects in a new £14 million UKRI programme that aims to address the challenges of obesity and public health, sustainable food systems, and consumption patterns.

Based in Leicestershire, the BeanMeals project starts with the question of how to promote healthy diets through bean-based school meals. Researchers will then work backwards through the supply chain, to bean processing and growing. The project aims to determine how best to bring about systemic innovation, as well as analyse the health, environment and enterprise benefits of the transformed system.

University of Hertfordshire researchers Professor David Barling and Dr Angela Dickinson will be investigating the national and local policy and governance drivers and enablers in Leicestershire and beyond, which will impact the adoption of this UK-grown protein source. They will also identify how the bean-based meals can be taken up in local schools and domestic settings in Leicester and the wider county. Their work will contribute to a blueprint for the upscaling of this key healthy and environmentally advantageous domestic food ingredient across the UK's food system.

Professor Barling explained what the impact of the research could be: “The research will provide a template for healthier meals from a more environmentally benign and sustainable domestic protein source.

“The project is coproduced with key local and national stakeholders to ensure that the research has practical and applicable outcomes, which can provide a springboard for their adoption across the wider UK food system”.

The research collaboration pulls together expertise from UK research institutions, spanning areas such as food systems, agroeconomics, systemic innovation, food policy, legume breeding, public health and behaviour change.

Dr John Ingram from the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, and Principal Investigator for BeanMeals, said: “BeanMeals has the potential to create wide-ranging impact, from systemic innovation in institutional catering and home-cooking through the use of healthier ingredients, to new public procurement practices and increased demand for locally grown products”.

This latest investment is part of UKRI’s ‘Transforming UK Food Systems’ Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) Programme, adding to the earlier £29 million awards across four large consortia projects and a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT).

Professor Guy Poppy, Programme Director of the Transforming the UK Food Systems SPF Programme, said: “The 11 new projects joining our consortia and CDT means we now have a network of more than 37 UK research organisations across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That network is also supported by approximately 200 additional stakeholder organisations, including the private sector colleagues and other government departments and agencies.

“The range of projects engaged in the SPF Programme will help to address the complex challenges we face around dietary choice and methods of farming and will help to ensure there is sustainable and healthy food for everyone in the UK.”

Find out more about the Transforming the UK Food System for Healthy People and a Healthy Environment SPF programme.


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