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Cooking with offenders to improve health and well-being

Julie M. Parsons (Department of Law, Criminology and Government, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the benefits of cooking one-to-one, alongside commensality (eating together) for improving offenders’/ex-offenders’ health and well-being, measured in terms of improved social skills, cultural competencies and successful resettlement.


Fieldwork conducted over nine months included; participant observation of lunch times (n=56) and cooking one-to-one with trainees (n=27), semi-structured interviews (n=23) and a “photo-dialogue” focus group with trainees (n=5) and staff (n=2).


Commensality is beneficial for offenders’ health and well-being. Further, preparing, cooking, serving and sharing food is a powerful means of improving self-esteem and developing a pro-social identity.

Research limitations/implications

The original focus of the research was commensality; it was during the study that the potential for cooking as an additional tool for health and well-being emerged. A future longitudinal intervention would be beneficial to examine whether the men continued to cook for others once released from prison and/or finished at the resettlement scheme.

Practical implications

Everyday cooking to share with others is an invaluable tool for improving self-worth. It has the potential to build pro-social self-concepts and improve human, social and cultural capital.

Social implications

Cooking lunch for others is a part of strengths-based approach to resettlement that values community involvement.


Cooking and eating with offenders/ex-offenders is highly unusual. Further hands-on cooking/eating activities are beneficial in terms of aiding self-confidence and self-respect, which are vital for improving offenders’/ex-offenders’ health and well-being.



This research was carried out during a 12 month Sociology of Health and Illness Mildred Blaxter post-doctoral research fellowship (2015-2016). The author would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers and also the research mentor, Professor Gayle Letherby, University of Plymouth, for comments on an early draft of this paper.


Parsons, J.M. (2017), "Cooking with offenders to improve health and well-being", British Food Journal, Vol. 119 No. 5, pp. 1079-1090.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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