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

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.



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

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