After a PhD in social psychology at Leeds University 1970-73, he became a hill farmer in the 1970s in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire which shifted his attention to food policy, where it has been ever since. For years, he's engaged in academic and public research and debate about its direction, locally to globally. His abiding interest is how policy addresses the mixed challenge of being food for the environment, health, social justice, and citizens. What is a good food system? How is ours measured and measuring up? His current research interests are (a) sustainable diets, (b) the meaning of modern food security and (c) the implications of Brexit for the food system. In all these, he explores where the public interest lies and how differences of policy position are addressed.
He has been a consultant to the World Health Organisation (eg auditing the Global Top 25 Food Companies on food and health 2005), FAO (eg co-chairing the FAO definition of sustainable diets 2010) and UNEP (eg co-writing its 2012 Avoiding Future Famines report). He has been a special advisor to four House of Commons Select Committee inquiries, two on food standards (1998-9 & 1999), globalisation (2000) and obesity (2003-04), and a consultant on food security to the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House 2007-09). He was a Commissioner on the UK Government's Sustainable Development Commission (2006-11), reviewing progress on food sustainability. He was on the Council of Food Policy Advisors to the Dept for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (2008-10), and is a member of the Mayor of London's Food Board (2009 – present). He helped launch the 100 World Cities Urban Food Policy Pact in Milan 2015. He was policy lead Commissioner on the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems (2016-19) which published the highly acclaimed 'Food in the Anthropocene' report (The Lancet, January 2019)
He and the Centre for Food Policy at City University London work closely with scientific and civil society organisations, the latter in the UK notably through the Food Research Collaboration (run from this Centre since 2014), Sustain (which he chaired in the past), the UK Food Group (of development NGOs), and Food & Climate Research Network (Oxford University). He has been Vice-President of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (since 1999) and President of Garden Organic (since 2008). He is special advisor to the Food Research Collaboration on Food and Brexit ((www.foodresearch.org.uk). He helped create City’s role in the 7 University IFSTAL partnership (www.ifstal.ac.uk) which shared food systems thinking for post-graduates in a wide range of disciplines (2015-19). He was appointed Visiting Professor, Cardiff University School of Geography & Regional Planning in 2017.
He has written and co-written many articles, reports, chapters and books. His most recent books include: Feeding Britain (Pelican, 2020), Food Wars (with Michael Heasman, Routledge, 2015), Unmanageable Consumer (with Yiannis Gabriel, Sage, 2015), Ecological Public Health (with Geof Rayner, Routedge Earthscan, 2012), Food Policy (with D Barling and M Caraher, Oxford University Press, 2009) and the Atlas of Food (with E Millstone, Earthscan 2003/2008), which won the André Simon award 2003. He writes frequently in the media and wrote a monthly column in The Grocer 2000-15.
He was elected Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health in 2001, and Fellow by Distinction in 2014. He was made a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Cooks (City of London) in 2016. He won the BBC R4 Derek Cooper award in 2004, The Observer Lifetime Achievement award in 2007, and the Agri-Bagri Award of the Australia-New Zealand Agri-Food Network also in 2007. He grows vegetables and fruit in his London garden.