Food – from what we grow, produce and catch to what we put on our plates – is the hidden cause of biodiversity loss. It’s also our strongest link to nature. Reconnecting people with food is essential if we want to change the food system and build a future of healthy people and a healthy planet.Sarah Halevy, Sustainable Diets Manager WWF
This quote from WWF’s Sustainable Diets Manager Sarah Halevy, summarises the main tasks that we need to take on to contribute to a sustainable future. Getting back to nature and reconnecting with our food, its histories, ecologies and purposes, is the best way we can help to heal our planet from the effects of our intensive, commercial (and unsustainable) food systems. And in turn, we can hopefully convince policymakers to make the bigger systematic changes needed.
But where do we start? Lots of us feel daunted, intimidated, and just plain hopeless when faced with the facts of climate change, intensive farming, overfishing, food miles and exploitation that happens all over the world – just to get ‘convenient’ food to our plates.
But before tackling the world’s problems, we can start in our own communities, kitchens, and gardens. Here we break down 6 basic steps to start off spring by eating more sustainably:
1. Eat seasonally
Ok, we’ve heard it all before – we’re constantly encouraged to eat seasonal fruit and veg – but how? Supermarkets import food from all over the world and make most produce available all year round. It’s hard for us to imagine not having access to tomatoes in winter (or any of our favourite fresh fruit for that matter). Luckily, there are ways to learn more!
The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) recently released this brilliant interactive Europe-wide map, allowing users to search their location and discover what produce is currently in season in their climatic region. For example, at the moment we can expect to find locally-grown apples and forced rhubarb, as well as artichokes, cabbage, cauliflower and leeks. Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive overview and there’s lots more to find out with a little research or a trip to your local grocers…which brings us on to tip 2!
2. Support your local grocers (…and farms and producers, community gardens and allotments)
An amazing sustainable action for the environment, as well as small businesses and producers, is to shop locally if you can. We’re used to thinking that bigger supermarkets offer the best prices and quality assurance, but that isn’t always true. If you have a grocers nearby, check out their fresh produce to compare prices – you might find some surprising new ingredients too! (My local greengrocers currently sells pointy green romanesco cauliflower, forced rhubarb and rainbow chard.)
Other brilliant options for supporting your local businesses are organic supermarkets and farmers’ markets. Although these aren’t always the most affordable option, if you can afford it, it’s a worthwhile investment into traceable, quality ingredients – and you know your money is directly supporting a producer’s livelihood!
Grassroots food and growing groups, or your local allotment, often have days to sell (or give away!) surplus produce. Manchester Urban Diggers hold a mini-market at Platt Fields Market Garden on Saturdays, as well as the new Ancoats pop-up on Radium Street! You can also search for allotments on the Manchester City Council website here, to find one near you.
3. Grow your own!
…which inevitably leads us to growing your own! (Don’t worry, you don’t need to join a waiting list for an allotment) How do we reduce the food miles, packaging and supply chain of commercial food – not to mention become more self-sufficient and save money? A lot of food is easy to grow yourself, and spring is the time to get sowing. Head to your local garden centre or DIY store to browse seeds – they may even sell young plants that are further along – and basic materials.
If you’ve got the time, growing your food from scratch is one of the most powerful ways to reconnect with with nature, our local ecologies and our kitchens. You don’t even need a big garden space, as lots of small produce like tomatoes, chillis and even oranges and lemons can be grown indoors. Herbs and salad greens can be grown on a sunny windowsill in your kitchen.
4. Reduce your food waste
For the UK’s recent Food Waste Action Week, we shared tips for managing and reducing your food waste – as the average UK household throws away 30% of its food! Love Food Hate Waste also share great resources and tips for getting creative in the way we use or reduce the amount going in our bins.
We also shared this set of creative ideas for food waste earlier in the year – perhaps some eggshells as fertiliser for your new kitchen garden?
This article by Food Revolution outlines 19 foods you can regrow from scraps, creating the perfect mini windowsill allotment.
5. Cut down on plastic packaging and those pesky plastic carrier bags
We likely all remember the 5p plastic bag charge coming into effect in 2015 – but has this done enough to deter people from using single use carrier bags? I’m going to say no – unless we charged £10 per carrier bag, it’s likely to not make a difference to the majority of consumers’ habits that we’ve grown up with. It is up to us to individually make a conscious effort to reduce the single-use plastic we’re consuming.
Does your fruit and veg need to be wrapped in plastic? Can you maybe carry that loaf of bread and bottle of milk home without a carrier bag?
Start creating a ‘bag bank’ at home of sturdy re-usable shopping bags, tote bags and carrier bags that you can grab when you leave the house, or keep one with you. Look for loose fruit and veg rather than pre-packed where possible – and use re-usable or paper bags to hold these. I use these cotton produce bags to keep my food separated and safe in my bag – but there’s no reason why you can’t use bags or packaging you already have.
A lot of organic supermarkets and grocers now offer “unpacked” options for other foods like pasta, grains, beans and pulses – this means you can bring your own jar or container, weigh it, fill it, and weigh again! Meaning you get to choose how much you buy, re-use your own container, and eliminate any plastic bags or packaging that you would usually throw away.
6. Try new things!
Finally, the most important step of all is to keep trying new things, and don’t be hard on yourself or disappointed if you don’t succeed every time. Re-learning our habits and behaviours as food consumers is a mammoth task – to make a small change in your daily routine could be the start of a new habit. Engaging in learning, discussion and sharing with those around us, our local businesses and producers, can bring new perspectives and ideas – and start a sustainable revolution for a healthier population, and healthier planet.