Sustainable food shopping is a minefield. Food production, distribution and consumption has a major impact on the environment. Here is a seven point guide to responsible food shopping:
- Buy fresh
- Buy local
- Buy organic
- Buy seasonal
- Buy less meat
- Avoid food waste
Or better still you could grow your own!
Sustainable food – the basics
Sustainable food shopping can be a minefield. There is so much to consider and so much contradictory information and even misinformation. Even if you want to do the right thing there are issues about affordability, the availability of responsible options and also the simple fact that labelling is often inadequate.
In the recent past there was a lot of focus on the need for organic food because of the harm that pesticides and chemical fertilisers were doing to soil and water quality. Then focus moved to ‘food miles’ which is the distance that food travels from the producer to your plate. The transport of food causes greenhouse gas emissions. Now there is more focus on two of the other big food issues – meat (especially red meat) consumption and food waste.
The Sustainable Food Pyramid tells us that the food that is best for us is also the best for the planet.
The best solution is to not sweat the details but keep it as simple as possible. Whilst there are no hard and fast rules here is a seven point guide that will help you make good choices.
1. Buy fresh food
Fresh food is much healthier for you and for the environment. Any type of processing is likely to have some environmental impact. For example processing will probably add to food miles, energy use and packaging.
Processing often adds unhealthy substances like salt, sugar, fat, colourings and preservatives which are not nutritious – and cumulatively can be quite harmful – they just help the food look better or last longer.
2. Buy locally grown food
Food miles are the measure of the distance food travels from field to plate. Agriculture and food now account for nearly 30% of goods transported on our roads. This adds substantially to the CO2 emissions that are contributing to climate change – which is why food miles matter.
Food travels further these days because of the centralised systems of supermarkets. It defies common sense when a crop of potatoes, for example, can be transported hundreds, or even thousands, of miles to be packaged at a central place then sent back to be sold where they were produced in the first place.
Imported produce from overseas is even worse, particularly air-freight which has a far bigger impact on the environment than sea or road travel.
We now travel further to do our shopping and use the car more often to do it. One solution is to do all your shopping for the week in one trip at the nearest farmers market. Read more about Farmers Markets »
3. Buy organic food
Organic produce is food produced with the following aims:
- to avoid the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and routine use of antibiotics and other medicines;
- to pay careful attention to animal welfare; and
- to preserve the environment and wildlife
Whilst there is conjecture about whether organic food is actually more nutritious than standard produce it stands to reason that anything that is less harmful to the environment is better for us one way or another.
A food labeled ‘organic’ means it comes from registered producers, which have been approved by organic certification bodies. Since it is not always possible to make foods entirely from organic ingredients, organic manufacturers can use specific non-organic ingredients provided that organic ingredients make up at least 95 per cent of the food. Read more about Organic Food and the value of Organic Farming»
4. Buy seasonal food
Out-of-season food is likely to be imported, stored in cold-stores, preserved in unsustainable ways or it might have been grown locally in artificially-created growing environments. Either way energy is being expended just so we can have a perpetually summertime diet.
Obviously if you buy local, fresh food you are likely to be buying seasonal food.
Spring and summer are much better seasons for food, you can always prepare for winter by preserving summer’s fruit and vegetables.
5. Eat less meat
Perhaps the most sustainable choice you can make is to limit the amount of meat in your diet. Meat has a much larger ecological footprint than vegetables mainly due to the greenhouse gases associated with producing meat and dairy products. Also, whilst a vegetarian diet requires less than 1,200 litres of virtual water a day while a meat eater’s diet uses up a whopping 15,000 litres a day. Individuals save more water by not eating a pound of beef than by not showering for an entire year! Blog Post: Have your meat and eat it too»
6. Grow your own food
Even if you only have access to a deck, a roof or a small courtyard you can grow food. Anybody with some time, patience and access to the internet or a library can learn enough about soil and gardening to be able to grow vegetables, herbs and fruit and therefore become more sustainable. Read more: Grow your own»
7. Avoid food waste
About 20% of all food purchased is wasted. By avoiding food waste you can save money and help the environment by reducing your ecological footprint. Read more»