Let’s be honest is a Food Circle project with the aim to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to making life more sustainable, as well as the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try, instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world creating a uniquely multicultural environment.
Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!
What are we talking about today?
Most of us shop at supermarkets and enjoy the variety of fruit, vegetables and other products that are available all year round. Only recently, have I started learning about why this is even possible, and the impact that off-season strawberries and the luxury of availability, has on the environment. I was shocked when I read that nearly half of the food eaten in the UK is grown abroad.
I'll be talking today about some of the problems of importing food, the supermarket fantasy that we are living in, and strategies for individuals to reduce their impact on the environment by limiting their demand for imported products.
Two things to understand about imports
A quick disclaimer:
Importing food is not ideal but depending on where you live, your country might have a need for imports. Due to a countries' geography, a large amount of imports can be unavoidable for a healthy diet. So this conversation won’t apply to everyone.
Regardless, stocked supermarkets full of anything that you could want is a fantasy made reality. And if you have the desire to live sustainably, you might want to change how you are contributing to this. As consumers our demand for products is responsible for key business decisions that can have significant environmental impacts. Whatever sells best is stocked on the shelves: when coffee and tea are selling well, it's a natural business decision to import more.
For those of us living in temperate climates, it's not possible for tea and coffee to be produced in large quantities. It makes sense that something produced far away, imported on a boat and driven to your local supermarket, is going to release more CO2 than something that was grown within your home region or country. But what can we do about it?
1. What can be suitably grown in your own climate
Educate yourself on what is produced locally, and try to incorporate it more into your diet. Maybe swap out a lychee for an apple. Understanding what can be grown in our own climates and matching our diet to fit what can be produced nearby is a great way to reduce the impact that you have on the environment.
We have become so used to enjoying what we want when we want it, that we’re not too concerned how far it’s travelled to get to our plate. Some of these exotic fruits could be enjoyed in moderation to reduce our impact and demand and eventually transport emissions.
2. Consider what fruit and vegetables are currently in season
While local products vary depending on climate, they also vary as the seasons change. So it's also important to understand what fruit and vegetables are currently in season. If you support foods while they are out of season, just as before, the supermarket will listen to your demand and look for a way to meet it. And if it is not possible at this time of year to grow it locally, then it will be imported. It's an easy trap to fall into, and I'm definitely guilty of buying strawberries all year round. Who could resist?
Because of my habits and preferences, I was making choices that were sustainable at one time of the year and not at another time. By eating these fruits all year round, I was relying on less sustainable methods to bring that fruit to my plate. In the end, it's the planet that faces the repercussions for some of our consumer habits and dietary demands.
Here's how you can change your ways!
Research what can be grown and produced in your climate
If you follow Food Circle on Instagram they regularly post about what fruits and vegetables are in season. Also for those of us living in Europe, I attached this great website earlier. Start by informing yourself, and then maybe you'll give it a second thought while grocery shopping.
Commit to eating imported products less regularly.
Once again, the first step is to understand: from all the things that you're buying, what are the products that are being imported? You could take a recent receipt, and do some google searching!
Develop a "winter strategy" (What tasty fruits are still available locally in the winter)
I strongly believe that planning is key to putting intentions into action. So once you've done your research, you could start with what I call a "winter strategy". Since apples can be reliably stored, I will enjoy apples throughout the winter, and stick to peaches and plums in late summer. Once you've made your winter strategy, set a calendar reminder for December, to revisit the plan and intentions that you had. If you're feeling ambitious, make plans for each season!
Eat Exotic fruits and vegetables as a treat or reward. If you habitually buy them, try to slowly reduce the frequency.
As mentioned earlier, exotic fruits and vegetables might be impossible to grow in your climate and soil, so these are being consistently imported. My advice is not to cut them out entirely, but to try and enjoy them a bit less often.
Support local farm shops & if you eat meat, buy it from a butcher
Shift your demand as a consumer towards local products. A butcher is much more likely to source local meat than a supermarket is. And the added benefits include: supporting your local community and small businesses run by people you know.
Thanks for reading :)
I’m learning how I can change my habits to be a more sustainable individual, and this seems like an easy way to make a change. Not everybody is willing to stop eating meat, driving a car to work or flying home to see family. But simply deciding to eat food depending on the time of year is a great way that I’m learning that we can reduce our environmental impact; by reducing transport emissions.
Written by: Henry Mitchell
Want to do more?
Read our other blogs:
Check out our zero waste recipes:
Follow Food circle over on social media:
Download a sustainable app:
Download the international “Too good to go”, to reduce food waste in your area
The community app, Olio, has a broader goal of sustainability. Where you can find furniture, food and all sorts, completely free! You can even borrow things from others and engage more with your community!
Download Ecosia: the environmental search engine that passively plants trees.
Start using the web extension "Tab for a cause" and "Raise money for charity with every browser tab you open!"