A Guide To Sustainable Food Shopping

By Natalia Tronina, our GLOBUS Correspondent

There were many things I was concerned about when coming to the University. Homesickness, work overload and shared bathroom – are just a few to mention. Never would I expect them to be overshadowed by the abundance of British plastics. 

Now, I wonder what picture I brought in front of you. We hear every day about the bottles and cans lying on the streets or not putting enough effort into recycling. But once we enter our nearest supermarket, the real problem begins. Using plastic bags is one thing. But being forced to use them, as all veggies and fruit are perfectly wrapped before it would come to your mind, is another. The point is, it seems to be a trend here. In Poland, where I come from, you have a choice – products are loosely displayed and you choose in which form they are brought home. But here, how do we explain it? Another excuse of “living in a rush”? Well, I don’t think so. 

This is just one of the examples of how these huge stores impact the struggling environment. The bigger the firm, the bigger the focus on profit. The question is, do we really need to be a part of that? It is good to hear about the targets they are setting for the upcoming years, such as reducing own-brand single-use packaging. Yet especially nowadays, we are encouraged to support small businesses. To choose local restaurants, cafes and shield them from the harmful economic consequences of COVID-19 pandemics. Why not do the same with our grocery shopping? 

In fact, in current circumstances, it appears to be a much more comfortable solution. There is no need to wait in long queues before we are allowed to come in (in line with government restrictions) or worry about following social distancing measures when making our way with overpacked trolley. Most importantly, however, we would get a chance to really be a part of the local community. Among the things I miss about my home, I should probably mention, is going with my whole family every Saturday to the neighbouring market, where we would get fresh supply for the week – fruit and vegetables, dairy and meat. All fresh and locally produced. The sellers know you by your name and are ready to prepare your order if you call them in advance. We see them on our way home from work, we greet each other on the streets. Essentially, we are friends who create this social and economic network, driving innovation of our closest surrounding and bringing workplaces for those who need them. Environmental reasons are endless, too. First ones that come to mind are a smaller carbon footprint and no food miles – even though supermarket labels ensure “100% British”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that products were grown around the corner. More likely, they were transported from the other part of the country and burning of harmful fossil fuels was involved in the process.  

If you are getting concerned about the impact of your daily activities, or want to become more aware of them, visit https://www.foodmiles.com/more.cfm – it will allow you to calculate how many miles the product you bought travelled to get into your fridge or cupboard. However, we should also look at what brought us to this discussion – have you ever seen local farmers investing in colourful packages for the carrots they are selling? Are their tomatoes displayed on plastic trays? At least from my experience, they are not and have never been. Usually, you come to their store with your own bag and you are in charge of packing what you buy. Moreover, you know that products from a trusted source come with probably less or sometimes even no chemicals used in production. It is great that nowadays, more and more of us are encouraged to follow healthy lifestyles, always get our “5 a day” and bring more colour to our plates. As great as it sounds, let’s try to expand the positive consequences of our actions and show that we are ready to support them.  

In 2015, a Defra survey showed that 80% of British consumers admitted that buying local products is important, yet only 30% managed to do so. If you are not sure where your nearest market or privately-run store is, head to BigBarn, UK’s local food website with almost 9,000 spots across the country. Based on your location, you will find safe and locally produced food from neighbouring sellers on this map, as well as get notified about new deals, offers, and even daily recipe ideas. They have set as their aim to reverse the current trend of the anti-social food industry, resulting in the dominance of big businesses and loss of connection between producers and consumers. Thanks to that, they also raise awareness about buying seasonal products and introducing sustainable consumer measures.  

I think that with all of these tools, we should be ready to make some changes, right? And please, do not say that it requires a lot of time and effort. In fact, just one visit on Saturday morning, if planned well, will provide you with a first-class supply for the week ahead. Think how much it can change and how much you can do by becoming a part of the community-led supply chain – how one daily activity can ease the pressure on our environment and support local entrepreneurs. It is a win-win situation. It just asks for your contribution.      

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