How to make your food shop more sustainable

Looking for ways to make your food shop more sustainable? With sales of organic food and drink in the UK on the rise, it’s clear that we’re becoming more conscientious where sustainable food sources are concerned.

If you’re keen to care for the planet while still enjoying delicious food, then have no fear. We explain some of the simple swaps you can do at home to make your food shop more sustainable.

How to make your food shop more sustainable

Be flexible

In recent years, flexitarianism – a casually vegetarian diet that doesn’t totally eliminate meat – has seen a considerable rise.

There’s no denying that free-range, organic meat is more expensive, but if we cut down our overall intake and substitute vegetables for meat in a number of our evening meals, the cost will balance itself out. This means we can afford to enjoy higher-welfare meat that is more flavoursome and responsibly sourced from smaller, local farms a few times a week rather than daily eating cheaper, mass-produced meat from intensive farms and abroad.

Think about where your food comes from

When increasing your fruit and veg intake, be wary that these can also come with sustainability issues. Avocados, for example, are replacing natural pine forests in Mexico, requiring pesticides and fertilisers and using at least 70 litres of water to grow just one avocado. In Mexico, the avocado industry is also increasingly being controlled by drug cartels.

Quinoa is another ingredient that can prove problematic as the increasing demand for the product abroad has meant that junk food is cheaper for Peruvians and Bolivians to eat than their own native crop. Instead, buy quinoa from The British Quinoa Company who have cultivated types of quinoa that grow well in our climate.

Make more of leftovers

We can’t be the only ones who leave the supermarket with twice as many items in our trolley as we had on our list. For those of us who shop weekly, making a food plan is a great way to avoid unnecessary waste. We can plan our fresh meat and veg consumption in the days following a big shop to avoid fresh produce being forgotten about and spoiling at the back of the fridge.

Batch cook and freeze meals with fresh ingredients after a big shop to make perishable food last longer. Stock up on store cupboard staples like grains, pulses and tinned tomatoes, and freeze any extra meat. You can use these to bulk out meals when the fridge is starting to run low.

Shopping online can help to reduce the chance of impulse purchases and veg box deliveries are another great option that can be sent to your door. Veg boxes are a great excuse to experiment with vegetables you might not otherwise buy.

Buy in season

Buying seasonal produce from local providers is an easy way to cut down on food air-miles. W can choose fruit and vegetables from nearby farms rather than those that have been imported from warmer climes thousands of miles away.

Growing your own is a great way of getting to know which vegetables come into season when. Tomatoes and courgettes are great, easy fruits to grow. They can produce a real glut to see you through the summer. Don’t worry if you have limited outdoor space either. Tomatoes, chillies and fresh herbs can be grown on windowsills and potatoes can be grown in bags or boxes that take up very little room outdoors.

Growing your own vegetables or buying from a market means you can avoid buying produce packaged in excessive amounts of plastic and film – much of which will end up in landfill. Opt for loose vegetables over ones unnecessarily wrapped in cellophane and place them in a reusable, breathable bags rather than the flimsy single-use plastic bags provided.

Get behind the label

Getting familiar with the terminology on labels can help you opt for more ethical and sustainable produce. For example, ‘grass-fed’ animals have been able to enjoy the grasses, wild flowers and herbs that are part of their natural diet. It also means they’ve spent a significant amount of time roaming outdoors.

Opting for grass-fed beef, for example, is much more sustainable than cows fed on soy mixes, the growth of which can lead to deforestation. Meat labelled as ‘grass fed’ may have been fed a mixture of both grass and grain throughout the year. Look out for ‘Pasture for Life Association’ accreditation if you want to buy meat from animals reared on a wholly pasture-fed diet.

It’s also important to purchase sustainably sourced fish, as 90% of world fish stocks are fully or over-exploited by fishing. Look out for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo on fish. This indicates that it’s fully traceable and sourced from well-managed fisheries. Try not to be over-reliant on the ‘big five’ fish – cod, haddock, salmon, tuna and prawns. Instead look for alternatives that aren’t as over-fished like pollock or coley.

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