How to make your food shop more sustainable

If we were to look inside our fridge right now, how sustainable would the contents be? Are the fruit and vegetables organic? Is the meat free range? Was the appetising block of cheese sourced from a small, local business? With sales of organic food and drink in the UK rising by 6% last year, to £2.2bn, it is clear that we are becoming more conscientious where sustainable food sources are concerned. While these figures are really encouraging, it’s worth bearing in mind that there is still room for improvement – in the UK, for example, only 2.7% of our cattle population is reared organically! Follow our top tips to shop more sustainably for food that is better for us and the environment.

Be Flexi-

In recent years, flexitarianism – a casually vegetarian diet that doesn’t totally eliminate meat – has seen a considerable rise. There is 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. 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 a drug cartel. 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, why not buy quinoa from The British Quinoa Company who have cultivated types of quinoa that grow well in our climate? They come in a variety of types and flavours and can be bought here.


Waste not want not

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. This means 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 then 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 as 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, and if you are concerned you’ll end up with more produce than you can eat, why not share a box with friends or colleagues so that only one delivery needs to be made?

Buy in season

Buying seasonal produce from local providers is an easy way to cut down on food air-miles, as we can choose fruit and vegetables from nearby farms rather than those that have been imported from warmer climes thousands of miles away. A great way of getting to know which vegetables thrive at which time of year is to grow your own. Tomatoes and courgettes are great, easy fruits to grow that can produce a real glut to see you through the summer. Don’t worry if you have limited outdoor space – 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 has the added benefit that you needn’t buy 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 Carrinet Veggio bag 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, while spending 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, so look out for ‘Pasture for Life Association’ accreditation if you want to buy meat from animals reared on a wholly pasture-fed diet.

It is also important to only 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 is 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 – and instead look for alternatives that aren’t as over-fished like pollock or coley.


Loved this? Read on here:

carrots fruit and vegetables liz earle wellbeing– Discover how to get children to eat more fruit and vegetables

– Try out our 7 favourite vegetarian meals

– Discover what to look out for on food labels and what the food logos mean

– Find out about the work of the Sustainable Food Trust