I’ve been wanting to push myself further to live sustainably. After all, it isn’t a box ticking exercise… there are always new opportunities to live better! One aspect of sustainability that I’ve found awkward is eating seasonally and locally in the UK while living zero waste (at least trying to!).
See Zero Waste and Plastic Free Living- Part 1 and Low Waste Vegan Snacks for more on eating sustainably.
Disclaimer: I have the privilege to be able to afford fresh produce, and I have access to it. However, I don’t have the budget to purchase weekly organic produce from a farmer’s market (or delivery service), and I currently can’t grow my own. Since I don’t eat seasonal meat, I’m not going to discuss food like lamb or game.
Shopping for food strategically
I’m the type of shopper who brings a list to the store, which is built around meal planning. In other words, I decide what meals I want to make first and then go buy the ingredients. The problem with this approach is that I’m not always opting for in-season produce. For example, one week I scheduled two meals with Brussel sprouts and then found that the grocery store didn’t have any. But really, they shouldn’t have had any because it was April and sprouts are in season in winter!
So now I’ve utilised Pinterest and pinned seasonal charts so I know which produce is in season by month. Then, I build our meals and shopping list around the produce that is most likely to be in season here in the UK, or at the very least in season where it’s grown. Your seasonal produce will differ according to which region you live in.
I’m also trying to be flexible with meal planning. If I can’t find the ingredient I need, or if I see something that is a more sustainable option, I switch ingredients, even if that means changing a meal!
What produce can you buy that is local (grown in the UK) and bonus if it’s plastic free?
The UK doesn’t grow bananas or oranges (or any tropical fruits for that matter, but I’m allergic to pineapple, kiwi, and papaya anyways). Aside from May-July, most of our berries come from abroad. Although berries and grapes could be from the UK, they always come in plastic at supermarkets. Even when they’re in season, stone fruits come in packaging and sometimes aren’t from the UK. The only UK-grown fruit that I can regularly get at the supermarket plastic free are apples and pears.
- We eat a lot of bananas, which isn’t sustainable. At least they’re ship freighted, and we buy loose Fairtrade bananas (and single ones because they get left behind).
- I buy discounted fruit. If it’s on clearance and I know it will get thrown out, I buy it over the full price option, or a different fruit. You can always freeze extra berries if they’re starting to go off. We normally shop on Saturday evening, which is a good time to buy discounted food!
One could argue that avoiding food waste is more sustainable than avoiding plastic packaging, though I still have a nagging feeling that plastic will be here FOREVER so surely it’s worse?!?
- I buy loose apples and pears.
- If our fruit starts going off, I make something with it like apple compote, or banana bread.
- I try to shop seasonally. For instance, I buy loose citrus in the winter, and melons in summer.
- I buy only what we can eat in a week to avoid waste.
What about vegetables?
Thankfully, veggies are easier. Most of our root veg and potatoes come from the UK and I get them loose. Produce like broccoli, sprouts, aubergine (eggplant), courgette (zucchini), peppers, and mushrooms are also available loose at my shop.
Tomatoes, leafy greens, cucumber, and asparagus etc. may be UK-grown, but they often come in packaging at supermarkets. In other words, most of the non-winter veg comes in packaging.
If I want to shop seasonally for spring, I should be looking for produce such as asparagus, leafy greens, radishes, and cauliflower. However, these veggies are currently all in plastic to preserve freshness and protect them during transport.
What’s the solution?
On a sustainability front, I can’t “win”. I can either buy seasonal (and local) in plastic, or I miss out on a varied, fresh diet. So, I think about what is the best option for me to live sustainably with the resources I have available. I pick produce that has the least amount of packaging that is in season and grown in the UK so that the carbon footprint is minimal. When I can, I will “rescue” the clearance produce.
It’s also important to let your shops know how you feel. Write to your supermarket and ask them to change the packaging. Support your local growers and shops when you can.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips on how to eat seasonally and locally where you live! Maybe you shop at a farmer’s market, or you have a veg garden? Or, do you struggle to access any produce plastic free… or fresh produce full stop? Let me know!
Check out BBC seasonal food website for meal ideas!