Eat Well, Shop Sustainably
As we head into Spring, here at Feel Fit, we are challenging ourselves to make meaningful, lasting changes in our approach to Food Sustainability.
There’s so much info out there that it can be hard to know where to start making these changes so we’ve asked local Bristol-based food sustainability heroes to share their top tips for making smart choices when it comes to eating well and shopping sustainably.
There’s a huge amount of research into the health benefits of switching to organic food but did you know that organic farming has a significant impact on our planet’s health too?
“Non organic food means farmers need to rely on pesticides and fertilisers which deplete the soil and negatively impact the surrounding ecosystems. Organic is hugely important for maintaining biodiversity and a healthy planet.” says Grant Mercer from Smaller Footprints, a zero waste, sustainable refill store that has been based in Clifton for the past three years. If you’re worried about paying more when choosing organic, Grant says “You might also be surprised by some of the prices of organic seeds and dried fruit, it’s cheaper than you might expect when compared with non organic options, just make sure you shop around!”
We know that switching every single one of our food purchases to organic could be expensive so it’s worth focusing on swapping those items that are going to be the most impactful areas for change:
Organic Fruit and Veg reduces exposure to toxins
When it comes to our health, try to avoid non organic fruit and veg from the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list produced every year by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN).
Every fruit or vegetable on the list contains two or more types of pesticide, with some containing up to 25. Although the levels of individual pesticides are within legal limits, PAN claims the combination of multiple chemicals could be particularly damaging to people’s health. At the top of the list this year are grapes and oranges, so switching to organic versions of these could help you reduce the risk of exposure to toxins and help you make healthier choices.
Organic Meat and Dairy = higher animal welfare
Also did you know that “switching to organic meat and dairy ensures that you are only purchasing products that have the highest standards of animal welfare according to the Soil Association?” says Mel Taylor from 5 Acre Farm shop in the Tobacco Factory, Bristol.
This is perfect for veggies and flexitarians who are not quite ready to give up animal products entirely but do care about higher welfare. Talk to your local butcher about organic options and do your research online. Down here in the South West we are surrounded by great organic and grass fed farms who supply local butchers or sell directly online.
Imke Potgieter runs Ubuntu Food, a catering and events business based in Bristol, she grew up in a big South African family where time around the table eating was “family therapy”. Imke started Ubuntu to recreate that sense of connection around the table, bringing people to the source of food.
“The two things that I always talk about are education and seasonal cycles”, says Imke. “It is so critical that we, as people who want to live more sustainably, educate ourselves on natural cycles of the seasons and growing food yourself can be a huge catalyst for this. It’s so frustrating for me as a chef to see foodie recipes on instagram and other big websites that require ingredients that are shipped halfway across the world. Our meals should be a reflection of what’s growing in our country at the time.”
“The Landworkers Alliance produces a calendar every year that shows what’s happening that month in the food system, this is a really good place to start!” says Imke. “Knowledge is so important to understand how to develop sustainable food habits, seasonable education and what is native is a good basis to start buying more sustainably”.
Imke is right, for example we know that asparagus is an amazing vegetable and incredibly healthy for us, but buying it all year round means that shops have to rely on imports from Peru to keep up with demand. Shopping locally and seasonally not only drastically reduces carbon emissions from airmiles and puts money back into the local economy, the food actually tastes better too.
We also love Eat the Seasons website that helps educate readers on what veg is in abundance.
Grant from Smaller Footprints also tells us about a recent report that looked at CO2 emissions across the entire process of growing, packaging and transporting food, unsurprisingly transportation is a huge contributing factor to emissions. “Buying food grown locally reduces road and airmiles. Small swaps can go a long way, for example swapping chickpeas for carlin peas grown in Hertfordshire, or buying UK grown rapeseed oils” he says.
Focusing on local products is important but we all need to be very aware of the emissions related to what we are eating, it is this awareness that helps us make smarter choices. With food production now responsible for over a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, our choices are important. Producing a kilogram of beef emits 60 kilograms of greenhouse gases (CO2-equivalents). While peas emit just 1 kilogram per kg. So as we look to make changes we need to make sure you are getting nutrient dense food from quality sources. Mel from 5 Acre Farm tells us “A great way to do this is to eat more plants!”
We often think of plants as a secondary part of our main meals but switching to using them as a core component will reduce the need for animal products, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the overall cost of our meals. We love whole roasted vegetables and right now in winter we have an abundance of brassicas and squash that are great hearty options to make a whole meal.
Phytonutrients in plants cause different colours and each of these colours has a different positive impact on our bodies and health from anti-inflammatory to anti-oxidant properties. To make sure we are getting the best of these phytonutrients, it's actually recommended that we all aim to eat at least 30 different plant varieties each week, this may sound like a lot but if you aim to eat one to two plants per meal each day, three times a day, seven days a week you’ll soon be close to thirty and remember, seeds and whole grains count as plants too!
You could approach the eat the rainbow concept as a weekly challenge. For example, ask yourself what’s on your shopping list for the week? Can you add in 1 to 2 new plants to try each week? What’s in season in your local shop that you could experiment with?
We love the Riverford website for their hundreds of seasonal veggie recipes, take a look and get inspired.
You’ll hear this a lot from us in the Fitness world but we want to stress that meal planning isn’t about creating painstakingly detailed meal plans down to the last gram of protein needed, it's about batch cooking, shopping with purpose and making smarter choices.
If you’re on a budget like many of us, try planning your meals for a week then writing a shopping list, this will mean that you’re spending less and wasting less. Mel from 5 Acre Farm tells us that research shows that meal planning and shopping with purpose will lead to less waste. It’s also a huge time saver. We know that at the end of a long busy day, it can be much harder to make healthy choices so planning your meals and prepping in advance means that you’ve always got something delicious in the fridge or freezer as a go to.
Refill shops are a great way to ensure you are only buying what you need, helping you save money and reduce waste.
So to recap, this year, we are going to be focussing on:
- Switching to organic where possible
- Shopping local and know your seaons
- Eating the rainbow!
- Planning our meals
We’d love to hear what top tips you have for eating and shopping sustainably! Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
You can find more about Lightfoot_and _food over on Cat's Instagram page