I had lots of ideas about what to talk about in this Eco-October series but one of the topics I really wanted to touch on was food.
What we eat is an incredibly personal thing and our relationship with it can be complex for a number of reasons, from health, to cost, to cultural. It’s no secret that the way we consume food in the modern western world is having a serious environmental impact; however, it can be difficult to rethink our approach to something which is often tied up to so many different aspects of our lives and identities.
But there are lots of little things, from looking at what we eat to reducing waste, that we can gradually work into our lives to begin to address this issue. It’s not about creating negative associations with some foods or pressuring yourself to spend loads more money on fancy groceries, it’s just about being aware of the different ways we can consume more sustainably and healthily- and have some fun with it too!
P.S. I know I’ve said this in pretty much every blog, but it is especially important with this one that you make changes that are right for you, based on what will support your long-term health and wellbeing. Taking care of yourself has to be the number one priority, especially if you are dealing with disordered eating, are in poverty or facing other issues surrounding food. Also, take care if you are planning to change aspects of your diet- check in with yourself, make sure you’re getting your vits and maybe consider speaking to your doctor.
Mass-scale farming is not great for our planet. Going completely plant-based is the obvious way to mitigate this but this isn’t going to be suitable for everyone and certainly won’t be the starting place for most people. Restrictive diets or focusing negatively on food can also be problematic. However, if we want to and are able, there are a number of ways we can gradually reduce our meat and dairy intake without feeling pressured or like we are missing out.
For many people, eating meat at most – or even every – meal is something of a habit. Being raised in a meat-eating household often means that meat is an easily accepted (or expected!) element of sitting down to eat or celebrating an event. But it is very possible to find and create delicious meat-free meals. It might require a bit of a mental shift but starting to see meat as an occasional treat, rather than a staple, can be a great place to start.
There are lots of different ways to approach this:
- The goddamn queen that is Oprah is currently doing a 1 plant-based meal a day for 30 days campaign over on her Instagram.
- Author Johnathan Safran Foer – whose latest book, We Are the Weather, explores eating habits as a starting point for mitigating the climate crisis – suggests going veggie or vegan for breakfast and lunch but allowing yourself to eat what you want during the evening meal.
- You might choose to focus on a particular day of the week, going with a ‘meat-free Mondays’ approach, or take that concept further and go meat-free during the week.
- Or you might just want to reduce the things you aren’t that fussed about. This is kind of how it started for me. When I was at uni, I wasn’t fussed about buying red meat because I hated cooking it (apart from sausages which were easy to replace, cheaper and were nicer frozen!). Then I slowly got bored of chicken, so just ate fish. I’ve recently been trying to eat vegetarian 99% of the time and I think, because I’ve taken this change at my own pace over the years, it’s not felt like a dramatic change.
However you choose to, or even if you choose to, change your diet remember, you don’t have to get it perfect all the time! I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: it’s about finding the approach that’s right for you and taking small sustainable steps. A friend shared something that I think about a lot: if you can go plant-based but just can’t give up cheese, then don’t give up cheese! Do what you can do.
If you have meals that are culturally or religiously significant, or important to your family, you don’t have to forgo or change those meals. Enjoy them and, instead, choose to adapt meals which are less important to you. The other thing you can do is ensure that when you do eat meat or fish, try to get the best quality you can afford and look out for labels which show it has been responsibly sourced, such as MSC.
Don’t forget to have fun with it!
The way we feed ourselves and fuel our bodies is one of the biggest acts of regular self-care we can do. I also think it’s much more effective and sustainable to view changes in eating habits in a positive rather negative way. So have fun with it!
There are loads of recipes available online and Pinterest is a great platform to find and collate them on. There are also apps like Happy Cow, or even TripAdvisor, that let’s you easily identify food places with vegetarian/vegan options. Also, food is a great way to connect with people! Going out for tea, potluck parties, taking cakes into the office and just cooking for friends all help to create a feeling of community.
My top-3 favourite cookbooks right now:
Roll with the seasons
This has been my favourite discovery since trying to eat more sustainably. Seasonal food doesn’t only cost less, but it’s often yummier, requires less artificial energy to grow and often has had to travel less as it doesn’t need importing.
I have been using this website to keep up to date with what’s in now in the UK.
Research done in 2015 found that UK households threw away approximately 7.3m tonnes of food waste. As well as increasing waste to landfill and making all the energy used to produce the food pointless, it’s a huge waste of money (the same study estimated that the average UK household wasted £470 worth of food).
Obviously, there’s going to be stuff you can’t help but throw away (orange peel sandwich, anyone?) and sometimes we just make mistakes. Before I sat down to write this, I found a pot of yoghurt at the back of my fridge which should be submitted to some kind of science programme. However, there are lots of small things we can do to try and reduce this and save our money.
Buy what you need
Even though it would definitely be an effective way to ensure I did this, we don’t really do meal planning in our house as we are too indecisive and find it too stressful! But we do try and only buy things that:
- a) we have run out of and need to replace; or,
- b) will use up before it goes off.
For example, we’ll often clear out the fridge and cupboards and keep a rolling list of things we need (going shopping with a defined list of things has been really useful in stopping us being enticed by offers on things we don’t know what to do with!). We also often get veg that can be used in lots of different ways, such as spinach leaves that can be used in both salads and thrown into hot things like stew or curry.
Also, if you are lucky enough to have a deli counter, greengrocer, butcher, market or farm near you, you could check out their prices too! It’s good to shop local and they often will sell you things in the exact quantity you need (cheaper and less potential waste) and most let you use your own containers too.
Store things properly and check your dates
Does ketchup go in the cupboard or the fridge? Eggs in the fridge or on the side? Learning how to store different foods can keep them fresher for longer and stop them spoiling quickly. I’ve recently come across this list which is a really helpful reference: https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/article/food-storage-a-z
If you have food that is still good, but you aren’t likely to use it before its ‘Use By’ or ‘Best Before’ date you could also freeze it. We also chop up fresh veg and herbs that we use a lot, like onions and garlic, and pop them in the freezer to just grab a handful when we need it.
You can tell me how to portion pasta until the cows come home, but I will still make enough to feed a small village. Getting creative with leftover food can help to save money, waste and time. Today’s roasted veg could become tomorrow’s pasta sauce, leftover meat can be used for sandwiches or salads, and those spare potatoes or root veg can be used to make a bubble and squeak brunch!
This is great website if you want to find out more about reducing food waste: https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/
Looking for plastic packaging free
This is the thing I find the hardest about food shopping. I understand somethings are wrapped in plastic to preserve quality or improve accessibility, but some things are definitely unnecessary. This is an area a lot of supermarkets are looking to address through offering alternatives, reducing wrapping materials and improving recycling opportunities in-store.
In the meantime, where we can and it’s not massively more expensive to do so, we can help limit the amount of packaging we bring home by choosing unwrapped produce and/or using reusable produce bags. You can get these online or I have seen them for sale in Lidl and Sainsbury’s. You could even make your own! (Less packaging also means less taking the bin out!)
If the option is there, choosing food or drink packaged in glass or tins is also a good thing to do as the materials are much better for the environment can be recycled again and again, unlike plastic which degrades.
Growing your own!
Whether you have a garden or just a windowsill, growing your own herbs or even fruit and veg can be really rewarding! As well as saving you money and tasting a lot nicer, getting a bit green-fingered also has widely-noted positive benefits for our mental health. Things like tomatoes or strawberries can be easily grown in pots or hanging baskets, and little containers of herbs can flourish quite happily on a kitchen windowsill (if you remember to water it unlike me and my ill-fated thyme plant! ☹).
Anyone else really hungry now?
Thanks to Jen, Kelly and Matt for their input on this one!