How can I make sustainable food choices?
by Gemma Kerr
From your computer
Adults and families
The everyday choices we make have an impact on the environment. It is going to require the cooperation of governments and big businesses to solve the problem of climate change. But our own actions are still important. Our choices around food can be one of the easiest ways to control our impact on the environment.
Some types of food have less impact on the environment than others. For example, meat has a larger impact on the environment than other food groups. So, swapping your meat out for mushrooms can be an environmentally friendly choice to make. But it’s not just the type of food that affects its environmental impact. Other factors like, where and how the food was produced, are also important.
Where can I buy environmentally friendly food? How can I grow my own food? How can I cook healthy and sustainable food? These questions have all been considered by the community group Ambition Lawrence Weston as part of their ‘Grow, Cook and Eat’ campaign.
Video by Abdull Nurdin-Hussein
Where does my food come from?
Many of us do not know the details of where and how our food is produced. This can mean that we may be less aware of the environmental cost of our food. Importing food from all over the world has an environmental cost. Fuel is needed for the lorries, ships, and planes that carry our food. This releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Even more greenhouse gases are released if the food needs to be refrigerated on the way, as that takes energy too. When you compare this with growing your own tomatoes, the differences are clear. The more local the source of your food, the more of those costs you can avoid.
One way you can make sure your food is local is by growing it yourself. I asked my Gran (who has been growing her own delicious food for years) for some ideas on how to get started:
_ If you don’t have access to a garden or allotment, don’t worry! Lots of food can be grown from a windowsill (or even in the dark!). Chillies, peppers, lettuce, and herbs can thrive in pots on a windowsill. Mushrooms can be a little harder to grow, but don’t need sunlight. Ideal if you don’t have windowsill space.
_ Tomatoes, courgettes, and beans are just some of the plants that will grow very happily in pots if you have an outside space. You can make the most of any space with hanging pots too! Strawberries, cucumber, and even sweet potato work well in a hanging basket.
_ If you have access to a garden or allotment with soil, you have many options! Potatoes and carrots are both fun if you like to get digging, and can be the base of many meals. Radishes grow quickly and can help deter pests from other plants. Top tip: grow edible plants between any flowers you may already have growing. Many of them, like fennel, look beautiful themselves too!
_ Sharing seed packets among friends or neighbours can be a great way to make growing cheaper. You can also share knowledge. Ask friends and family for any tips they might have. Maybe you can even work together on a shared space?
For some people, growing their own food isn’t a great option. Limited space, time or health-related barriers can mean that growing food wouldn’t work for you. But there are plenty of other ways to make sustainable food choices. The way that food is produced by large companies often has negative impacts on farmers and the environment. Large companies have used too much chemical fertiliser, causing a decrease in soil quality. This, with the effects of climate change, can make harvest sizes unpredictable. Smaller farmers are often unfairly priced out of the market by large companies - who can afford this unpredictability. So choosing to buy your veg from your local greengrocer can help to ease some of the environmental and economic pressures our food system faces.
Some of the garden space on Millennium Square, outside our building. Managed by Edible Bristol
How can I cook sustainably?
Once you have grown or bought your food, there are still choices you can make to reduce your impact on the planet. Food waste has a massive impact on the planet, and on the people living on it. Globally we produce enough food to feed everybody. Unfortunately, that food is shared unequally – leaving many to go hungry. Part of the problem is food waste. This includes throwing away edible food, buying food that you never get around to eating, and not using all the parts of the food you have. Wasting food means that all the resources used to grow it (like energy, water, and time) are also wasted. Food waste then usually rots in landfill, releasing more greenhouse gases. Reducing food waste is not only essential for food equality, and the environment; but can also help to reduce the amount of money you spend on food. Luckily, there are so many fun ways to make sure you’re using every last scrap. Here are a few ideas:
_ If your bananas have started to go brown and you don’t think you’ll eat them in time, peel them and put in the freezer. Frozen banana can be the base of a delicious smoothie. Or you can mash them up to use in banana pancakes!
_ You may not know that you can use cauliflower leaves just like how you might use leaves like spinach. Throw cauliflower leaves in a stir fry or slice up right into a salad.
_ Eggshells can be used in a variety of ways. Crush them up and add to soil for a natural fertiliser. You can even mix crushed eggshell with bird food – it’s good for them to eat!
Banana pancakes I made from leftover frozen bananas. I'll crush up those eggshells too!
What are the benefits of making sustainable food choices?
It’s not just the environment that benefits if we make sustainable food choices. Sustainable eating habits can lead to better health and contribute to overall well-being too! It can save money to eat sustainably – particularly if you have a low meat diet, and reduce food wasted. But it’s not a perfect system. Unhealthy and unsustainable food – like fast food for example – is often cheaper and easier. Eating sustainably sometimes relies on skills, like growing and cooking, that you might have to learn.
Mark from Ambition Lawrence Weston at the launch of their 'Grow, Cook, Eat' campaign.
One of the biggest benefits of community groups like Ambition Lawrence Weston is the opportunity to learn these skills. Getting people together to teach and learn how to produce healthy, environmentally friendly food. This knowledge is incredibly valuable. Sharing our skills with one another can build communities and help us take care of our planet.
To learn more about community action on climate change, read our article ‘Can Bristol come together to take climate action?’.