10 ways to source your food more sustainably

Homegrown cherry tomatoes

Are you an ecotarian? Naomi Pratt, SSCP-DTP student and, along with Ronan McAdam and Clea Kolster, co-founder of The Ecotarian  (@The_Ecotarian), shares 10 ways of reducing your diet’s environmental footprint. 

Dictionary.com defines an Ecotarian as ‘a person who eats only food that has been produced in an environmentally friendly manner’.

There are many reasons to consider the implications of what we eat at a larger scale than our dinner table, from the environment to animal welfare, to the health of our society and ourselves. Everyone has different priorities and constraints when trying to address these implications; therefore we believe ecotarians can come in many shapes, sizes and ideologies. What connects us is the  idea that we can make the world a little better through the culinary choices we make (and let our consciences rest easier, too).

Here are our favourite ideas, both large and small, for tweaking your lifestyle to ensure peak ecotarian credentials.

1. Grow you own

Herbs growing on windowsill
Credit: IrishFireside

Salad leaves, chillies and herbs are among a myriad of crops you can grow indoors or on your windowsill. If you have a balcony, you have no excuse: courgettes, beans, tomatoes…go crazy. Jack Monroe is brimming with ideas on the subject. Another great resource is Vertical Veg.

2. Take it up a level

Do you have horticultural ambitions beyond Barry the basil on your kitchen worktop? A source of pride and satisfaction for many lucky souls, a small allotment plot can provide a surprisingly large amount of fruit and veg throughout the year. In London, allotments are more numerous than you might imagine, but have long waiting lists. By all means sign up – you can find allotments near you at gov.uk; as an example in Haringey, the average plot price is £32.50. There are also likely to be other food growing opportunities in your local area, such as community gardens, which you can find out about by contacting the council or local authority. A very cool UK-wide initiative is Landshare*, launched through River Cottage, which connects groups of ‘growers’ without land and either councils or landowners with usable land, sparking the creation of new plots and community gardens.

3. Forage

I don’t speak for everyone, but foraging is unlikely to become a part of your weekly shop. Nevertheless, I can’t think of a better way to spend a few hours now and again, especially in London where the wonders of nature and ecology can easily slip into distant memory. A few websites offer a combination of info for your own excursions along with courses with experts you can book on to – Forage London is a good place to start. More local groups like Urban Harvest often organise free community foraging trips more informally.

4. Share

Cooking together and sharing food is a great way to reduce food waste and buy less overall. Furthermore, eating food that would otherwise go to waste is one of the most sustainable ways of procuring your dinner. A fantastic (and addictive) new app is Olio – it enables the exchange of edible surplus food between neighbours and businesses in communities across London [and now the whole of the UK]. You can donate and collect unwanted food items (e.g. bags of pasta, or day-old bakery bread) for free or much cheaper than sale price.

5. Buy from farmers

Credit: Paul Wilkinson

An easy way to reduce your food miles, ensure a fair price for the farmer, and find a wider range of seasonal produce than your supermarket will stock. In London, the first place to look is London Farmers’ Markets (clue’s in the name). There are strict rules for producers to attend these so you can be guaranteed high welfare and standards of food production. City & Country is also a good shout and may have markets closer to where you live. Also, many organic farms are now running organic box schemes – find these near you at the Soil Association website. The Food Assembly brings this all together – you can order from a selection of  local farmers and foodmakers weekly, and collect from a designated community pick-up point.

6. Buy seasonal

And buy British when possible. The nice folks at the BBC have made this handy table to help us out.

7. Shop local

Although local greengrocers, bakeries, butchers and fishmongers have been in decline in recent years, there’s reason to believe they’ll make a comeback, and there’s no better way to ensure this than voting with your wallet. Be sure to talk to the shop owner about their sourcing, and try to still stick to seasonal produce – provenance may be not as well marked as in the supermarket.

8.  Eat out

Happily, it’s becoming more fashionable for eateries to place localism, seasonality and eco-friendly alternatives at the forefront of their menus. Perfect for vegetarians with carnivorous cravings, Veg Bar in Brixton offers up crazily realistic meat alternatives. Save the Date Café, Dalston is part of the Real Junk Food Project and produces a menu of restaurant quality using surplus food. Slightly more pricey but a great spot for special occasion, The Shed‘s menu is totally seasonal with lots of exciting foraged ingredients.

9. Know your supermarkets

Credit: Kim-Leng

We all rely on them, and shopping wisely at supermarkets can have an impact – they will pay attention to consumer choices and demands. For seafood, Sainsbury’s and M&S came out on top of the Marine Conservation Society’s last Supermarket Seafood Survey in 2013, followed by the Co-op, then Waitrose, Booths, Iceland and Morrisons. Amongst those who declined to take part were Tesco, Lidl, Aldi and Asda. We’ll be keeping our eye on supermarket reports in the coming months. In the meantime, Ethical Consumer is a good place to check up on your favourite.

10. Check your labels

Of course, sustainable supermarkets and smaller local stores may still stock unethically or unsustainably sourced branded products. Here you can find a list of bodies that are recognised organic certifiers. ‘Free range’ products do not guarantee high animal welfare standards; ‘pastured’ is better – but to be safe it’s best to go local for eggs and chicken. For seafood, look for the blue Marine Stewardship Council logo. In general, it’s best to avoid any products containing palm oil unless it’s RSPO-certified. Lastly, bear in mind that the longer and more unintelligible a label is, the more processing, transport and fossil fuels are likely to have gone into that product.




This post appeared originally on The Ecotarian, a website set up by SSCP-DTP students Naomi Pratt, Ronan McAdam and Clea Kolster.
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[*Update 16/12/19 – the Landshare project has closed, but more information about garden sharing can be found at this page at Weekend Gardener]

Imperial Fringe: Food of Tomorrow

Take our food quiz and get more tips from The Ecotarian team at the Imperial Fringe on 24 February 2016. Find out more and register

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