10 ways to source your food more sustainably

These are our favourite ideas, both large and small, for tweaking your lifestyle to ensure peak ecotarian credentials. Disclaimer: Apologies to all my regional brothers and sisters, but I live in London now, and as such some (but not all) of these ideas are capital-centric. At home near Leeds I find it much easier to eat sustainably due to the proximity to where the food chain begins, on the farm; and the more metropolitan you become, the harder this can be. So here we go...

1: GROW YOUR OWN

Credit: IrishFireside

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 literally 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

Credit: Adrian Scottow

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; in Haringey as an example, the average plot price is £32.50 per year. 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

Credit: Inga Vitola

Credit: Inga Vitola

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 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

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

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

Credit: hadi

Credit: hadi

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. It will also be not at all nutritious.

Well, hope this hasn't been too exhausting, and got you all excited about the possibilities out there. Send more ideas our way in the comments box!