The necessity of permaculture

Following our banana article, let’s keep the lights on sustainable food production.

This is permaculture ( source )

This is permaculture (source)

The past sixty years have seen a huge growth in agricultural yields on large parts of the planet. The issue is, this modern revolution in agriculture only went so far thanks to an extensive use of all kind of chemical inputs like pesticides and fertilisers. Huge arable areas have been taken over for cultivation of single crops or breeds (monoculture) which has led to the disappearance of biodiversity and degradation of the soil itself to alarming levels. The impacts on human health of monoculture are extensive; it has been linked to the propagation of all kind of diseases, including cancers, in populations, and the spread of antibiotic resistance due to overuse in livestock farming.


The term ’permaculture’ comes from the concept of ‘permanent agriculture’. It consists of an ensemble of cultivation techniques inspired from the interactions happening in natural ecosystems. Its integration into the local ecosystem results in minimizing the environmental impact of growing crops. It is not a reserved to professionals; its principles can be applied to anyone, anywhere, such as in window boxes, suburban garden, conservation areas, schools or farms…

( source )

Technically speaking, the chemical and biological interactions needed for satisfying yields are being generated by smartly arranging complementary plants. Plants actually buddy with each other, improving their mutual resilience and providing each other with nutrients! Exposure of the ground to the elements is avoided by ensuring crop cover year-round, even if it means covering it with straw. Different canopy levels are exploited to make the best use of land space and enable different species to interact with each other.

Permaculture evolved into a broader philosophy of reuniting with the land and natural things. It goes hand in hand with “agroecology”, a concept promoted by French agronomist Pierre Rabhi. Communities living by these principles are also called ecovillages. Agroecology aims to learn from traditional techniques, understand what local resources are available, promote ecologic and economic diversity to understand agriculture within a broader natural and social environment, and make produce accessible and affordable to all.

So… is it better than organic?

This field could be 'organic', yet it is a biological desert

This field could be 'organic', yet it is a biological desert

If you’re not especially sensitive to the philosophical background of permaculture, why not…just focusing on buying organic food? Well, there is one primary reason for that: organic farming is greener than conventional agriculture, but it still bears an environmental impact. Organic crops can be just as demanding in water and soil supplies, and the use of fertilizers is permitted if they are organically produced. Monoculture can still sport the organic label. The principle of permaculture is more holistic: to keep arable lands healthy and productive, and the soil nurtured and resilient.

Consumer choices

Organic labelling alone is not the panacea to sustainable food production, as the road to sustainable agriculture is much more complex. The quality of ingredients depends on how exactly they are produced, and permaculture currently is the most environmentally-friendly option to get tasty meals.

If you think all this sounds great, you might be wondering how to support it, and identify permaculture-grown fruit and veg in the shops. However, there’s no labelling system currently in place to identify produce grown using this principle. There are a couple of ways you can get around this:

·         Permaculture is not fundamentally complex; you can do it on your balcony and complement food supplies for cheap, healthy and tastier food.

·         If you live in an urban area without a chance to grow your own, you can talk to producers and ask about their production techniques, in local organic shops or farmers markets.

If you still had some doubts…

·         Real-world experiments showed that permaculture can lead to similar, and even better yields, so it doesn’t imply more hunger in the world!

·         Permaculture can help sustain food supply in drought-prone regions, and avoid population displacement, by cultivating soil resilience.

Behind the label: sourcing your seafood

So far on the Ecotarian, there has been a focus on the huge environmental impacts of land-based farming and agriculture – we even hosted a panel discussion on it.

But what about seafood? In this blog post, we'll talk about where your fish comes from, the real cost of providing it and why we don't need to head out to sea to find seafood.

In 2016, fish stories made the mainstream news for some weird and worrying reasons. First, there was the realisation that there is a crazy amount of plastic rubbish in our oceans -  and that it might be in our seafood. Then, beer-drinking became a non-vegetarian activity when we found out that chemicals from fish guts were used to make beer looker clearer

Also last year, the United Nations' "foody" people (The Food and Agriculture Organisation - FAO) produced their yearly report on global seafood production. 204 pages about fish. It is not a thrilling read but they showed that seafood provides around half the world's population "with almost 20 percent of their average ... intake of animal protein". They followed up with the big questions:How do we provide this much food, considering the practical difficulties of sourcing food from the seas? What are the negative consequences of eating all this fish?

In the UK, we are advised to eat between 50-60 g of protein per day (that's about two chicken breasts and an egg). On average, in the UK, less than 10g comes from seafood. Well then, why should you care about seafood?

It's already been 6 years since we realised that the amount we eat is more than the amount the UK waters can provide. So we import a lot from other countries supplies. Can this continue?

Fish farming

Let's start with a not-so-simple question: how do we even get our seafood? If the first image that comes to mind involves a big boat, nets and some grizzly old fishermen/women: think again. As of 2012, wild-catch fishing is no longer the main method of producing seafood. Aquaculture - the farming of finfish, crustaceans and seaweed in controlled environments - has taken over on a global scale.

Old MacDonald had a farm...: ..and on that farm the fish can be tended in many ways. Aquaculture can take place in lakes, paddy fields, bays or nets out at sea.

Old MacDonald had a farm...: ..and on that farm the fish can be tended in many ways. Aquaculture can take place in lakes, paddy fields, bays or nets out at sea.

Seafood farming can be split into two types. "Extensive" farms have the space to allow fish to swim freely in a naturally-enclosed space. On the other end of the spectrum, "intensive" farming uses tanks and controlled diets to ensure that production rates are big, supermarket shelves are filled and money is made.

Instead of farmed fish sustaining themselves naturally on small fish, "fishfeed" is introduced into the fishes diets. Fishfeed contains land-grown crop (like soy and corn), agricultural livestock waste (bones and cartilage) and fishing "by-catch" (unwanted fish which are caught and killed by accident) ([Naylor et al, 2016]). This is better for making fish big and healthy, at a faster-than-normal rate. Antibiotics can also be added.

As well as sounding like an unnatural diet for marine critters, these ingredients have can have a dirty history of negative impacts on the environment: from pesticide leakage during crop growth, to fishing by-catch (accidentally fishing too many fish). On top of this, seafood contains a high omega-3 content if the fish eat... other fish. This fatty oil reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Now, there is evidence to suggest a reduction in the amount of omega-3 in farmed fish because of the poor nutritional value of fishfeed [Fry et al, 2016].

It can get worse. There is a great risk from "monoculture farming" - harvesting one species at a time. If a disease, which only affects that particular species, enters a farm, spread is rapid and a whole harvest can be rendered inedible. China, the land of big aquaculture, is doing well in this respect, promoting multi-species farms which produce several fish species as well as seaweed [see Cottier-Cook et al, 2016].

Wild fishes & wilder fishing

Meanwhile, the fishing industry (nets and boats) is plagued by destructive practices. By-catch (again!) is an inevitable result of "efficient", widespread big-net fishing. All sorts of marine species - from dolphins to turtles - are caught alongside with the desired fish, killed by entanglement or re-released with injuries [WWF].

This is technically not illegal at the moment. The illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) practices include using TNT to kill whole schools in one go, or fishing in government-designated protected areas. It is no small task to track and stop this. There may be many reasons why fisherman choose this path: increased competition, lack of awareness or desperation. Either way, IUU practices most probably contribute to ecosystem destruction, and, ironically, reduced fish stocks. 11-26 million tonnes of seafood each year, is estimated to come from these harmful practices [World Ocean Review report] - this makes up a scary 10% of the global production amount.

One of the "next big things" in environmental concerns is the amount of waste in our oceans - particularly plastic waste. To put it bluntly, an insane amount of plastic reaches our waters, from whole plastic bags to clothing fibres. These fragment into microscopic pieces and have been found to contaminate the whole food chain, from the plankton to the albatross. The effects on seafood, and indeed humans, are still to be tested.

There is also the risk of contamination from chemicals leaked by factories, but I'm running out of words...

The UK's position

With the dire consequences and hazards of wild-fish production, it's no surprise that aquaculture has taken over, despite its shortcomings too. Developing countries are the trend-setters when it comes to aquaculture. The UK farms considerably less than it catches yet. Assuming we eat more and more each year (because population grows and grows), is it alarming to see our total production at a standstill?

The origin of seafood isn't always listed, even on "responsibly sourced" packaging, but the production figures [check the graph] imply that we rely more and more on imports. So, we - the consumers and shoppers - cannot always know where our seafood comes from and what has happened to it along the way.

50:50 – From humble beginnings 50 years ago, aquaculture (fish-farming) now provides over half of seafood globally. In the UK, there has been a long trend of decreasing fishing activity, while our farming growth has stalled. Is the country eating less fish? Or are we relying on imports?   

50:50 – From humble beginnings 50 years ago, aquaculture (fish-farming) now provides over half of seafood globally. In the UK, there has been a long trend of decreasing fishing activity, while our farming growth has stalled. Is the country eating less fish? Or are we relying on imports?


A special mention goes out to Scotland (woop woop), where there are only slightly more fin-fish sites than the rest of the UK (415 compared to 384) but they produce a whopping 94% of our farmed fish [HM Government Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science: CEFAS]. Now that's efficient.

What the future holds

That's enough bad news, I think. Let's talk about hope...

...sustainability. The word is thrown around so much that it risks losing its importance. Let's be clear, sustainable fishing means all of the following: catching/farming enough fish now and in the future to feed a growing population, making money, splashing out on technological advances, creating secure jobs while protecting the quantity and diversity of wildlife.

The United Nations place great importance on food, fish and the marine environment - many of their aims for the next few decades [see the pretty chart below] can be partly achieved by sorting out the problems in this article. Go check them out.

Big goals, big list: the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) do what they say on the tin. Sustainable seafood can contribute to #2, #6, #14 ... and more?

Big goals, big list: the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) do what they say on the tin. Sustainable seafood can contribute to #2, #6, #14 ... and more?

Both fish-farming and fishing can provide so-called "responsibly-sourced" food. To help us distinguish the good from the bad, we have the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) and the ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council). These are independent organisations; fish sold by their certified producers are identified by the MSC or ASC logos and, fortunately, these products can be found in all major supermarkets. The MSC and ASC both revisit suppliers - their work continues into the future.

The labelling system is not the final answer to the problems mentioned. Yet it shows that there is a willingness to change to responsibly-sourced seafood. To protect our oceans, food supply and future jobs - fulfilling those sustainable development goals - the consumer has to meet the industries half-way. That begins with your weekly shop.

Hungry after that? Dive straight into our recipe page for our head-chef's classic "Coconut and Fish curry". Sustainable and sustaining.

The Marine Conservation Society's app provides information and a funky traffic-light system to help choose what fish to eat and buy - check out the site.

Resolutions for an Ecotarian revolution

Happy new year, foodies! Here at the Ecotarian we're ready to green up our food system in 2017, buoyed up with fresh faces, ideas and determination. And, because change begins at home, we've reflected on some of our personal goals for the year below! Send us yours in the comments, or on twitter @The_Ecotarian

Naomi: Eating well without breaking the bank

It turns out that going vegetarian doesn’t mean you’ll be healthier! Early last year I made the decision to ditch meat, fish and as much dairy as I could manage, excluding food either cooked for me by friends or destined for the bin. Plans of weekly farmer's market trips and top-ups at the organic shop were replaced by takeaway pizza and more chips than I care to admit as my time, money and imagination trickled away (for the 5am chicken shop trips I can only ask forgiveness). This year, I’m planning to tackle this by being realistic with my budget, planning ahead, and getting inspiration for home-cooked meals from my ever-growing pile of vegetarian cookbooks. I may have to switch out organic for everyday value now and again, but being an ecotarian is all about finding a balance that suits you!

Clea: Byebye to dairy & hello to creative baking

My sweet tooth wakes me up in the morning and puts me to bed at night: I love a piece of toast in the morning with a thick layer of honey and a good many squares of dark chocolate with my peppermint tea before going to bed - oh yea and that afternoon snack! But this also means that if I am offered a piece of cake, I will never say no! Typically these will contain high-fructose corn syrup and dairy. My eco-resolution of the year is to scratch out the dairy from my diet as much as possible! This means saying no to cakes, saying no to those easy-to-grab cereal bars and satisfying my sweet tooth with some home baking, home made oat bars, a cheesecake with no cheese - and how about a healthy style carrot cake? Oh, and eliminating those chocolate bars and replacing them with vegan treats.

Arnaud: eat more sustainably, beyond labels and fancy vegetarian products

For the new year I’ll do all of what I can to ditch the plane and use the train as much as possible when I travel on the European continent. And since that has actually not much to do with food...I’d really want to put what I’ve learned through the Ecotarian perspective into practice. It’s about getting contextual and understand what is actually harmful for the environment. For example, in the UK and in other European countries, boars and dears are in some regions too numerous, and it can be a good thing to regulate their populations. On the other side, I would not buy organic apples from remote places such as New Zealand, reduce my consumption of processed food because it’s often full of palm oil, and be careful about avocados which can be very harmful for the environment to grow, because of world demand.            


Ian: Prepare for good food

This year is all about being prepared. Even the most optimised diet plan can crumble when it meets reality, so this year I will be preparing meals over the weekend to stick with it when the going gets tough during the week. This will save time, money, and energy, and allow me to further reduce my consumption of processed foods and animal products, as well as cut out dallying in the Sainsbury's on the way home for the third time this week. The plan is for a more verdant diet while still hitting nutrient and budgetary targets for a healthier and wealthier year. For a treat, I am hoping to find interesting, fresh, and sustainably caught seafood from our own coasts and maybe do some of the catching myself.

Ronan: Keep learning, keep progressing

Being an ecotarian is complicated. It ain’t easy knowing the history of your entire shopping basket, let alone having an idea of reasonably-priced eco-friendly alternatives. This takes time and sometimes it’s impossible to know. So, my humble contribution to the ecotarian movement is to keep making small changes to my diet based on the facts and figures I find out along the way. Like swapping cow’s milk for soy milk because cows let greenhouse gases out of their backsides, or eating more vegan meals because livestock require much more land, energy and water. If I can become a half-decent ecotarian while still shopping at a local and affordable supermarket, I should be able to convince other people to do the same.

Rogier: Determined newbie

I'm shamefully new to the ecotarian game, but have lived with a set of staunchly vegan (no honey!) housemates for a few years now. When we cook together it's pure vegan but I'm substantially slacker when out and about in the big bad world of cheap and readily available cheesy/meaty snacks. I'm determined to slash my meat and dairy consumption over this year, lessening my personal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and ethically questionable food production.

Moritz: Remain an epicure!

My new year’s resolution is to continue and to improve my commitment to only eat meats that I either have sourced myself or where I know much about the quality & locality of the product (epicure). As it is sometimes difficult to stick to when eating out, I am aiming to limit myself to only eat meats on weekends or on special occasions. The same applies to my dairy intake. I generally only consume limited amounts of it, but sometimes have to indulge when I am in the appropriate area (you must have cheese when in Switzerland!). This weekday-vegetarianism (as it is sometimes called), if applied to the whole world, would resolve the food crisis by itself. I generally don’t have an appetite for heavily processed foods, but will nevertheless strive to further reduce my intake of them and replace it with fruits & vegetables that are in season.

Next to changing eating habits, I aim to use my time at university to research issues further down the food supply chain and to do my bit to educate people about sustainable agricultural practices and the importance of sustainable hunting practises as a mean of protecting nature & conserving biodiversity.

Jackie: Growing, growing, growing

Living on a remote campus outside of London, you’d think the surrounding picturesque landscape would result in mountains of fresh produce, but fresh and sustainable food is surprisingly difficult to come by.  Most students put in massive orders with large supermarket chains every week, and packaging and food waste happens, even amongst a tight-knit group of environmentally-conscious ecologists and masters students.  A new allotment space is being built on campus, nearly outside my window, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty and putting the pile of gardening books I’ve gotten from the library to good use! Fresh vegetables, here I come!

New addition to our Eco-Foodie Map: ENROOT 107 Herne Hill

Nish and Harshil behind the ENROOT counter

Nish and Harshil behind the ENROOT counter

Cousins, Nishant (a.k.a. Nish) and Harshil Modasia (a.k.a. Harsh), and best friend Thomas Price (a.k.a. Pricey) launched on February 13th this year their goodness-on-the-go ENROOT café in the heart of Herne Hill at 107 Dulwich Road (on our Eco-Foodie Map). Their concept is simple and wholesome: serve healthy food that tastes great and that makes you feel even better at affordable prices for everyone with a £5 cap on all their products. ENROOT will provide you with all the nutrition you need at any time of day, from fresh juices and smoothies (£2.50) with superfood add-ons (did you know that chia seeds contain more calcium than milk?), a must-have Chai Avena Caliente breakfast oatmeal drink (heaven in your mouth!), hot pots that include variations of curries and stews that test out different ingredients every day as well as a weekend special ceviche pot (with tilapia, shrimp and salmon), a unique homemade ENROOT scotch bonnet sauce, salads, empanadas, 100% natural protein balls, mouth-watering desserts, great coffee and more!

But, their café is about way more than just the yummy nutritious food (what more do you want?!); it’s about breaking boundaries, promoting their local community and bringing together different cultures and traditions into a medley of palatability and dialogs. Nish, Harsh and Pricey also bring together an unprecedented combination of languages and nations; among them they speak English, French, Spanish and Guajarati and share extensive travelling experiences around the world where they have found inspiration for their combinations of ingredients and spices. From, India to Australia, South America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Europe, these young men have just about the whole globe covered and you can taste it with every mouthful! 

Ceviche pot with tilapia, shrimp and salmon topped with guacamole and the homemade scotch bonnet sauce

Ceviche pot with tilapia, shrimp and salmon topped with guacamole and the homemade scotch bonnet sauce

What inspired you to start the café?

Located in the heart of a very mixed community with young professionals, families and a widespread Jamaican influence, we want to push forward the health and wellbeing revolution, we want to show that it doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg to do so. We want to give back to our community and become a reference point for locals. We are anti big corporations and want to show that sourcing local ingredients is easy and sustainable. We want to share our love of good food, with minimal use of refined ingredients (such as sugar) and last, but definitely not least, we want to promote a meat free diet and give meat free alternatives for an environmentally conscious food intake. At ENROOT all of our dishes are vegetarian or vegan and only on weekends do we make the exception of including fish in some of our dishes!

How do you go about creating your menus?

Dhal mix

Dhal mix

Must-have spices: turmeric, cumin, salt, cayenne peper, fennel seeds, paprika and cinnamon. 

Must-have spices: turmeric, cumin, salt, cayenne peper, fennel seeds, paprika and cinnamon. 

We work very closely with our sources at Brixton market and Spitalfields market and stock up on fresh produce three times a week, always using what we have at hand to make our different dishes and as a result we have little to no waste! And the good thing about serving meat-free food is that all our ingredients stay fresh and last a lot longer. We also strive to use as little animal derived products as possible, never using butter, instead we use organic coconut oil (that we also sell in store for less than £5) or olive oil, and to use as little sugar as possible we will use natural sweeteners such as freshly squeezed orange juice or mango. 

What is your policy on waste management?

We have been brought up never to waste food and that is how we run our café. If we have left overs at the end of the day, we will either bring it home and have it ourselves or give it out to our friends and community. But we actually have a very good turnover and rarely have any wasted food at the end of the day – our curry-in-a-hurry has already been sold out! We also run Free Fruit Fridays where anyone can come by and pick up their free fruit of choice, whether it be an apple, a banana or an orange, we will give out whichever fruit we have the most of.  We also separate our food compost and give that directly to local Herne Hill allotments.

What are your three favourite ingredients? 

Plantain, chickpeas/chickpea flour and chia seeds. 

Have you encountered difficulties in trying to be environmentally friendly?

Packaging is the trickiest part about being environmentally friendly – but we do our best! We get all of our packaging from BioPac that provides 100% biodegradable products that can be composted alongside food waste. 

What is your objective/plan? 

We think the best way to start expanding our brand would be to cater at festivals and other such big events and eventually to franchise the concept of freshness and goodness-to-go.

ENROOT already catered at the Vagaband Kickstarter launch on March 2nd!  

Follow ENROOT on Twitter @enroot107 and on Instagram !

Ecotarianism for Dummies

“No turkey for him, he only eats peas”. 

 “Yeah, I heard you were turning funny”. 

 “Eco-what? Ecoterrorism?”

These are some of the messages of support I’ve received recently during my attempts to become ecotarian. Many people, including those I know who are “environmentally-conscious”, have not heard of the concept, let alone understand it. Even my word processor is telling me to correct it to sectarianism. Better add to dictionary. 

To be ecotarian is to enter into a web of trade-offs. Let’s say you’re aware poultry and meat are some of the most resource-intensive food products - so you opt for some cucumber, humus and pitta bread. In the supermarket, the damn cucumbers have been shipped in from southern Europe. You look for something you enjoy eating that hasn’t travelled more than a gap-year student and so you end up in the kebab shop. Fail.

It’s tricky. Don’t worry, The Ecotarian has prepared a few guidelines of ecotarianism – follow them all or pick your favourites.


Take it slow - it’s a gallant effort to change your lifestyle like this. Small steps such as cutting down to one piece of meat per day can be a great foundation for larger changes, and help you save money too.


Initially, it is easiest to start cutting food that no longer fits into your diet, but this brings the risk of missing out on key food groups and nutrients. Make sensible switches – there a lots of helpful resources out there.


Every ecotarian is different so be wise, pick up tips and share. Also, learning more about where your food comes from can be really rewarding and help you to rediscover the joy of eating!


We have hope that a lot people are willing to act on their beliefs about sustainable living, and could benefit from knowing like-minded people. Discussing these ideas without preaching or judging others’ choices is a great way to build sustainable communities.


Remember that the global food system is a lot, lot bigger than you. Although collective changes in habit can create consumer pressure, the nature of the beast means you won’t be able to be perfect. 


You may start to look at the bigger picture of the food system - getting involved in larger movements and petitioning those in power are great ways to make positive changes to the way things work. Of course, if for you ecotarianism is purely personal, that’s great too – and as a consumer you vote with your wallet. 


There are many reasons for doing what you are doing - whether that be protesting against animal cruelty, preaching sustainability, reducing your carbon footprint or removing the temptation to have an extravagant appetite. 

This is not just about eating differently. It’s also about supporting local business, reducing your carbon footprint, boycotting environmentally-detrimental food production processes and aiming for a fairer distribution of food on a global scale.

Check out our guides for more ideas on everything from shopping sustainably to making use of tight gardening space in London!

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...


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.


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; 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.


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.


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. 


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. 


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


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. 


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. 


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. 


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!