Whether you want to lower your food waste, or are looking to make some more environmentally-friendly diet choices, food activism starts in your shopping basket.
Statistics show that nearly a third of the groceries we buy end up in a landfill, with as much as five million kilos of food being thrown away annually in the Netherlands only. Even the food that does make it to our plates can have a costly effect on the environment, depending on the means of its production – some of it, research suggests, can account for up to twice as much CO2 emissions as car use.
The amount – and type of food you buy is therefore crucial for the development of a food market that is both less wasteful and more ecologically viable. Conscious and well thought-out grocery purchases can ensure that we aren’t generating an excess of food in our pantries, whilst also signalling a shift in marketing demand to food producers and supermarkets alike.
The key things to look out for when grocery shopping in a more ecologically-friendly way are the objective necessity you have of a certain food, the resources that went into producing it, and the likelihood that this item would otherwise end up wasted.
Check your fridge first
Before making a trip to the supermarket, inspect your fridge and see what products you already have available. Pay special attention to items that are about to expire soon, and try to come up with creative ways to use them. This initial step helps you avoid making redundant purchases, and makes sure you aren’t wasting any of the food you already have at home.
Make a list of what you really need and plan your meals ahead
Now that you know what items you need to use up, create a meal plan for the week, and base your shopping list around it. Planning ahead of time makes sure you are being efficient with both your shopping and your meal preparation, and helps you avoid a situation where you have nothing to eat, or (on the contrary) have purchased way too much food.
Check alternative food sources
Before hitting the shops, try to source your groceries in an alternative (and more environmentally-friendly) way – a good place to start might be food rescue markets. Using rescued produce is always preferable over buying products at the grocery store – that way, instead of risking the creation of additional food loss, you are decreasing food waste by using products that have already been discarded by the retailer (but that are still perfectly edible!). Additionally, you are usually able to get such food for free or by paying only a fraction of its original price (the TBYW Tuesday Food Markets offer you to make an optional donation in exchange for your purchases).
Resist marketing temptations
Supermarkets have a way of making us buy stuff we don’t really need – whether it’s “buy-one-get-one-free” deals or delicious chocolate in shiny wrapping, we often walk out of the store with far more food than we initially intended to get. Making unnecessary purchases like those increases our chance of wasting food, and supports the flourishing of excessive consumerism. Once you have your shopping list of necessary items, try to stick to it, and resist flashy advertising. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to an extra pack of cookies every now and again – just make sure it’s you who’s making the decision, not the supermarket marketing team.
Shop local, shop seasonal
All food is not created equal when it comes to the amount of environmental resource that goes into its making. Fruits and vegetables that are out of season often have to be imported from the southern hemisphere, and thus require large amounts of fossil fuel to facilitate their transportation. Additionally, since it has to travel such a long distance, much of this imported produce goes bad before it’s even reached the supermarket shelves, therefore resulting in vast quantities of food loss. Fruits and vegetables that do not traditionally grow in a European climate (think mangos and avocados) have a similarly taxing effect on the environment. Of course, you don’t have to give up such items entirely, but try to prioritise local and seasonal produce instead – buy strawberries in the springtime, when they are in season, and try swapping out your tub of guacamole for some hummus or salsa next time you need a dip.
Go for the odd ones out
A lot of fresh produce gets left behind on supermarket shelves solely for its lack of aesthetic appeal – items like bruised apples and oddly-shaped potatoes are less likely to get bought, even though they share the same flavour and nutritional value as their prettier counterparts. Consequently, such fruits and vegetables are likely to be discarded by the retailer much before they have gone bad, simply because there’s no market for them. Buying this kind of “imperfect” produce makes sure that it doesn’t get wasted, and helps undermine the current unrealistic market ideal of perfectly-looking food.
Buy products that are close to their expiration date
If you know you’re going to use up an item relatively quickly, or are shopping for a ready-made meal, try going for products that are close to their sell-by date (most big supermarkets indicate them with a sticker) – this way, you are not only buying food that would otherwise be wasted, but will normally also get a discount on its price. Additionally, most products are good for at least a couple of days after their sell-by date (though this is highly dependent on the kind of food you’re buying – some items, like chocolate, can last for up to several months!), so you needn’t worry about consuming them straight away.
Making consistent, deliberate choices with the way we source our food gives us the power to create a fairer, more sustainable food market, and allows us to have a positive impact on the environment.
It also shows that food activism doesn’t always have to be about huge actions – sometimes, it can be about something as simple as the way we do our weekly groceries!