It’s long been a conundrum of mine and likely many others, how do we know the votes we are making with our wallet is always the right one? With so many aspects to think about when going to the supermarket or buying pretty much anything, it always feels like a trade-off – trying to support small businesses, buying organically, ethically and let’s not forget with minimal packaging too.
Because these attributes don’t always go hand in hand, how do we know where to prioritise our money? This dilemma is made even more tricky for someone who is poor and/or time poor and doesn’t have access to these choices. Everyone’s situation is different and it’s important to recognise that the best purchase for one person may vary for another. Often the rhetoric centres around buying less or nothing at all, but what about the things we do buy?
The organic food to prioritise
Organic means not grown with any artificial herbicides or pesticides, meaning the product is healthier for you and healthier for the planet. But with organic foods found to be as much as 89% more expensive in the UK (Soil Association), it’s no wonder we can’t all afford to buy everything organically, if anything at all. If you can, where do you start? The U.S. organisation, Environmental Working Group (EWG) launches a fantastic annual Dirty Dozen foods list. These are the items found to have the most herbicides, pesticides and fungicides and it is these products that I recommend prioritising for organic replacements. The list is as follows: strawberries, spinach, kale, collard and mustard greens, nectarines, apples, grapes, cherries, peaches, pears, bell and hot peppers, celery, and tomatoes. Similarly, they also publish a list of their Clear Fifteen – items that you can happily deprioritise. This year they also added a sperate piece on citrus fruits, 90% of their sample were found to contain fungicides linked to cancer and hormone disruption. However, don’t shy away from buying the Dirty Dozen foods at all, it is still better for you to eat them than not to.
Get in tune with the seasons
Foods that are in season are more likely to be from a more locally grown source, will carry fewer airmiles and are often cheaper than when they’re not in season. Seasonal foods are usually tastier too as they haven’t been grown in forced conditions. Food grown overseas or further away is more likely to have a lot of packaging to protect it on its longer journey, helping to reduce your waste and carbon footprint. June sees new potatoes, strawberries, salads and spinach, onions, and tomatoes all in season in the UK. Yum.
Make best friends with your freezer
Keep an eye out in the reduced sections of supermarkets for their organic produce that you could either eat that day or freeze for a more convenient time and stock up if you can. Fruits especially freeze very well and then you can enjoy them for longer over the course of the year (of course, this depends on the size of your freezer). The NHS recommends buying frozen fruit and vegetables that don’t have added salt, sugar, or fat. Frozen produce is often picked and frozen at its peak nutritional value and is also mostly cheaper than the fresh varieties. Food cupboard staples such as bread also freeze very well and will reduce the chance of it going stale, again reducing waste and keeping costs lower, all whilst being super convenient.
#ShopLocal everywhere you can
Over 54.6 million posts on Instagram alone have tagged #ShopLocal as we try to navigate through the Covid-19 pandemic and keep small businesses alive and people employed. Often local shops have more transparency around their items, making it easier for you to make choices on its impact on the world and whether it’s the right product for you to buy. There is also more likely someone there who can answer your questions like #WhoMadeMyClothes or which farm did this cheese come from? However, shopping locally can be harder if you are short of time. If you can afford to, local organic and seasonal vegetable boxes can be a great option if you’d rather the convenience, and it saves the wonky one’s going to waste too. Eversfield Organic has boxes that start from £11.95 and was awarded Independent Best Buy vegetable delivery boxes.
Grow & gather
Time to brush up on your green fingered skills and get composty. Whether you have a full-size vegetable patch or just space for a windowsill box, it’s worth it. Perhaps you could focus attention to growing some of the Dirty Dozen? My personal favourites are salads and tomatoes as they grow relatively easily and are beautifully sweet to eat. Check out the Royal Horticultural Society’s page for tips and advice. Foraging has seen a huge rise in popularity over the lockdowns and it’s easy to see why, offering more connectedness to nature, low-cost supplies, and seasonal foods. The Woodlands Trust offers a very comprehensive monthly guide to foraging and what to look out for. June is focused on edible flowers, plants, and herbs – sounds delicious!
As I write this, the mantra that ‘we don’t all need to be living perfectly, but just all doing what we can’, is ringing in my ears and never has it seemed more appropriate. The impossible task never looked so possible to me; perfection is the impossible element. This is by no means an exhaustive list of options and ideas, but it’s a good start and I hope you feel as inspired as I do to get creative and delve into living as locally, ethically, and organically as IS possible.
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Author: Rose Ellis