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Local and Sustainable Food

The food that we eat has an enormous impact on the environment, culminating from the resources needed to grow it, to safely transport it to us, how we cook it, and whether we waste any of it. There are many aspects to ‘sustainable’ food, including the type of food, where it was grown and how it is packaged. Because there are so many ways to make your diet more sustainable there’s no need to suffer through foods you don’t like – find what works for you.

How to make a change

Type of Food

  • Meat and dairy products are extremely well-documented to have disproportionately large carbon footprints for volume of food produced, and many studies have shown that making up a large part of our diet with these food sources is detrimental to health. Therefore, one of the best steps to take for the planet and our health is to reduce our meat and dairy intake where possible. Many people find it easiest to approach this one step at a time, for example by replacing one meat or dairy product at a time with a more sustainable vegan substitute or having set days a week to eat vegan.
  • Switching meat and dairy foods with plant based alternatives will also lower your water footprint dramatically.
  • Whilst lowering the ‘food miles’ associated with your diet (i.e by eating locally produced food) can be effective, even when shipped great distances, emissions from almost all plant-based foods are lower than emissions from locally produced animal products.

Local and Seasonal Food

  • Buy locally produced food where possible, as the further food travels the greater the carbon footprint. Even generic supermarkets will have ‘British grown’ ranges of fruit and vegetables, although more than half the UK’s food is now imported. Farm shops and farmers markets may offer a greater variety of local grown produce, although this isn’t always a guarantee.
  • Grow your Own:  growing what you can of your own fruit and veg ensures that it is as local as possible. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can try growing windowsill salad leaves or herbs, which can be ready for harvest in a matter of weeks. If you grow from seed, this will also guarantee that your produce is free from harmful pesticides and fertilisers.

Food Waste

Combat food waste with the following steps, and ensure that the resources that went into growing your food aren’t wasted:

  • Use leftovers as soon as possible – the longer you leave food in the fridge, the less appealing it becomes.
  • ‘Use By’ is the only food date that should be strictly adhered to. Foods past their ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’ date may still be perfectly fine to eat, you just need to check it for spoiling.
  • Plan meals for the week in advance, so that you know exactly what ingredients you are going to need and be left with. Leave some space for flexibility, so that leftovers can be used up efficiently.
  • Utilise the freezer, and make sure to defrost regularly and keep it as full as possible so that it works efficiently.
  • Keep the fridge to below 5 Degrees Celsius to optimise storage.

Example Actions

  • Grow your own windowsill herbs
  • Replace (x) meals a week with vegetarian or vegan alternatives
  • Create a meal plan for each week, and ensure all leftovers are used
  • Shop at a local farmers shop or market (x) times a month

Useful Links

Olio is a mobile app through which you can donate surplus food to people in your local area, or vice versa, you can rescue leftovers from going to waste, all for free.

Too Good to Go is an app which gives you access to reduced unsold food from local cafés, stores, and restaurants. Their website has many resources.

BBC Good Food have a seasonal food calendar, to help you find which foods are currently in season, and therefore can be bought more locally.

Giki Badges Impact Score is an app for scanning product barcodes when shopping, which shows how the product performs in different environmental ‘categories’ e.g., carbon footprint, animal welfare, organic, packaging.

Sign up for Veganuary, and pledge to go vegan for January – even if you don’t quite make it, signing up for free gives you access to handy resources, including recipe ideas and prompts.

Big Feed Community Café (by TAWS): Pick up healthy free meals from the Big Feed Project if you are in need, or contribute your time, money, or skills by volunteering with the café. Surplus food can also be donated at these locations, combining the fight against good waste, food poverty and social isolation.

Incredible Surplus (originally the Real Junk Food Project) intercept food and other usable materials that would otherwise go to waste from supermarkets, restaurants and other sources, and provide them to individuals and community organisations on a “Pay-As-You-Feel” basis.

FareShare Midlands redistributes surplus food to over 500 charities and community projects across the West and East Midlands region. Their website includes a detailed list of food support networks for individuals at

Love Food, Hate Waste are an initiative working to get people to reduce their food waste, and their website has plenty of free recipe ideas and tips for making the most out of your food.

Glean for Brum is an organisation that organises volunteering days to harvest surplus food from farms in and around Birmingham and get it to those in need. See what’s on at:

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