We are all busy. It’s so easy to just pop to the supermarket and grab the first thing you see. But do you know what you’re buying? If you went to that farm would you be happy with what you saw?
These were the questions I had. I knew that there were various accreditations that some foods have got, but as a student, price was the priority. Now as a wage-earning grown-up I want to know which to choose when faced with 2 packs of carrots accredited by different schemes.
Firstly I think it’s really important to select seasonal foods. This way instead of importing food from overseas your food has come from a UK farm, with reduced travel cost and time meaning there is lower embodied carbon and should be fresher. We don’t really have the weather to eat strawberries in winter anyway!
The calendar above from eatseasonably.co.uk is interactive and so easy to see what is in season each month. It’s good to have it around while you’re making your food plan for the week. They also make tea-towels with it on! For a more thorough list, try this or eat the seasons has a page for each month
Another thing to consider is the effect of storage. Garden peas are mostly from UK farms all year round because they have such a short shelf life they are almost always frozen. The same principles can be applied to other vegetables though which is really handy especially if you’re cooking for one. Although there is higher processing costs with the pre-packed frozen bags, you’re also not throwing out half of what you buy because you didn’t get round to eating it. If you don’t want to buy frozen though, you can do it yourself at home too if you have the space.
In the UK there are a vast number of accreditation schemes. The three that I think have the clearest environmental requirements are Red Tractor, MSC Fisheries and Pastures for Life. There are loads more though which you can find more information on at lovebritishfood.co.uk.
Red Tractor is one of the largest schemes in the UK and their main focus is on the welfare of the animals, or correct application and storage of fertilisers and pesticides in the case of arable farms. They also show the british flag for UK produced foods.
MSC Fisheries are very much about ensuring a sustainable approach to fishing. There has been lots in the news about over fishing so they aim to ensure that farms have a sustainable fishing level as well as maintaining the ecosystem and diversity and reacting to any changes in those conditions.
Pastures for Life accredit farms when the meat is grass-fed. Pasture land is fantastic for local biodiversity and is a great habitat that is under threat in the countryside. There is less energy involved in grass-fed compared to cereal fed animals as well as producing better quality, higher nutrient, lower fat meat. Farms on this scheme are not allowed to feed their animals soya, which has to be imported and is sometimes planted in the wake of rainforest depletion. By rotating a herd/flock with arable fields, pasture allows the land to rest as well as naturally fertilising it for the next year.
In supermarkets it is so easy to pick up what you want without thinking about the origins. Greengrocers are fantastic if you have one locally as they get their food fresh each day or two and they will know where their stock comes from, so if you want to make sure that your spuds are from your county rather than the other end of the country that is definitely the place to go. Unfortunately my greengrocer is only open during working hours/saturday mornings when I’m out on adventures, and I live in a flat so can’t grow my own but I will definitely be thinking about these things when I do my next shop.