Food can account for a significant amount of a person's environmental impact. In Brighton and Hove it is estimated that up to 18% of our ecological footprint comes from the way we grow, package, transport and eat our food.
There are a number of issues, but thankfully in our city there are plenty of ways for us all to have a healthy, affordable, green and yummy diet.
Here's some places to start:
Buy local (sometimes)
Transporting food around the country is thought to make up about 30% of all haulage in the UK, and at the same time we've got fruit being flown in from South America, beans from Africa and apples from New Zealand. It's a pretty crazy situation when you consider in Sussex alone we have 25 native apple varieties. Eating food grown locally is as simple as checking the labels when you buy, or you can head to the many farmers markets, including Muslei Mountain Market, Pulse Organics, Churchill Square Farmers' Market, Upper Gardener Street Market, Brighton Farm Market and Brighton & Hove Farmers' Market or veg box schemes. Be careful though, buying locally grown food isn't always the best option so...
A strawberry grown in a hot house in the UK may be using more energy than one grown in Spain and flown over, so when you can, eat what's in season. Try www.eattheseasons.co.uk to see what's ripe and ready for yumming up this month.
It makes sense that using fewer pesticides on crops makes for healthier soils, as well as a lower carbon footprint from not having to manufacture and ship chemicals around the place. Fancy schmancy organic brands can be expensive though, so while the organic labels may be reassuring, they don't help keep the budget in check. Many small scale producers use organic methods but don't want to fork out for costly official certifications, so speak to the sellers at your local market about where your veg came from and how it was grown, and you might just find yourself in with an organic bargain.
Free range and fair trade
It's common sense really. It's not very nice to keep animals couped up in tiny spaces and if you're not buying fair trade, then you're buying unfair trade. Local food shop Infinity Foods stock everything foodwise: also organics, cosmetics and bathroom stuff, vegan foods and fair trade products.
Grow your own
56% of adults in Brighton & Hove eat less than the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Growing your own food will not only help the environment, but it may help you to live a more healthy lifestyle too. If you need a helping hand to get started Harvest Brighton & Hove provide offer training courses and provide tips on their website. If you don't have your own garden there's lots of ways around this. You can try growing food in a window box. Good choices to start with include chilli peppers, cherry tomatoes, strawberries and herbs. For local garden share schemes visit Transition Brighton & Hove. Or, why not consider an allotment?
In the UK, we throw away an astonishing 8.3 million tonnes of food every year, costing the average family with children £680 a year, about £13 a week, as well as the serious environmental costs. For example, when you throw away cheese it doesn't harmlessly decomopose as you might assume. It rots and releases methane - a very harmful greenhouse gas. Composting is a great idea. Composting at home for just one year can save global warming gases equivalent to all the CO2 your kettle produces annually, or your washing machine produces in three months - and it's full of nutrients your plants will love too. And if you can't compost at home, there's always community composting.
Love Food:Hate Waste has some fabulous ideas to provide you with inspiration and help get you started. Here are a few pledges suggested by them that you can do to reduce your food waste:
Plan your meals by making a shopping list and sticking with it - Choose ingredients that can be used for more than one meal, and stock up on staples, like dried pasta, rice, broth and tomato sauce.
Portion control - Use portion guides and measure wisely. Stick to recipes to make just the right amount.
Keep it Fresh - Mind those "use by" dates! Freeze food to lock in its freshness. To extend shelf life, refrigerate produce such as apples and tomatoes, while keeping onions and potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place.
Love Your Leftovers - Use small leftover portions for next day's lunch. Get creative in the kitchen and share your successess with others!
As tasty as it may be, meat does some pretty bad things to the planet. There are millions of arguments for and against eating meat, both environmental and ideological, but the fact is going veggie just isn't for everyone, so if that sounds like you then try Archers where they have locally sourced, free range and additive-free meat. There are plenty of ways to move towards a greener, less meaty diet though. Meat Free Mondays is a great idea attracting a lot of attention, or you could sign up to be a part-time carnivore. Looking for locally made charcoal, firewood and kindling for your meat or meat free BBQ? Then why not try The Wood Store.
Eating local and in season fish is a great way not only to improve your health and diet but to reduce your food miles. Rather than flying your prawns in from Indonesia, why don't you try one of Brighton's fish stalls and markets such as Ross, the hut on the seafront between Prince Regent and the Bowling Green 9am-2pm Wed-Sat, selling ethically caught fish sold by the friendly people who caught them that morning! Alternatively seek out Sea Haze, Brighton Shellfish & Oyster Bar or Brighton & Newhaven Fish Sales.
Where to get that lovely, organic, fair trade cuppa, locally (and just a little into the North Laines): Offbeat - Sydney Street, Mange Tout - Trafalgar Street, Infinity Foods, Komedia, Fannys, Islingword Road, Cherry Tree, Duke of York cinema bar, Preston Circus and Restaurants: Terre a Terre – Award winning veggie and vegan restaurant.
Eating isn't a chore, it's one of life's delights, so take the time to notice what you are eating and drinking and appreciate where it has come from. Harvest Brighton & Hove is a lively and exciting project helping people to eat, cook and grow better food. We're sure they'd love to hear from you.