We all set out with grand plans in January to do less of the crap stuff that makes us unhappy and do more of the good stuff that makes us feel better. Good intentions often focus around fitness and food – including eating better food and less junk.
Here at Growing Communities, we’d shift the focus from not just feeling better because we’re eating more healthily, but to feeling better about the choices we make. Any decisions about food shouldn’t just be about what’s in that food but where it comes from too.
Yes, we’d encourage giving up additive-filled processed food in favour of cooking great meals from scratch. Yes, we’d say eat less meat. Yes, we want to throw less food away.
But we also want to know that our food has been produced sustainably on small farms, that we’re doing our bit to reduce the distance that food has travelled to get to our plates, and that any meat we choose comes from animals that have been reared to the highest welfare standards.
Some 95 per cent of Growing Communities members say that they have changed the way they shop and cook since they joined our organic community-led box scheme – and that they feel better for it.
Here are some of their tips on how to shop, cook and eat better.
1. Shop local: supporting local farmers and outlets keeps money circulating in your community and cuts down on food miles. Buying directly from farmers means that the money you spend goes directly to them rather than to supermarkets, wholesalers and other middle men.
Join our veg scheme in Hackney.
Explore the other community-led veg schemes that make up the Better Food Traders and see if there's one near you.
Big Barn also has a useful map of local food suppliers.
2. Buy what you need: don’t be tempted by buy-one-get-one-free offers (unless you already know how you’ll use two of them). If your recipe calls for one leek and you know you won’t eat any more than that, go to your local farmers’ market and buy just one, rather than the supermarket where they’ll dictate how big a pack you have to buy.
Visit Growing Communities' Farmers’ Market.
Find other local farmers’ markets at Big Barn.
3. Save some for later: if you’re trying not to waste food yet trying not to overeat, just stop when you’ve had enough and put a the rest in the fridge or freezer. Leftovers can be eaten at another meal or added to all sorts of things: tortillas and soups are particularly accommodating of whatever you mix into them.
Have a look at the great recipes on Love Food Hate Waste.
4. Buy seasonal: seasonal food is likely to be fresher and to taste better than food grown in heated greenhouses out of season (which uses more energy too). Eating seasonally increases the chances that your food has ripened naturally (rather than during the long haul from Argentina or New Zealand or wherever). Plus, learning to eat with the seasons means that you really, really appreciate that first apple or tomato or strawberry after the long wait.
See Lucie Galand’s Seasonal Veg chart for a useful guide to what’s in season.
5. Eat less meat: cows are one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the world and growing food for them takes up millions of acres of land and uses gallons of water. Other types of meat production are also damaging, so eat meat rarely rather than routinely.
The Meatless Monday site has many compelling reasons for cutting down on meat – and lots of recipe suggestions too.
6. If you do eat meat, make it good: meat from small-scale organic farms not only tastes better and contains fewer antibiotics and added hormones, it uses less energy in its production. It is also a guarantee of high welfare standards. Animals on organic farms are completely free to roam and most graze for large parts of the year.
See The Meatrix for an entertaining summary of the arguments against factory farming.
Compassion in World Farming makes the case comprehensively.
7. Buy organic: Industrial farming has a terrible impact on the environment, using more fossil fuels in transport, fertilisers and pesticides and reducing soil quality. Small, organic mixed-use farms boost biodiversity and protect soil. And Growing Communities members say the food tastes better too.
See the Soil Association website for the detailed arguments and tips on where to buy organic food near you.
All the food for Growing Communities’ community-led fruit and veg scheme and our Farmers’ Market comes from small organic farms and food producers as close to London as possible. We never air-freight.