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Eating Green

February 5, 2013

Guest Blog by Jenny Flannagan  who blogs at Jenny from the block about adventures in living locally and ethically.

Trying to tackle the gargantuan realities of unjust trade laws, land grabs, unsustainable farming, child labour, corruption and tax dodging through your weekly food shop is clearly ambitious.  And optimistic.  And most of all, complicated.

It often feels a little pointless when there’s a Tesco on every corner.  But I stubbornly believe in doing things not just because we hope they will change the world.  I do them for the sake of my own soul (and body).  And because I’m the only one I can change.

So here is a list of four ways we try to shop and eat in a greenish manner, and why.  They are not the ‘right answer’, but more a snapshot of where we have got to as we wrestle through the shedloads of options and information out there.

1. We try to assess cost in a holistic way.

Being raised by a Scottish mother means I have an eye for a bargain.  Andy will similarly gravitate to the ‘reduced to clear’ section of any given shop (much faster than me).  So I have a moral compass that says it is always right to spend as little as possible.  But that becomes complicated when spending as little as possible means that other people suffer: farmers haven’t been paid fairly; poorly waged children have worked in factories or fields to make the saving possible; dangerous chemicals have been used to make crops more durable.  There are other costs that I am forcing others to pay.

Now spending more is no guarantee of those factors not being present.  But taking up those clichéd middle-class shopping habits of buying fair-trade and organic – for those who are able financially – seems to me a better choice, and a way to influence the market towards that kind of production.

For us that means a fortnightly organic fruit & veg box, and we also stock up on other locally produced basics – eggs, milk (the amount of hormones constantly injected into milk-producing cows in order to keep them perpetually pregnant is horrifying, hence we have switched to organic milk), some meat and fish.  The added cost means we probably eat a bit less than we used to, especially when it comes to snacks.

It’s a full-time job to source everything locally and organically (I only work part-time, and it’s too much for me) – which is why companies like Riverford/Abel & Cole and even some of the better supermarkets like Ocado – are very helpful…especially when they deliver.

2. We only eat meat at weekends.

I once participated in a debate over vegetarianism at Tearfund, one I (shamefully) didn’t take very seriously.  I seem to remember using bacon as my main argument.  But hearing the other side, hearing arguments about our unsustainable level of meat production around the world, convinced me that some big habits need to change.  The environmental cost of eating meat every day is just too high.  It’s a tough habit to break, so we have given up meat Monday to Friday, meaning that when we eat meat on the weekend we can afford to buy organic/free-range meat.

(It is possible that you have spotted the husband eating meat on a weekday lunchtime.  He would like me to emphasise that he is in theory behind the habit-change but is working on his follow-through…)

3. We try to minimise the links in the chain between earth and table.

When I first travelled overseas with Tearfund, to Brazil in 2006, one of the things that took me by surprise was how much I loved the closer connection between land and table.  What we ate in small rural communities was usually what we had seen growing outside (or running through the yard).  I realised just how many complex processes (and journeys) separated what I ate in London from where it had come from.  I miss the connection.

Amazing magic bread dough (thanks River Cottage) which is super-easy and makes delicious garlic bread and pizza

Amazing magic bread dough (thanks River Cottage) which is super-easy and makes delicious garlic bread and pizza.

So there are a few things we do to reinstate it.  We try to grow veggies and herbs on our tiny balcony (more on that one in a future blog – we live round the corner from a great garden farm who do free gardening lessons).  We try to buy British (see point 1).  I try to make things from raw ingredients rather than get them ready-made (it is easier when you work part-time).  We avoid heavily-processed food.



4. We are trying to simplify our tastes and be more grateful

This one might seem a little a strange, and Andy is much better at it than me.  There is such a raft of exotic and extraordinary food on sale everywhere, and for someone whose emotional well-being is strongly connected to her diet, it’s pretty exciting.  I could eat a different style of cuisine every night of the week.  But when you can always eat anything, nothing feels special.  It’s harder to appreciate the simple things and be grateful for them.    So we are trying to impose some limits.

Andy never used to like drinking plain old water, but over time he has resolutely trained his body to drink little else (I am trying…).  He has taken to eating plain porridge for brekkie very day. He doesn’t buy booze because it is an expensive habit.  He only drinks tea if he’s at your house and you want to make him some, and never coffee.  Now I happen to really enjoy coffee and red wine, but I’ve drunk less wine at home since we’ve been married  – we only really drink it with other people.  It has become more of a treat.

Here is some veggie pizza we made from the bread dough. Mmmm.

Here is some veggie pizza we made from the bread dough. Ok, it won’t make it into a food magazine anytime soon, but it tasted good.

I’ll be honest that I find this one harder because I derive more pleasure from food than he does.  But simpler doesn’t mean less fun.  It just involves a bit of retraining to appreciate things that are less complicated.

I’m on a journey with it.

I would love to hear what you do to try to shop and eat green.  (Do you forage?  Do you eat all your left-overs? Do you have a wormery? )

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 5, 2013 5:43 pm

    I live in Latvia (originally from the UK) and so it is easier and harder for me at the same time. Milk is from the local farmer, my neighbour’s mother. Cows are on pasture from May to October and then the rest of the time it depends on when the snows come. They are then kept in a barn where they are fed hay that the farmer has cut from the local meadows, plus veggies that are also raised in the gardens. Apparently the pumpkins make the milk more tasty. I don’t buy a lot of food from the supermarkets, just groceries, and buy from the local ones normally, but this in itself is an ethical dilemma. The local small village supermarkets do not sell much in organic and fair trade is practically unheard of, but going further away to get the organic and fair trade affects the trade in the village and local shops are important for the local economy, even if the staff are paid badly.

    As for meat, we buy pork from the local butcher who opens three mornings a week, lamb from the next farm to our land, we also have some wild boar culled from the local herd that took delight in digging up our meadows and chickens we have started raising ourselves. We also grow pretty much all our own veg apart from that. If I’m organised I can buy butter and cheese from the locals who park up on a Saturday in one of the local car parks.

    I know this is all a world away from the UK, although we did grow a lot of our veg whilst living there, but it does show what could be done if some rules were relaxed and people weren’t so hysterical about their food. I think if anything we are healthier for the type of raw milk, local meat we eat.

    Whilst in the UK I organised bulk buying of things like organic dried fruit, cereals and flours for our family and some of the neighbours who were also interested in that sort of thing, from one of the alternative type wholesalers. That kept costs down in our cash-strapped family.

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