Here are nine key benefits of buying local, seasonal and sustainable food.
Making changes to the way we shop and eat can benefit not only our health and happiness, but can boost the local economy, reduce waste and help us fill our plates with tastier, more nutritious food. Choosing to shop locally and eat local food is also great for building communities as well as protecting agricultural and food production in our countryside.
A staggering 30% of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. When you add to this the number of food miles travelled - as food is shipped around the globe from producer to consumer - you begin to appreciate the benefits of a lifestyle which supports local food producers.
1. Local Food Supports a Diverse Food Economy
When you choose to buy locally grown food you are supporting a diverse food economy; keeping more money in the local economy as well as supporting jobs in farming and food production. There is less time and distance between the grower and the buyer, often referred to as the field to fork journey.
When you buy local food, you have the benefit of knowing its origin; no more 'mystery meat' in the food chain or on your plate. A local food economy also builds more resilience into the supply chain. In instances of extreme weather (such as flooding or snow) there are more options to source food other than empty supermarket shelves that rely on one giant distribution centre.
2 Local Food is Seasonal
Seasonal food is a great choice as it reduces reliance on un-seasonal food which requires lots of energy to grow and transport. Generally, the further food has travelled, especially if it is refrigerated or frozen, the more energy it has taken to deliver to your table.
Locally produced food spends much less time in transit than globally sourced produce. As the time from field to fork is shorter, the food is fresher, retains more nutrients and flavour.
Asparagus is a good example. The carbon footprint for asparagus flown in from South America is 28 times higher than home grown asparagus due to the amount of energy required to fly the vegetable packs to the UK in refrigerated conditions. Similarly, oranges shipped from Spain require far less energy than refrigerated orange juice from California; the distance is shorter, and they do not require expensive and energy intensive chillers.
3 Local Food Helps you 'Eat A Rainbow'
Good quality home prepared food is a recipe for health. When you buy and eat UK grown, seasonal food you can enjoy a colourful and varied diet packed with fresh fruit and vegetables. Not only does local food provide an excellent source of nutrition it is often cheaper because the food is in season so widely available without import costs.
4 Local Food Supports Farmers' Markets
Farmers' markets, farm shops, food co-ops and local bakeries are great places to explore food and drink grown in your community. Buying food grown near you doesn't have to cost more. There is a growing number and vibrant network of producers selling directly to consumers. They are concerned with food provenance and want to support their hardworking, food producing neighbours.
They ensure a fair price for farmers and producers and offer a fantastic source of fresh food for you and your family. In some regions you will find great food festivals that support local food producers and offer a great day out.
You can search for your local farm shops and farmers' markets via FARMA.
5 Look for The Red Tractor
The overwhelming majority of food we buy is purchased through the six big supermarket chains. The red tractor symbol is a good way to identify food grown in Great Britain rather than imported food which, is sometimes even packaged to imitate labels from British family farms.
Only 6% of the UK land area is taken up with cities and other urban areas. The overwhelming majority of the UK is farm land. Farmers look after and shape our countryside. Buying British food will support producers who meet a recognised level of animal welfare and environmental standards.
6 Choose MSC Certified Fish
Fish is a great choice for those seeking tasty food, rich in protein but low in saturated fats. However, stories of over fishing and horrific images of dolphins caught in tuna nets would put anyone off a tuna pasta bake.
But there are plenty of alternatives for a fish and chip supper that ensure fish stocks are safeguarded and the fish industry thrives.
The Marine Stewardship Council certifies fish that have come from sustainable sources, using fishing practises that have not harmed other wildlife in the process. Their blue and white symbol is easily recognised and is an easy way to identify which species to pick at the fresh fish counter.
The Good Fish Guide also provides ideas for recipes using less well-known fish that are caught off the British coast that are equally delicious such as dab, hake, mackerel, mussels and Devon crab.
7 Make Sustainable Choices When Eating Out
A quarter of the food we eat is now bought from cafes, restaurants, takeaways or as food-to-go. Thanks to the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), whose moto is 'eat food that tastes good and does good', you can make great choices when eating out. SRA members include hotels, cafes and restaurants that champion great food, source food responsibly and treat workers fairly.
You can find a map of all their members on their website under the membership heading.
8 Eat Less Meat
An average household spends £53.30 a week on food shopping but meat makes up a staggering 61% of this cost.
Eating less meat is good for your purse, health and the environment. The chart below shows the very significant difference between low-carbon foods such as fruit, vegetables and grains compared with meat, especially beef and lamb that have the highest carbon footprints. You don't have to be a vegetarian or vegan to enjoy the wide range of delicious, plant-based food options.
9 Food Waste
Food waste is not only financially daft, it is throwing away a product that has taken, on average, a year of hard work to produce. From the farmer planting the wheat seed to the baker producing the loaf of bread, this is an incredible waste of energy, money and resources. A shocking 24 million slices of bread are thrown away each day in the UK! But it's not just bread with 5.8 million potatoes thrown away each day.
If we were to stop wasting food it would have the same carbon impact as taking one in four cars off UK roads. Not only is there a huge benefit to the environment, the 110kg per person per year of food put in the bin is the equivalent of £12.5bn across the UK or £60 a month per family.
For top tips on how to reduce food waste please see the article on How to Stop Food Costing the Earth.
Fresh, Great Seasonal Food from the Farm
Buying local and seasonal food is not only sustainable but is tastier and often more affordable. In addition, supporting local food producers ensures more money stays in the local economy and goes to those who work hard to ensure that food goes from the field to our fork!
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