Sustainable food shopping: how to shop less wastefully & use less plastic

Sustainable food shopping; how to reduce your food miles, waste less food, and take less plastic packaging home

One of the hardest things about sustainable living is food shopping, so today we’re going to talk about sustainable food shopping and how we can reduce food miles, and the amount of plastic packaging we take home.

I’m so happy to see so many people aiming to live more sustainably and to buy things with less plastic packaging in 2018. It truly stokes the fire in my soul. If you’re a complete beginner to sustainable living, you might find this handy post about how to start living more sustainably useful.

Quick note before we start; I live in the UK, so some of these things might seem odd if you’re from the US or Canada, where bulk buying is so much more common. Hopefully, there are at least a couple of tips you can take away no matter where you’re living.

A couple of years ago, the UK government introduced a 5p charge on plastic carrier bags to encourage people to use reusable bags, or learn to juggle. The charge worked pretty well because us Brits hate paying 5p for things and loved the challenge of juggling a week’s worth of shopping down the carpark because we forgot our bags for life.

The scheme has been pretty successful, and in the first few months, 6 billion fewer plastic bags were used in comparison to before the scheme was introduced. The irony is that we take our reusable bags and stuff them with delicious food wrapped in single-use crappy plastic. I would argue that as the definition of irony. How supermarkets and the government failed to see and act on that one that is beyond me. 

So, what can we do to reduce the amount of packaging, waste, and food miles when we shop? 

 

Get some produce bags

My sister got me produce bags for Christmas thinking it was a joke gift because of how much I moan about plastic packaging, but they are so not joke gifts. They are actually the most useful Christmas gift I received this year, and I love them.

Produce bags are mesh/fabric bags that replace those horrible single-use plastic bags in the fruit and veg section. You simply put your loose veg in them and carry on with your shopping. It is that easy.

I am not aware of a high street store, or even a supermarket (seems like a missed opportunity), that you can buy them from. You can get them online very easily though; a swift Google will throw up loads of suggestions (and I’ve even done that for you). Make sure you get a few in different sizes to cover everything you might buy. I think these are the ones my sister got me; there are 12 in total in three different sizes, so I’m well covered.

 

Support local growers

If you can get to a local farmers market or have a greengrocer in town who sells local produce, support the crap out of them. I know it’s not always possible though, so don’t stress; for me, living more sustainably is about us all doing the best we can.

By buying locally as much as possible, you’re supporting your local economy and reducing your food miles. Food miles are how far your food has been transported to you. The further food travels, the more carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (NOx), and particulate matter are given out as a result of transport, and all of these things contribute to global warming and air pollution that harms our health.

 

Plan to avoid over purchasing

Knowing how much food you’re going to use between shops is so helpful because it stops you buying things that will go to waste, which saves you money. I highly recommend making a meal plan (even a rough idea of what kind of thing you might eat throughout the week) and then figuring out how much you need to buy. This can stop you getting caught up by 3 for 2 or BOGOF offers if you know it won’t get used.

My Nan goes to the shop pretty much every day and I remember being slightly horrified by the amount of salad and veg that was thrown away because she would keep buying too much. She seemed to think that if she kept buying it, it would get eaten but we couldn’t eat it fast enough. I think my Mum has reigned her in a little bit now, thankfully.

If you’re struggling to understand or track how much food you’re throwing away, separate food waste from your general waste for a couple of weeks and that should give you a good idea. If you can, compost any food waste, or make sure it goes in your food waste bin if you have one.

 

Learn to look at labels

For me, checking labels when I’m food shopping is second nature now. It is very difficult to do a food shop that is entirely plastic packaging free so get used to figuring out what you can and can’t recycle. You will be surprised by how much you can’t recycle.

The organic oats I buy (because the supermarket doesn’t sell any other organic oats) come in non-recyclable packaging. I mean, that seems like a bit of a slap in the face to me, don’t you think? These oats have been lovingly grown without any toxins to be healthier for the soil, the environment, and the eater, and then you wrap them in something that cannot be recycled? What? Why? I don’t want you to save the soil, the air, me, but kill sea creatures. Why would you even think I would want that? WHAT’S WRONG WITH PAPER?! Someone has to get angry about these things, and it’s always me.

It’s inevitable you will have to buy things in plastic so make sure you’re buying recyclable plastic as much as you can. It’s not the solution but it’s boatloads better than non-recyclable.

 

Research bulk options in your area

There aren’t a huge number of places you can buy bulk food, like oats, flour, coffee, etc in the UK. I know there are a few Whole Foods in London, Edinburgh has Real Foods, and there are probably a few places with bulk food options scattered around the country.

If you don’t know what that is, it essentially means you walk into a place and they have huge bins or containers of things. You take your own jar, box, or bag, load them up and then pay by weight. They seem like an amazing idea, and I was so excited when I saw bog standard grocery stores in Canada with bulk oats and coffee. Hopefully, they will become more popular in the UK.

But, what if you don’t live near somewhere that has a bulk option? I have seen zero waste bloggers recommend buying as big a package of that thing as you can as it often works out cheaper and uses less packaging than buying smaller packages. However, huge packages of things aren’t that common in the UK either, so it’s a difficult one. All you can do is your best here.

 

Buy seasonal produce

Seasonal produce is a huge work in progress for me because I struggle to remember and keep on top of what’s seasonal. We’re so used to walking into a shop and buying and eating whatever we want all year round that we don’t even think about how far something travelled to us. As we mentioned further up, the further food travels, the more pollutants are given off, so we want to keep those miles as low as possible.

This can seem quite limiting, especially if you love avocados as much as me. I’m not saying restrict yourself to only what’s in season in your country. When you feel restricted, living sustainably becomes hard and unenjoyable and it’s then that you give up.

It’s about striking a balance and compromise. So, enjoy something exotic in your shopping basket but try to make more and more of your shop seasonal.

You should be able to easily find out what’s seasonal to the country you live by searching for it. Since we’re in January and I read this yesterday, here’s Rhyme & Ribbons guide to seasonal eating in the UK in January. I believe her monthly newsletter usually contains a list of seasonal food and recipes (I’ve only just signed up myself) so that sounds like a really easy way to keep on top of it.

One of the ways I’ve been trying to make this really interesting for myself is to look at what’s seasonal and find new recipes. I really, really want to make artichoke soup because I had some at work a few weeks ago and it was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.

 

Hold shops accountable

I’m pretty sure I bang on about this in every single blog post about living more sustainably, but it’s true. If there’s something you’re not happy with about where you shop, let them know.

Supermarkets and food producers/manufacturers are beginning to come under more pressure from us to package things in a more sensible and sustainable way, so it is working. I mean, Tesco have stopped responding to me now but I’m hoping that’s because they’re so busy listening to me…I live in hope. And Tesco live in hope I don’t moan at them on Twitter again.

 

Grow your own

I’m pretty sure most of us would love to have the space to live off the land and grown all our own produce. Unfortunately, that isn’t really possible for the majority of us, but growing a couple of things can make all the difference.

If you don’t have a garden, why not grow your own herbs? If you’ve got a garden with space, do a little research and give growing something a go. When I was a kid, my Dad used to grow potatoes and it was so exciting seeing them being dug up and then turned into Sunday dinner.

 

If you have any tips for shopping less wastefully and buying less food wrapped in plastic, let us all know in the comments. And, as always, if I’ve mentioned something in passing without explaining it, pull me up on it and I’ll explain it and do better next time!

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Dilemma; buying food from companies with unethical parent companies

Marmite on toast - buying from companies with unethical parent companies

I am a label reader; when I’m in the shower, in the bath, waiting for something to cook, I’ll be reading the labels on whatever I’m using at the time. A few weeks back, I was reading the label on the back of my beloved Marmite, when I noticed they are owned by Unilever.

According to their website, Unilever own 255 brands globally across the food and drink, home care, and personal care sectors. Some of these brands include: Ben & Jerry’s (who are bringing vegan ice cream to the UK ‘soon’), Marmite, Simple, Dove, Lynx, Vaseline and a whole boat load of brands you might use / eat every day. I don’t buy any hygiene or cosmetic products sold by Unilever because I disagree with animal testing, but seeing ‘Unilever’ on the back of a jar of Marmite stopped me in my tracks.

How do I feel about buying food a company whose parent company test on animals, or I consider to be unethical?

Surprisingly, animal testing is not just limited to cosmetics and cleaning products. I would never associate food products with animal testing (perhaps that is naive on my part) but while I was doing some research for this blog post I discovered that some food products are not cruelty free. In 2013, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) called out Unilever, Nestle, Yakult and Danone for testing food products on animals to allow them to promote health claims.

That absolutely baffled me. Why? Why is that even necessary?

Let’s take a look at the Ben & Jerry’s example too. I love that they have created vegan ice cream and are planning to bring it over to the UK; I want to support companies who are making being vegan easier, because hell knows I find it very hard. I also really want a vegan version of Phish food.

If I choose not to support companies who test cosmetics on animals, doesn’t that mean I should boycott food brands which are tested on animals? Doesn’t it mean it should boycott food brands which might be cruelty free themselves, but are owned by a company who test other food brands or hygiene brands on animals?

On the other hand, I could support cruelty free and vegan companies for doing good, fighting animal testing, and creating tasty vegan food. Some people choose to do this with cosmetics brands, let’s take Urban Decay as an example. Urban Decay are cruelty free but they are owned by L’Oreal who do test on animals. The argument is that it’s good to support companies like Urban Decay because they are cruelty free and maybe, eventually, in some kinda movie-like way, L’Oreal will go “wow, a lot of people support these cruelty free brands we own, so maybe we should quit being dicks to animals.” That would be amazing, but it doesn’t quite sit well with me. I hate the idea that my money might indirectly end up supporting animal testing or supporting companies with unethical practices.

To counter that again, if you try to avoid food, hygiene, or cleaning products with unethical parent companies your weekly shop is about to get a lot harder, involve ordering from goodness knows how many websites and probably more expensive.

I am between a rock and a hard place with this one and would love to hear your thoughts about buying from companies with unethical parent companies.

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Ok, I’m a very bad vegan. So what?

One of the funny things about choosing a ‘restrictive’ diet, rather than having to due to health reasons, is that everyone is always trying to catch you out.

Anyone who has chosen to be vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free, etc, will know exactly what I mean. Because you’ve made a decision to do something due to moral reasons, everyone wants to call you out. And maybe that’s their prerogative.

I am a bad vegan. A very bad vegan. I admit it. In fact, it’s probably a stretch for me to call myself vegan at this point. But I’m trying.

There are some things that were so easy for me to give up;

  • Milk; it grosses me out, a lot. The thought of it makes me want to gag.
  • Cream; see above.
  • Eggs; they also gross me out. Easy.
  • Leather; never liked it, not even a problem.
  • Meat; can’t stand it.
  • Non-cruelty free cosmetics; I don’t want something to suffer for the sake of lipstick.

But there is one thing, that I find a lot harder to give up; cheese. It’s a very poor excuse, but I love the taste of a nice strong cheese. I know. I wish I could find a vegan alternative that melted just like real cheese.

And then there’s the whole trying to eat out. I know that in some cities (like San Francisco) eating vegan is a piece of delicious pie, but I don’t live in a city. I live in an area where an eatery’s idea of vegetarian is…*drumroll please*…can you guess it? TOMATO PASTA! *Groans* So many places like to be adventurous with their dishes, until it comes to vegetarian or vegan or gluten free, and then they panic.

I digress. Eating out is hard, but there are a few chain restaurants now where I can eat vegan, like Nando’s or The Handmade Burger Company.

And then there’s dessert. I bloody love dessert. It’s my favourite part of a meal. And my boyfriend is a pastry chef; which means I get a lot of dessert. Do you think any of that is vegan? No. No it is not.

Sure, I could not eat it, but you try one of his peanut butter chocolate fondants and tell me it’s not amazing.

Yes, I am a bad vegan. But I am trying.

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30-Day Vegan Challenge | Week #3

Vegan millionaire shortbread

With three weeks under my belt, I’m beginning to feel like a little bit of a pro at this vegan thing.

I’m really enjoying cooking and spending time searching for tasty recipes – and not just for pudding either, I’ve been hunting down and cooking actual, nourishing meals, which is impressive for me.

The only time I’ve not been able to eat vegan during week three was, yet again, when I went out. I almost managed an entirely vegan meal at one of my favourite diners – I asked for nothing on the veggie burger but guacamole, but they put melted cheese on too…Maybe I should have sent it back, but I honestly couldn’t be bothered for the sake of a slice of cheese. Perhaps that makes me a ‘bad vegan’, but the place was rammed, it was probably an honest mistake, and I was hungry.

The second time, I went out to a little dessert restaurant in the city my university is in and there was nothing vegan on that menu that I could see. To be honest, I was disappointed because they have a huge range – pretty much any dessert you can think of – so I was a little gutted to see that there wasn’t a dairy free section. Especially when it’s easy to make dairy free desserts.

On top of that, my best friend’s Mum had a party and there was nothing vegan and to be honest, I don’t expect friends to go out of their way to do things especially for me. Though, saying that, if I had an allergy would I expect something allergen-free? Food for thought.

Eating out aside, everything I ate during week three was vegan. I’ve discovered that Aldi’s Oaties are vegan, which is good on one hand, not so good for my goal of eating less biscuits. Another surprising vegan discovery is Kellog’s Star Wars cereal.

Two of my favourite recipes in week three were:

I can’t believe how fast these 30 days are going, this time next week the challenge will be over with. To be honest, I have no intention of going back to my previous diet – I’ve found a vegan diet much easier than I expected and I feel much better in myself (though a part of that is because I am eating healthier).

What tasty things have you eaten this week?

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We built a (kinda weird) gingerbread Hogwarts

Gingerbread Hogwarts

Gingerbread Hogwarts

A few weeks ago, Tom tasked me with creating a gingerbread Hogwarts. We roped our friends in and ended up with a slightly (ok, very) weird gingerbread Hogwarts.

It’s fair to say we had delusions of grandeur because it was so much harder than expected, and we had to scale down quite a bit. Nevertheless, it was so much fun and we all laughed so hard.

Making gingerbread

Building a gingerbread house

Tom turned out to be some kind of gingerbread castle building wizard. He drew up some brilliant plans, and the rest of us made the dough and cut it out. Well, I say the ‘rest of us’, one of my friends is an excellent ‘supervisor’.

Getting the castle to stick together was pretty hard. None of us had ever built any kind of gingerbread structure, so we went into it thinking it would be easy. We were wrong. Getting the icing consistency right was hard enough. And in hindsight, we probably should have tried to level the pieces before sticking them together, but you live and learn, right?

Gingerbread Hogwarts

In the end, we ended up with a couple of braces. My friends Dad works in engineering and he just laughed as soon as he saw it. He also questioned if one of the braces was a lean to, so we tried to disguise it as a broom shed.

By far the hardest part was trying to figure out how to make the towers for the turrets. In the end, we stacked a few ice cream cones together, and covered them in gingerbread.

Gingerbread Hogwarts

Gingerbread Hogwarts

Once we’d managed to get the castle to stick together without dropping apart as soon as someone breathed near it, we began to decorate it. And that’s when things got ridiculous. I should have seen it coming, I should have known.

Gingerbread Hogwarts

The Supervisor got very carried away with the icing and silver balls. (Just look at the snowmen…or maybe not.) The rest of us are mega Harry Potter fans, so we asked what he was doing covering all of the ‘roof tiles’ with silver balls. He claimed they were solar panels.

Gingerbread Hogwarts

It took us 8 hours in total, and we all laughed so much it hurt. We’ve decided that in 2016, we’re going to attempt to make a Hobbit House. The Supervisor can handle the grass, I don’t think it’s possible to go overboard with grass on a Hobbit House.

Have you ever made any kind of gingerbread construction?

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Autumn, apple and cinnamon spice cookies [Vegan]

Simple, vegan, apple spice cookies

Cinnamon, apple, and chocolate cookies.

It’s no secret that I love autumn, and biscuits, so it just seemed right to make autumn-inspired apple, and cinnamon cookies.

I reworked a recipe I’ve used for vegan cookies a couple of times to create delicious, soft, apple spice cookies. They’re so delicious and perfect for a cosy autumn day all snuggled up with a hot drink and a book.

A stack of cookies

Books and cookies

You can control how soft and squishy your cookies are in the middle by making them thinner or thicker. If you like cookies which are raw in the middle, make them thicker.

I’m really happy with how these cookies turned out, and the base recipe is really easy to customise to whatever flavours you fancy trying.

Apple and cinnamon cookies
Yields 16
A delicious, and simple autumn-inspired apple and cinnamon cookie.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
25 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
25 min
174 calories
26 g
17 g
8 g
2 g
5 g
44 g
10 g
17 g
0 g
2 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
44g
Yields
16
Amount Per Serving
Calories 174
Calories from Fat 68
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 8g
12%
Saturated Fat 5g
24%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 2g
Cholesterol 17mg
6%
Sodium 10mg
0%
Total Carbohydrates 26g
9%
Dietary Fiber 1g
4%
Sugars 17g
Protein 2g
Vitamin A
4%
Vitamin C
0%
Calcium
4%
Iron
2%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup vegan butter (I used Vitalife)
  2. 1 cup dark brown muscovado sugar
  3. 1 teaspoon of cornstarch
  4. 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  5. 2 tablespoons of water
  6. 1 cup + 2 tablespoons of plain flour
  7. 1/2 an apple (normal apple, doesn't need to be a cooking apple)
  8. 1 and 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  9. 100g chocolate (UK people's; Tesco's Finest cooking chocolate is vegan)
Instructions
  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F
  2. 2. Combine the butter and sugar until creamy and well combined
  3. 3. While that's mixing, cut up the apple and chocolate into small chunks
  4. 4. Mix the cornstarch, baking powder and water, before adding to the butter and sugar.
  5. 5. Add the flour, chocolate chips, and apple until it forms a dough. I've found that depending on the kind of butter you use, you might need to add more flour. If it's a bit wet, keep adding flour tablespoon at a time until it's a well-combined matte-looking dough.
  6. 6. Place on a tray, with baking paper and a sprinkle of flour. I find using an ice cream scoop / tablespoon a good measure. You might need to squish them down a bit, to make sure the middle cooks.
beta
calories
174
fat
8g
protein
2g
carbs
26g
more
Adapted from Baker Bettie's Easy Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
Girl In Awe http://www.girlinawe.com/
I could eat these bad boys all day, every day of the week. In the run up to Christmas, I want to try out chocolate and orange cookies to make something that reminds me of Terry’s Chocolate Oranges.

If you give these a go, please send me a photo and let me know what you think.

What autumn-inspired cookies would you create?

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Edinburgh Castle + the Hard Rock Cafe

Edinburgh Castle at night

Edinburgh Castle in the day

Edinburgh Castle is a majestic looking thing; it sits perched on a rock watching over the city. 

The castle looks pretty impressive from the front but when you go in through the castle gates, or see it from down on Princes Street, you realise how big it is.

It’s a huge, sprawling castle with paths that take you off in different directions.

My favourite part of any castle is never the inside. It’s the grounds, where you get to look at the beautiful buildings and down on the area surrounding it. It’s in moments like that where I can imagine for a second what it would have been like to live in the castle in it’s heyday.

View of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle

View of Edinburgh from the castle

The most impressive thing inside the castle was actually something you aren’t allowed to take photos of; the crown jewels.

They were absolutely stunning and every bit as lavish as you expect they would be, but annoyingly it was very, very busy in that particular room. That’s understandable, of course everyone wants to see the sparklies, but I think perhaps there should be a system in place where only a certain amount of people can go in at a time.

After we’d finished at the castle we went to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. I do not consider that I’ve actually been to a country if I haven’t visited the Hard Rock Cafe there and I their collect t-shirts / hoodies.

The staff at the Hard Rock Cafe in Edinburgh were great and as usual, they complied with my awkward request to have the twisted mac n’ cheese without the chicken and as usual, it was amazeballs. (There I finally said it in a sentence!)

I also surprised myself by trying something new (I don’t do that very often at all); a strawberry and basil lemonade. It was delicious, I keep meaning to try to make my own.

I completely forgot to take a picture of the Hard Rock Cafe itself because I was distracted by this beautiful building next door. I think it was a fancy restaurant. I don’t really care what it is, to be honest, because look at how beautiful it looks with all those Christmas lights on it.

 

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