Reduce Food Miles: Buy local, cook fresh and eat seasonal
All this week we’ve been exploring the impact of outdoor air quality, and how this can impact on respiratory allergy such as hay fever and asthma.
To end this year’s Allergy Awareness Week, we’re setting a challenge for the weekend, for you all to buy local, cook fresh and eat seasonal, in a bid to reduce our food miles.
Share your seasonal recipes, trips to the farmers market or anything else you do to reduce your food miles with us on Facebook or Instagram #LocalFreshSeasonal.
What are food miles?
Food miles are a way of calculating how far food has travelled before it reaches your plate, helping us to understand the environmental impact of the foods we eat. It was a phrase devised by Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at London’s City University.
It’s not always a straightforward thing to work out however, especially when the food journey isn’t direct. Some are very long and complicated, for example fish caught in the North Sea can travel as far as China for processing, before making its way back to our tables in Europe.
Why we should think before we buy
Transporting food around the UK accounts for nearly 25 per cent of all the trips made by heavy goods vehicles, adding up to around 20 billion miles a year without even taking into account air and sea freight2.
Whilst only 1% of food is transported by air, it’s responsible for around 11 per cent of the total carbon emissions from UK food transport. Worryingly, it's also the fastest-growing way of moving food around, according to latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
It’s been suggested that if we all bought our food originating from within a 20km radius from our homes, the country would save over £2 billion in congestion and environmental costs.
How to eat more sustainably
Buying fresh, local and seasonal produce has become really popular these days, meaning that it’s never been easier to shop more sustainably. Even the big supermarkets have jumped on the band wagon and started to sell wonky produce and seasonal fruit and veg boxes.
Here are some ways you can shop more sustainably for your food:
Discover local food
Visit www.bigbarn.co.uk to find local farmers markets, farm shops and stores selling local and seasonal produce.
Sign up for a fruit and veg box
These are growing in popularity and so are now widely available. You can contact your closest farm shop first to see if they offer this service, or there are lots of online subscriptions offering local, seasonal and organic boxes delivered to your door – try searching ‘sustainable fruit and veg box’ online to find one that’s right for you.
You could also go one step further and reduce wastage too with a ‘wonky’ fruit and veg box.
Buying seasonal fruit and veg usually means that it’s more likely to have been produced in the UK, but always check the label, especially in the supermarket. The most sustainable way to buy seasonal food would be from your local farmers markets or farm shops.
It’s estimated that less than half of the meat used in ready meals in supermarkets is sourced from the UK and with separate ingredients often being sourced from various locations, ready meals can stack up on the food miles.
Cooking with fresh and seasonal ingredients will not only help the environment, it gives you full control of exactly what you’re feeding your family in terms of nutrients and allergens.
Eat less meat
Moving on from the subject of food miles, farm practises also contribute to pollution. Rearing livestock produces 14.5% of our man-made greenhouse gas emissions, with cattle (dairy and meat) being the biggest culprit accounting for over 60% of these emissions. Consider replacing one meal per week with a plant-based food alternative using seasonal and fresh produce.
 The Herald (2009) Scotland to China and back again ... cod's 10,000-mile trip to your table. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12765981.scotland-to-china-and-back-again-cods-10000-mile-trip-to-your-table/. [Accessed 27 February 2019].
 AEA Technology (2005). "The Validity of Food Miles as an Indicator of Sustainable Development" Final Report produced for DEFRA.
 Pretty, J et al. (2005). Farm costs and food miles: An assessment of the full cost of the UK weekly food basket. Food Policy, 30(1), pp.1-19.
 Eating Better (2018) Are ready meals ready for the future? [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.eating-better.org/uploads/Documents/2018/Ready%20Meals%20Briefing%20final.pdf. [Accessed 27 February 2019].
Gerber, P. J. et al. (2013). Tackling climate change through livestock: a global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities . Rome: FAO. Available from http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3437e.pdf