Even small changes, such as ditching bottled water and having a few meat-free nights a week, can make all the difference, says Ailsa Sheldon.

While large corporations and governments shoulder the responsibility for most climate-harming activities worldwide, we as consumers shouldn’t forget that we still have power to affect change. When it comes to food shopping, what we buy, how it’s packaged and what we waste are important. The relationship between the environment and our food choices is complex and can feel overwhelming but every step in the right direction is worth making – and even small changes can have a big impact.

According to Zero Waste Scotland, the most pressing concern about the way we eat in Scotland is what we throw away. In 2016, the carbon footprint of food waste collected from Scottish homes was nearly three times higher than the plastic waste. We waste nearly 988,000 tonnes of food every year – and 61% is from our homes.

Food waste in landfill produces methane which is very damaging for the environment. By wasting food, all the resources that went into producing, transporting, packaging and purchasing that food have been wasted too. With the cost of food rising, there has also never been a better economic reason to waste less food.

Packaging also plays a significant role on the impact of our shopping and with enough plastic in our oceans to circle the planet 400 times, it’s time to reduce that dramatically. A new scheme – Extended Producer Responsibility – expected by 2023 will make producers take more responsibility for packaging waste. However, we can also vote with our wallets and refuse over-packaged goods.

Even if not all of these changes are possible for you overnight, making a start is more than worthwhile.

For our food system to improve, it takes all of us to demand change and support the food producers that align with our values. Support local, eat seasonally and make your weekly shop a little lighter on the planet – and perhaps on your wallet too.

 

FRUIT AND VEGETABLES

While supermarket vegetables may be convenient, they are often over-packaged and imported. Local, seasonal vegetables taste fresh and delicious, and are a more environmentally positive choice. British tomatoes and Scottish strawberries in summer, asparagus in spring – once you start eating seasonally these are treats to anticipate then celebrate in your cooking.

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The easiest way to start is with a local organic veg box supplier. Try East Coast Organics in Edinburgh or Locavore in Glasgow – and there are plenty more schemes across Scotland (the Soil Association has a “find a veg box” webpage). Boxes vary but expect a selection of nutritious, seasonal fruit and vegetables, usually delivered plastic free.

If a box scheme is too much commitment, seek out local produce in your community. Support your local greengrocer or find a farmers’ market. In Edinburgh, stop by Leith Community Croft (run by environmental charity Earth in Common) to find fresh vegetables grown in Leith. The Sunday market on the croft is a great place to pick up bread and other goodies. In Glasgow, Locavore has three shops selling vegetables from its organic farms just outside the city.

 

MEAT

A RECENT study concluded that meat production is responsible for nearly 60% of the greenhouse gases caused by food production, a much higher figure than previously thought. So, there’s no shying away from the fact that a meat-heavy diet has a very high carbon footprint. However, not all meat is produced equally, so for a sustainable approach to meat, buy less but buy better.

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Consider a few meat-free nights per week and see if you can get several meals out of a good piece of meat – a roast followed by a pie or a stir-fry, for example. Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb both have PGI status (Protected Geographical Indication) and with that label comes a guarantee that your meat is sourced from Scottish farms that meet best practice for both animal welfare and production. Get to know your local butcher, they’ll keep you right.

 

CHOCOLATE

Chocolate production has a chequered history and even today there is a risk of child labour, unsafe working conditions, and rainforest destruction in the supply chains.

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Always look for chocolate that is Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance or UTZ-certified. Edinburgh-based Ocelot chocolate is part of the Direct Cacao organisation which ensures workers are paid a higher price than Fairtrade, and this delicious chocolate in beautiful recyclable packaging makes a great treat.

Dunbar-based The Chocolate Tree has similarly high standards and an irresistible range of chocolates and hot chocolate.

 

WATER

If bottled water appears on your shopping list, cross it off now. Tap water is free, far better for the environment, and has to pass more stringent safety measures than bottled water. Look out for Scottish Water “Top Up Taps” and refill stickers in many businesses (try therefill.org.uk app).

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If sparkling water is your favourite then invest in a SodaStream. The gas canisters are refillable and last for ages, and you won’t be filling your recycling bins with unnecessary plastic bottles.

 

CUPBOARD ESSENTIALS

TO stem the tide of plastic packaging, check out zero-waste refill shops. Systems vary but the gist is the same – bring your own containers to fill up and pay for only what you need. You can refill everything from detergents and washing-up liquid to flour, pasta, rice and dried fruit.

At The Refillery in Edinburgh there’s a warm welcome and plenty of staff on hand to show you how to refill. You can also pick up fresh bread, organic vegetables, Mossgiel milk and delicious cheeses.

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While refill shops aren’t always cheaper, the quality of goods is higher and usually organic, and by only buying what you need, you’ll be much less likely to waste food. Most refill shops are also small, independent businesses bringing life to our high streets – so support them if you can.

 

FISH

DECADES of over-fishing and dredging in our oceans have left many marine ecosystems depleted and at risk. Your shopping choices can help counteract this by decreasing the demand for unsustainable fish.

For wild seafood that is traceable and sustainable, look for the blue Marine Stewardship Council fish logo on seafood products.

MSC verification guarantees that your seafood comes from an independently certified sustainable fishery.

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They must meet environmental standards and minimise their environmental impact. Sustainable choices vary globally, and in Scotland include certified haddock, crab, mussels and scallops.

Ask your fishmonger what’s seasonal and sustainable – they’ll often give you good cooking tips too.