This blog post also is available in German.
We`ve been talking about how to eat a sustainable diet a few weeks back. That very blog entry built the basement for the one following right now, as it picks up the main points already discussed there. Let`s narrow it down to the crucial aspects. Sustainable grocery shopping is buying local, seasonal, plasic-free (packaging-free) and organic produce. You want your produce to be as less harmful to the planet as possible and if you buy food with that checklist in your head you are doing a great job already. Sure there are a few other aspects to this topic, but make the ones mentioned above your daily mantra. Now let`s discuss every single argument one by one in depth.
It`s a pretty simple and logical calculation. The further away your produce is coming from the more CO2 emission are released into the atmosphere during the transportation to it`s final destination. In other words the nearer your produce is grown, the less impact it has on the environment. Some of my followers and readers popped the question if you have to avoid exotic fruits completely. Well if you want to be very strict I would say 99% yes, especially if you live in Middle Europe, countries like Germany, Austria or Switzerland. Tropical fruits most of the time are imported from overseas and have a long way ahead of them until they arrive in Europe. But there`s a light at the end of the tunnel… If you are lucky you might find some exotic produce that were grown in Spain or Italy, in that case I guess it`s acceptable to make an exception from time to time.
I highly recommend to buy your veggies and fruits at a local farmer market, directly at a local farmer or get a weekly delivery from a local farmer. Just be aware that the latter one will cause a small amount of CO2 emissions as well, due to the transportation.
This is very crucial, get yourself a season calender with all the veggies and fruits listed for your country. You can carry it with you when your going to buy groceries. But why is it so important to buy seasonal? Yes we have access to every fruit and veggie during the whole year, you want strawberries in winter you will get them. But don`t let supermarkets fool you, just because a produce is displayed in a shelf doesn`t mean it would actually grow in your country right now. In other words, if you live in one of the above mentioned countries and you buy berries in winter, then you can be 100% sure that these berries were either imported from overseas (high CO2 emission) or they were grown in a heated greenhouse (use of energy, thus higher CO2 emission). The sad thing is that these products are available because we as human beings can`t do without them. We need to have everything all the time, sad world! It`s just unnecessary pollution of the planet and if every single one of us would buy what`s in season it would be so much healthier for the planet. Seasonal fruits and vegetables thrive by themselves, because it`s their natural period to grow, no need of a heated greenhouse or chemicals to push them. On top of that they are sold cheaper, due to the seasonal supply, and they taste way better, because the produce is sun-ripened.
There was one question popping up amongst my readers; So there is no possibility to eat berries during the winter? Well I have good news, most of the time there is. Supermarkets usually have dried or frozen fruits available. If you can`t wait for the next berry, rhubarb or whatever season, go for the frozen, pickled or dried produce. Just make sure where they are coming from, do you really need frozen blueberries from Canada?
My tip: Bring a season calender along when you are grocery shopping or learn it by heart. Again if you are going to buy from a local organic farmer you are mostly already on the safe side, that your produce will be seasonal.
Why should I buy organic produce? Well first of all, I guess your body is your temple, thusfor you want to know what you put inside of it, by using clean, untreated, chemical- and supplementary-free produce. Organic provides all these things, as there aren`t involved any additional chemical substances in the growth and ripening process. Besides the fact, that fruit and vegetables taste better if organic, these products are also way healthier for our environment. No pollution of the soil with chemicals and/or pesticides is ocurring. You get two things in one, better quality and less pollution.
And here probably comes the biggest difficulty you will face trying to do sustainable grocery shopping; Do I buy the local produce, that isn`t organic or the organic one that isn`t local! Guys you don`t know how many times I have been struggeling with that question and still do. Apparently that was also your biggest difficulty. Well honestly, there is no black and white answer, no right and wrong, I can just tell you how I do it and what I believe is the best approach for me personally. If I have the choice between regional but not organic or organic but not regional, I probably 99% of the time choose local over organic. Why? Because first of all I trust in Swiss farming more than any other one. Second for what I have noticed the organic produce from Spain or Italy (where they are mostly from) have longer transportation way and mostly come with additional plastic wrapping. In that case we have two negative impacts on the environment (plastic & CO2 emissions), against one positive (organic). Whilst the local product is a one o one (lower CO2 emission due to short transportation against higher pollution due to pesticides & chemicals). The main question I pose myself in a situation like that is do I really need that produce or can I buy it another time, where I can find a local one furfilling all the requirements.
My tip: I don`t really want to repeat myself, but once again buy at a local organic farmer and you`ll have all together –> local, organic & seasonal
Vegan isn`t always sustainable if it comes to grocery shopping
We have been talking about veganism being the most sustainable way of eating and that is still true. Although there are a few factors to consider even if you are a full vegan. How many vegans do we see gloating about the fact that they are doing great things for our planet, but then they shop avocados, bananas, mangos and quinoa in huge amounts. Don`t get me wrong, I also have a few “sin produce” I like to buy, mainly banana and avocado, and right now plantains because our little baby boy likes them so much. But in the end you are doing no great to the planet consuming certain products, mainly exotic ones, in a huge amount. There are several aspects coming into the play here. First of all, what we already discussed above, which is carbon footprint of oversea products. But there`s many more to consider. Even in the production of plantbased food there are a few things to consider, like how many resources does a specific food need for flourishing, what impact has a rising demand of an oversea produce on the environment in the country and for the population of it`s origin? Let me give you two examples; avocado and quinoa…
The latter one used to be a staple food for the indigenous tribes living in the Andes. The quinoa boom, especially amongst vegans, lead to a higher demand in that crop, thusfor prices went through the roof. Causing the indigenous tribes to lose one of their main food resources, as it became to expensive to buy, respectively what was available got shipped overseas as it generates a bigger income. Unbelievable, as if we wouldn`t have other alternatives here that are as good as quinoa. Similar story with avocados, first of all their cultivation needs a lot of water, leading to dehydration of the regions producing excessive amounts of avocados. Second the rising avocado demand encourages illegal deforestation and monoculture, which have fatal effects on the environment as well. On top of that we have the same price problem already shown in the quinoa example. People who need avocado as one of their basic food sources can`t afford it anymore. It even reached to the point where Kenya banned the export of avocados at the beginning of this year.
What to learn from that? Excessive demand never is good, no matter what diet you are following. I think we should all try to go back to our roots and use produce from our own regions. How about oats instead of quinoa or flax seeds instead of chia seeds?
There will be a separate blog post talking about the topic plastic. For that very reason I just want to touch it slighlty here in terms of grocery shopping by giving you some tips. Always bring your own bag when you are going to buy food. No need to buy yet another plastic bag, if you can bring your own textile one. Try to not wrap the veggies and fruits in unnecessary plastics! Try to buy the options that come without a packaging. One great thing is to buy in a shop that offers loose produce. You just need to bring your own glasses or bags and fill them.
Only buy what you need
Try to go with a shopping list or at least prepare your mind on what you want to buy. Also try not to do grocery shopping if you are hungry. Why? Well you will buy tons of things you don`t really need and food waste sadly still is a big thing in industrial countries. You really just want to buy what you absolutely need, to avoid throwing away produce other people could have eaten. If you throw away food it`s like all the resources used in the production of that produce was wasted. But there will be a separate entry about food waste, still to come.
I hope this blog post was helpful and made sustainable grocery shopping quite a bit easier for you. In case you still have unanswered questions or remarks, I`ll gladly read and answer them in the comments down below.
Read you soon,