Grocery shopping has become such a stressful part of our lives. It’s so easy to get lost between all the offered options, products and food trends. Our perception of what a balanced and conscious diet turns out to be quite extreme or restrictive, being influenced by the ‘new diets’ guidelines, the urgency to reduce our animal protein consumption or by the democratisation of organic products. My perception as a consumer is that these trends can be rather disruptive than forward-thinking, not always positively affecting the way we grocery shop. Isn’t the real urgency to start sustainably rethinking the way we consume more than trying to fit within ruled diets ?
It’s with these confusions in mind that I decided to developed five tips which might help you in adopting more sustainable food consumption habits in a relaxed manner.
Disclaimer: this article provides with advices and is based on a personal opinion. Balance and day-to-day progress are key words, there is no judgement or criticism and this article isn’t a guide to the ‘perfect consumer’. I did and still confront difficulties in fully completing these. The idea is to raise awareness on consumption modes and to progressively adapt your habits.
Check your kitchen cupboards
It might seem obvious, but so many people do not take those 5 minutes before they go grocery shopping. It is crucial to check what you already have to use (or what you don’t have) before buying anything else. It includes checking if you need to refill you dry goods and check the expiry date of perishable ones, it will prevent from throwing away. If you do have some products to use up quickly, adapt the menus so you can include it. You’ll see so many great outcomes: reduced food waste, optimising your goods storage capacity, buying just the quantities you need, prevent from having useless products.
Plan menus and make lists
I feel like menu planning is one of the most efficient and necessary tips for improved consumption. Making your weekly menus ahead gives you an overview of how balanced your meals will be, increases control over the variety of what you eat and helps reducing your meat consumption if you lean towards a flexitarian diet. Don’t forget to smartly arrange the meals so the fastest goods to perish will be cooked early in the week, mainly for fruits and veggies in spring/summer seasons. Make a list of everything that you need so you do not have to rush in the middle of the week because you forgot an ingredient, this improves efficiency! Also, menu planning is an amazing manner to ensure satisfying meals for everyone in the family, especially with kids. It makes your life way easier in terms of organisation and prevents from buying too much or unnecessary goods.
A More Sustainable Basket
I’m not blaming on supermarkets here, it is undeniable that they are very convenient and as any business they tend to pursue their own interest (profit) and succeed by answering an existing demand for cheaper goods achieved though volume. However, providing products at such competitive prices may generate negative impacts on various stakeholders / environments.
- Over-consuming: with all discounts, you will be tempted to buy products in large quantities, that you probably don’t need.
- Longer distribution channel: supermarkets have a lot of intermediaries and can potentially source their products from very far away (this is true for organic supermarkets too). Usually fruits and veggies have been stored for days/weeks in refrigerated containers before ending-up on the shelves. I let you think of the energy consumed for you to eat this avocado, which probably won’t even taste very good.
- Local agriculture suffers: small local farmers are facing the supermarkets’ organised structures having much more power. Farmers need to sell their products, but at a price set by the large retailers which sometimes does not cover up for the production costs. Imported products may be privileged by supermarkets over local agriculture for economic reasons.
I’m not saying that you should stop going to the supermarket, but rather that you wisely select the goods that you buy from it. My main suggestion still remains to diversify the places you shop at, starting with buying your fruits, veggies, meats and cheeses at the market or specialised shops working with local producers.
Learning about seasonality is very important if you try to reduce your derived environmental impact from consumption. I’m still intrigued to see raspberries at the market in January! This tip is highly related with the next one as eating in season also means that you get to eat (more or less) local, hence the goods have travelled way less which also makes them fresher. Don’t forget that not only fruits and vegetables have a season, but also fish or cheeses so don’t hesitate to ask your shopkeeper for advices. You will progressively discover a larger range of options and rethink the way you cook.
When grocery shopping, I would suggest that you try to look for the origin of the products before buying them. The closer they are from where you live, the better. At its origin, the “locavore” trend challenged consumers to buy within an array of 160 km around their home. However, this can be a a real difficulty depending on where you live. So set your own boundaries where you think they stand best. Most fruits, vegetables, meat and fish I consume are french. But, for anyone who loves world cuisine, there is obviously a moment you’ll have to source further than from your country. The good thing is that you are the only one to decide where the balance seems to be right. The two main benefits I see from consuming locally are: reduction of carbon emissions and participation to local economy.