Local & Seasonal

The Environmental Impact of out of Season and Imported Produce

Have you ever stopped to think how supermarkets stock their shelves? Many are stocked with every single fruit and vegetable you can imagine. If we need a strawberry for dessert and its the middle of winter, no problem! This is great from a choice and convenience perspective but it comes at a cost to the environment.

Many everyday products such as tea, coffee and bananas are not grown in the UK, yet we rely on them daily. As consumers, we want to buy what we want, when we want – it’s all part of the modern global economy.

To meet this demand, supermarkets stock imported food from around the globe. Almost half of the food and drink that we consume in the UK is imported. A significant 30% of it coming from Europe.

Most of the food imported to the UK has been transported hundreds, if not thousands of miles to get to our plates. Along the way, boats, planes and trucks churn out carbon emissions – adding to our existing climate change concerns.

We might think that eating locally produced food is the answer. A lot of the time, it is. But not always. As usual, it’s more complex than that.

Locally grown, but out of season produce is likely to have been grown using artificial lighting and heating. This means more energy consumption and use of unnatural nutrients. Is it worth it to keep our shelves stocked with strawberries in December?

So, what’s the answer? We should aim to eat as seasonally and as locally as we can.

Eating seasonally - imported strawberries
Eating seasonally - cargo ship

The Benefits of Local and Seasonal Eating

Eating seasonally and locally isn’t just beneficial to the environment. Often, if a producer hasn’t had to pay shipping costs and any import taxes, they’ll pass these cost savings onto us. Which has obvious benefits for our wallets.

It also means that our food is fresher, and hasn’t had to be kept fresh using artificial preservatives. When it comes to fruits and vegetables the fresher the better – as they lose valuable nutrients the older they get. Why waste all those vitamins whilst your fruit is sitting on a ship?

If we think back to our cave dwelling days, we could only eat what was available around us at that time of year. And whilst we’ve progressed since those days, are we really meant to eat the same food all year round?

Surely salads are for summer and roasted root vegetables are for winter? Which is fortunate, given that’s what naturally grows in the UK climate and seasons. A varied, season-dependent diet is much more rich and varied than the same old veg, week after week.

Finally, supporting local businesses helps to keep cash flowing through local communities helping them to thrive. Why give hard earned cash to huge, faceless food brands, when you could support a local farmer instead?

Eating Seasonally and Local at Home

So, how do we attempt eating seasonally and locally?

First off, we can shop more mindfully. This means checking labels to look for the country of origin. Try to choose British grown or produced food over that from abroad.

Most of the time, fresh produce from overseas is flown to the UK. These “food miles” add to carbon emissions and climate change. But sometimes, foods are labelled with “zero air miles” stickers.

Food that’s grown locally and has zero food miles sounds good, right? Unfortunately, not always. Zero air miles could mean the food arrived via a huge cargo ship. (Which are only marginally better than travelling by plane.)

Choosing a veg box from a brand or farm that only supplies seasonal food is a surefire way of getting things right. Also, Eat the Seasons is a good resource for checking what’s in season in the UK at any one time.

You could also try growing your own. This could be as simple as a herb garden on your windowsill or something more involved like your own veg patch. Courgette, lettuce and runner beans are a great place to start and who knows where you might end up! Local allotment space, anyone?

eating seasonally at home - pumpkins
seasonal produce at farmers market

Where to Find Local and Seasonal

Aside from the supermarket, you could try a veg box scheme or your local farmers’ market. These markets attract local farmers selling their wares. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they grow their produce – they’ll be more than happy to chat to you.

Watch out for imported produce at farmers’ markets, too. Just because it’s laid out in rustic looking trays, it doesn’t mean it’s been dug up or picked from around the corner. Most will have a country of origin marked near the price label so be sure to check.

There are plenty of cafes and restaurants popping up around the UK that specialise in local and seasonal food. There’s a growing number that are zero waste or that reduce food waste too.

Local guides, directories and community pages on social media are also valuable sources of information. Search for your local area on Facebook and Instagram to see what initiatives you can find.

Swapping Imports for British Produce

There’s a wide range of produce being grown and produced in the UK. With a growing backlash against mass produced items and factory farming, local and seasonal eating is having its moment. And we hope it’s here to stay!

More and more people are seeking out local stores and farmers’ markets. The British public are amazingly keen to buy UK goods over imported items. This helps to support the local economy and small businesses.

Often the quality and taste is much better when food hasn’t travelled across several countries to get to us. Other benefits to buying British include higher welfare standards and added food safety.

There are many ways to incorporate more British food into your kitchen. It’s easy to swap imported produce for British produce that’s similar – or quite possibly, better.

Here’s a few to get you started:

eating seasonally - British produce