My two top tips for food shopping sustainably, are to make a list of exactly what you need before you leave, and to never shop hungry! Making a list of what you need implies that you know what you’re going to be cooking/eating for the next few days, so it is also worth planning ahead a few days/a weeks’ worth of cooking, so that you don’t buy surplus food. For me, going food shopping on an empty stomach is a recipe for overbuying, as I’m much more likely to get side-tracked and buy a lot of extra food that I ultimately don’t need, and won’t use.
A typical food shop in a supermarket generally results in a trolly-full of plastic packaging. Even when it is available, buying loose fruit and veg in supermarkets is usually more expensive than the plastic-wrapped counterparts. As a student, I don’t have a lot of money to spare, but I have found a way to justify this extra cost. By cooking as much as I possibly can from scratch and with whole ingredients, I ultimately save a lot of money – even when buying the more expensive, organic, loose veg. The money that I save from not buying takeaway, pre-packaged, or fast food, I can then afford to spend on buying better ingredients.
I know that this is not an option for everyone, as cooking all your food from scratch can be very time consuming. Having a freezer is very helpful, as you can batch cook multiple days in advance, and simply steam some vegetables on the day. The fact that I only cook vegan meals also reduces the cost, and centring my meals around staples like lentils, oats and chickpeas, is a cost-effective way of making food go further.
My personal shopping habits:
- My main source of vegetables is ‘Oddbox’ – a weekly box of veg that is rescued from farms because it is either ‘undesirable’ or surplus. Not only does this save a lot of perfectly good produce from being wasted, it is also very good value for money, and comes with as little plastic as possible (sometimes things like salad will come in plastic to help preserve it). I share their small veg box (suggested for 1-2 people) with two of my flatmates, and pay roughly £3.30 each per week.
- For buying fruit and vegetables in supermarkets, I try and get as much of this as possible without plastic packaging. For this, I take my own produce bags (I picked mine up in Sainsbury’s for 30p per bag) for the loose items.
- I’m lucky to have a weekly farmers market about a 5 minute walk from where I live, where I can buy plastic-free, organic veg. I sometimes get big bunches of kale or other leafy greens to top up what we get in our ‘Oddbox’.
- I am slowly trying to find alternatives for shopping in supermarkets, so for dry goods I now shop at ‘The Source’ – my local zero waste shop. I stock up there on all sorts of grains, legumes, seeds and flour, as well as loose teas and oil to name a few. You can either take your own containers, or buy the products in paper bags. Everything is sold by weight, and there are no minimum or maximum requirements.
- Regardless of where I’m shopping, I always aim to buy organic, vegan products and produce, sourced as locally as possible, and I try to aim for fruits and veggies that are in season.