Eat the seasons

There is lots of information around that says that eating locally grown produce is the best option for a sustainable diet. But not all food from abroad makes a significant impact on the climate, and not all locally found food is good for the environment.

Image of seasonal vegetables

When buying locally grown food one of the key questions to ask is whether it’s in season. Some growers in the UK use heated greenhouses (hot houses) to produce fruit and vegetables that wouldn’t normally be in season in this country. And it can take a huge amount of energy to grow some of this unseasonal produce in the winter.

When it comes to produce that has to travel from abroad, the main guidance is that food that has to travel by plane because of its short shelf-life does have a major impact on the climate. But, generally, food that travels by boat is significantly less damaging.

If we want to eat the best diet possible for the planet there are even more things to consider – like refrigeration, agricultural methods, packaging and more. But for those of us that want a simple way of making less climate impact with our food choices, recognised industry expert Mike Berners-Lee and author of How bad are bananas? has some straightforward advice. He says: “Local and seasonal is best of all, but shipping is fine. As a guide, if something has a short shelf life and isn’t in season where you live, it has probably had to be grown in a hot house or travelled on a plane.”

Examples for January of what will have travelled by plane or been grown in a hot house include lettuce, tomatoes, asparagus and strawberries. Also be aware that most cut flowers will have also arrived by plane. Items like apples, oranges and bananas almost always go by boat.

Eat Seasonably has a useful calendar to tell you what is in season each month. If you are interested in growing some of your own fruit and vegetables this year the Love the Garden website has advice on what to plant each month.

Whilst what produce we buy and where we buy it from forms a significant part of our food–related climate impact, perhaps a more important issue to consider is how much we waste. We, in the developed world, are thought to waste about a quarter of the food we buy.

Not only is throwing out food a major waste of money, it’s also very damaging to the environment. Though our food waste recycling service has a healthy take up in west Cheshire, a 2023 project to analyse what was in the borough’s bins showed that food waste was the largest disposed of material in our black bins, making up 29% of waste thrown away.

Food waste that is binned rather than recycled ends up at landfill. There it rots down and produces methane – a greenhouse gas that is even more potent than carbon dioxide.

Hints and tips to reduce your food waste

  • Plan your food shopping – the main reason for food waste is over-buying, checking what you have in your fridge and freezer, making a list and sticking to it helps save money and limit waste.

  • Store food properly – try not to overload your fridge, air needs to be able to circulate inside to keep everything cold and fresh.

  • Eat what you buy – ask people how big a portion they want so they clean their plates, use up or freeze leftovers and rotate cupboard contents to make sure the older items come to the front.

  • Using your food waste bin - there is a major misconception about using the food waste bin, the truth is that you do not have to buy special bags. You can use a supermarket plastic bag, a plastic bread bag or even newspaper to line your brown bin.

Information sources

How bad are bananas? By Mike Berners-Lee (The Waste and Resources Action Programme) (The World Wildlife Fund)

Every effort has been made to ensure the information used in all climate emergency articles is accurate. All information used to inform the articles has been taken from reputable sources and those sources are given at the end of each article.

We are aware, however, that data will change over time and that some information across the internet and printed matters can be contradictory.

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