Love Food, Hate Waste: What Does Sustainable Living Entail?

Those of you who love juicy tabloid fodder and/or style photos surely have seen your favourite starlets entering Whole Foods Market, either in the USA where you find one beside every ritzy area, or the London location. Familar already? Excellent! *hiding my copy of People StyleWatch and blushing*

When you visit a Whole Foods grocery store in real life, you’ll discover little signs or mentions of “sustainable food.” Or “sustainably produced.” You walk out of there thinking, “What is sustainable living?!”

Julia Goodfellow-Smith is a UK sustainable living expert: she and her husband really do walk and talk and breathe the sustainable living lifestyle. She answered that question we all have in our heads at one point but are too ashamed to ask a friend, as well as provided the entire history of what happened to make her life truly sustainable.

A lot of this may be difficult to do in one week. What we can do is look to her for inspiration on small changes we can make in our own lives.

Normally, I break up quotes into AP style reporting for my website. However, every corner of Ms. Goodfellow-Smith’s explanation was so good, I had to leave it untouched.

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Love Food, Hate Waste

My husband Mike and I started our sustainable living journey together as soon as we met, but about three and a half years ago, we decided that it was time to try living completely sustainably, while continuing to be a part of mainstream society.

We weren’t sure whether that was going to be possible, but thought that there was only one way to find out…

We downsized, moved to a different part of the country and got rid of our car. We insulated our new house and put in new heating and plumbing systems, and we installed log burning stoves so we’re not always burning fossil fuels (gas) to heat our house.

Mike and I both love our food. Like most people, we eat for sustenance, health, fun and comfort. Food is one of the few things that we’re buying all the time and it has a massive impact on the environment as well as people in the supply chain.

First of all, there’s the impact of growing the food. A lot of food is grown in monocultures where there’s no variety of plants, and where herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers are routinely used to maximise yield. These inputs are highly energy intensive and actually deplete the soil in the long term. Farmers suffer more from some deadly cancers than other groups of people, presumably because of the chemicals they use.

Forests continue to be clear-felled to graze cattle, grow soya to feed animals or grow palm trees for palm oil. This forest clearance has a direct impact on erosion of soils, biodiversity and regional rainfall, as well as climate change.

Next, there’s the issue of transportation. Has your food travelled half way round the world before reaching you? In the UK now, a lot of our fish is farmed in Vietnam; prawns are caught in the North Atlantic then shipped to China to be shelled, and sold back in the UK as a ‘local’ product; and even when in season locally, green beans are often flown in from Kenya. This creates traffic, increases congestion, exports food (and water – an increasingly important issue) from countries that need it and generates carbon emissions that are creating climate change.

Then there’s storage and/or processing, which also both use valuable resources. And finally, food is stored in our homes – and we throw huge amounts of it away rather than eating it. Recent research in the UK suggests that we throw away approximately one third of all the bread we buy.

So, there’s one thing that we can all do to live more sustainably, and that’s to waste less food. Mike and I have taken some simple steps that anyone can take to do this.

  • We have made sure that our fridge and freezer are set at the right temperatures. For maximum longevity, fresh food should be kept in a fridge at 5 degrees Celsius or below. Frozen food should be kept at -18 degrees Celsius or below.
  • We check our cupboards and the fridge regularly and eat the oldest food first. If it’s near to its use-by date, we make sure that we either eat it or freeze it. (If it’s already been frozen, don’t re-freeze.)
  • We plan our meals. Not in a lot of detail, but we do think about how many meals we need to buy for and how many of us will be at those meals.
  • We serve out smaller portions. If we want more we can take it, and any that’s left over is put in the fridge or freezer to be eaten later.

We’re not perfect by any standard, and of course we do sometimes waste food. When we do, we compost it so that we can use the nutrients for growing our own fruit and vegetables – another step towards sustainable living.

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