By Ben Eagle
Firstly, thanks to Flora for asking me to write this guest blog. I blog over at thinkingcountry.com and my posts generally focus on issues to do with food, farming, conservation, the environment and rural communities. I’m a big believer in supporting the people behind the food we eat, the people who produce it and work the land. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the power that we all have to support these people and how our own purchasing decisions can support producers who farm in a sustainable, beneficial and positive way when it comes to wildlife, local communities, animal welfare and soil health. This post is an invitation to join me in my quest to support these people.
The choices that each of us make every week when it comes to the food we buy can have a huge impact when it comes to the environment, rural communities and animal welfare. It’s just that, for most of us, when we rush up and down the supermarket aisles, we don’t think about this impact. However, if we each change our shopping habits, even just a little bit, we can bring about a revolution. Each of us is motivated by different things when it comes to the food that we buy. Price is a major factor for many, with most discounting organic produce immediately, primarily due to a perception of it being too expensive. Others are motivated by quality. For others still, it’s ethics. We tend to make our choices subconsciously, determined to get out of the supermarket as quickly as possible. Food shopping has become a chore, something we need to do, rather than something we enjoy doing.
What have I done?
Recently, I shifted my fruit and vegetable purchasing habits from the supermarket to the local greengrocer. Initially I was motivated by packaging – the amount of plastic with which supermarkets coat much of their fruit and veg is obscene. I mean, do bananas really need extra plastic packaging?! They have their own packaging in the form of skin! I have been amazed the extent to which I have managed to cut the amount of plastic I generate in such a short period. However, I have noticed further benefits. By shopping at the local small store I have access to the greengrocer’s knowledge, expertise and simple friendliness. I am becoming part of the community that shops in that place. I no longer feel stressed when I go shopping. I can ask for specific things to be ordered in if necessary. We can talk about food. Have you ever done that in the supermarket? On top of all of this, I am not spending lots more on veg than I was at the supermarket.
There is a strong likelihood that there will be an independent greengrocer near to where you live. Check them out. It’s well worth it. I promise. Meat and fish eaters among you could do the same at the local butchers or fishmongers, if you are lucky enough to have one.
It feels really good to be using the small amount of food power I have. By shifting my shopping habits there are benefits for myself but also for the local community and the planet. My plastic consumption has reduced (paper bags do the job really well), money is being retained within the local economy and I have the power to ask exactly where all of the food I am consuming comes from. Obviously there are some things I still need to go to the supermarket before, but the way in which I shop has changed. I now automatically go for produce that at the very least has recyclable packaging and a siren goes off in my brain when I pick up something that might be going against this new ethic.
As a farming and conservation blogger I generally try to shed light on a wide range of food production methods. The people involved in farming (and conservation) work really hard and I think it’s important that we think of them when we eat and when we buy food. Clearly cheap food is cheap for a reason. This is partly down to subsidies and partly down to supermarkets using their economies of scale. We shouldn’t blame the farmers but the system in which they work. Not all farmers, however work the land on huge industrial scales, despite the line of the narrative we are given in the conventional media. There are thousands of small scale producers out there working the land in a way that is beneficial for people, wildlife and the soil. They just don’t get talked about very much. Take a look at the Landworkers Alliance website if you want to find out more.
As I look for stories to write about on my blog or for other publications I see and experience a shift in attitudes. It might be slow, but it is happening. There is a movement towards wanting food that supports and sustains rural communities, that is kind to the land and low impact in terms of food miles. By changing our habits we can have a positive impact. We can actively choose to buy food that is grown in more sustainable ways (in general this means buying local and organic but we should remember that there are lots of non-organic farmers out there who do significant amounts of conservation work on their farms and manage soils well), giving farmers a better price and supporting those who have a positive impact on the environment.
So what can I do?
No matter how small it might feel, anything is better than nothing. There are lots of things you can do. An increasing number of food producers are selling direct to the public through box schemes or farm shops. Why not sign up for one? Innovative schemes such as Farmdrop and food clubs are making it easier for producers and consumers to connect with each other. Further, the debate about food waste has led to other great initiatives such as OLIO. Think about the amount of plastic you generate each week. Think about the ways in which your food was produced and the impact this will have on the environment. It would be great if you could check some of these out and decide how best you can use your food power. Good luck!
Ben Eagle blogs about food, farming, the environment and sustainability on his blog thinkingcountry.com and is a finalist in the 2017 UK Blog Awards. He has written for Farmland Magazine, The Countryman, Countrysquire Magazine, Rewilding Britain and the Sustainable Food Trust. You can follow him on twitter @benjy_eagle or join the thinkingcountry facebook page.