Bananas. Tahini. Coffee… three of our favourite staples that we’re waving goodbye to for a month. We’re going on a family learning journey and challenging ourselves to source all our groceries from within 400 miles of our home for the next 4 weeks.
Earlier in the year I was unpacking our plastic free shop and I turned over the reusable containers to look at the little line that said “country of origin”. When I tallied up where the food had come in from it was: all over the world. Imported food isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The biggest goal is always food on the table and that’s harder for most people now than it’s ever been. But for a number of reasons, we’re embarking on a journey of putting food on our table from close to home. The goal is for our family to learn, appreciate, connect, and lower our footprint in a different way. We’re a bit nervous, but where there’s any feeling it will be uncomfortable – I know that’s because there are things we need to learn.
WHY ARE WE DOING IT?
1. TO UNDERSTAND AND LOWER OUR FOOTPRINT
The footprint of our food is what first led me to this exploration. As I started look I realised that by the time we’d had coffee and muesli in the morning, we were on budget, package free, but our food had come from 6 different countries with a lot of miles to account for. The UK imports about 80% of its food and in a time of rising costs, putting food on the table is the most important thing. Bringing food in from all over the world means being reliant on non renewable resources for the transport of so many things. And I wanted to explore what life would look like without that reliance. Where are we actually reliant and need to be, and where have we just got used to something we can easily change?
There’s also a human footprint that is far less traceable when food moves around all over the world which leads to…
2. TO INCREASE TRACEABILITY
Traceability is one huge reason we’re doing this. From this angle, the goal of buying fully local has been brewing for a while. Buying small and local usually makes it much easier to be aware of who and where your food is coming from. To know founders, have direct communication, and to have real traceability and accountability. All things that in a world of questionable sourcing, with massive human and eco implications, matter hugely to us.
In all the time I’ve been thinking about where we shop, I’ve also been having moments of disappointment on discovering things about companies that change my opinion of them. A company or a product that seems like it’s doing something amazing – only to find there’s a footprint we were unaware of, or a company being less than transparent. I’ve said so many times – “the only way to be sure is to eat and use only what I can see grow.” Few of us could sustain ourselves living off what we can see grow, but I’ve found that the shorter the supply chain, the closer to home the company, the more in touch with the producers, the more we really know what’s happening in a company.
Forcing ourselves to shop more locally is one way to do that. How many of us would eat and shop the same way if we lived by the average avocado orchard and saw its impact on communities, or if we lived by a normal cocoa farm, or next to a fast fashion garment factory? Lots of the choices we integrate into life and rely on would change if we saw first hand the source of what we end up buying. So I want to get a bit closer to the source.
3. TO SUPPORT THE LOCAL ECONOMY + SMALL BUSINESSES
Shopping locally usually means shopping small. The impact that small businesses have on the local economy is statistically very different. The pandemic wiped out the biggest wave of small businesses since the Great Depression, and the benefits to buying small and local are huge so where we can I want to put our budget there. Studies have shown that small companies reinvest more money (per unit spent with them) into the local economy, give more to charities, hire more employees and when we shop small we typically have more connection and traceability of the goods we’re buying. And of course, by nature shopping local means being so less reliant on fuel to ship products to you all from over the world. THIS is a fascinating study done by Michigan State University on the economic impact of shopping locally and similar studies have been done in many places. The graphic below is from that study.
4. A BONUS ONE: FOR GRATITUDE + APPRECIATION
My granny catered her wedding on ration stamps after the war. She taught songs she’d sung about the lack of eggs, lemons and onions. She went on to bottle apples through autumns to store as a year round dessert for her kids. My mum, one of them then hadn’t had an avocado till she was in her 20s. Yet just 3 generations after rationing, my own kids (despite my efforts and general frugality), have been known complain when there’s a taco without avocado. Or when I won’t buy or strawberries out of season. But at 4 and 6, their perception of the world and their entitlement is on me, not them.
As a family I want to try and be aware of the cost of the foods we eat in a way that’s been largely lost by our generation. I’m certain we’ll continue to buy foods flown in to the UK, and we’ll continue to be reliant of fossil fuels and growers far away. But I want to be grateful for that, and only do it where it really makes a difference to us. And as our kids grow up, I want them to know the difference between buying a local strawberry in season that took no irrigation, and an avocado bought from fought over land, flown in by fossil fuels. As my kids grow up I want them to be able to choose what they eat based on it’s impact – something I know younger generations are fighting for more than mine. I don’t to tell them that shipping food from all over the world was “just something everyone did and we didn’t think about it” when they’ll know I had the knowledge, capacity, drive and budget to explore and change that.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou
BUT… WHAT WILL IT LOOK LIKE?
Simply, we’ll be pausing on using any food that’s not sourced from within England and learning, and sharing, what that looks like for us along the way. That means everything we eat will come from within 400 miles of our house. Jared and I have talked about it a lot and squirmed over what we’ll be giving up (more on that), and we’ve explained to the kids what we’re doing and why. Our older kids know we’re careful about the impact and sourcing of what we buy, we talk about being careful about where clothes, toys and foods come from, like only buying chocolate we know is fairly traded. so it’s not alien to them. They don’t always love it, but we have open conversations about why. They know it isn’t forever, but that we want to know and appreciate what comes from far away, and discover what’s closer to home.
When I started wanting to look into this, we looked at the meals we usually eat, and what we can easily source from England.
- Some fruits and vegetables like the Abel and Cole UK Veg Box above.
- Honey + Sugar
- Beans from Homedods
- Dairy from Milk and More
- Meat from Knepp Estates
That list is all fairly easy to source locally and build some staple meals around. We made a quick list we could build a meal plan around and felt better: Oatmeal, eggs and toast, mac and cheese with vegetables, meat and roast veg, baked potatoes, daal and flatbreads, soups, bean/veg/meat tacos.
Then we talked over what we didn’t think we’d be able to get and we’d be pausing on: chocolate, nut butter, other fruits and vegetables we love, coffee. Tomato products and pasta usually come from far away but can be sourced from close to home, and that added a few more meals to the list: our usual weekend pizza with any local meat and veggies on top, bolognese pasta, pasta and tomato sauce.
Some things feel like a challenge, some things feel easier, and some things we’ve found ways around by buying more locally – which is exactly some of the exploration I wanted. And we’re ready to kick off, so stay tuned and I’ll let you in on how it’s going!
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