Hussh | Eating local: The what and where of our eating habits

Eating local: The what and where of our eating habits

This weekend, my partner woke up and decided he wanted to go for brunch. Even the maelstrom-esque weather outside couldn’t dissuade him. When eventually I relented and hopped online to book a table, I found myself in a daze, overcome by the pure volume of menus, cafés and restaurants.

Did we want smashed avocado with Spanish reared chorizo and a rooibos tea? Or perhaps a vegan full english breakfast, complete with oat-based pancakes and an almond milk latte? 

Ultimately, the choice was too much for either of us to handle on a Sunday morning and we ended up with half-burnt toast and an episode of Friends. But I digress. 

Our grandparents’ cohort has become somewhat synonymous as the “Back in my day” generation — a time when meat and two veg was the ritualistic evening tradition of pretty much every household. Whilst this has become something of a meme-able trope amongst younger generations, it does highlight the disparity between social welfare conditions in our country over a relatively short period of time.

What we want, when we want

For a mild and damp island where variety amongst growable crops is certainly limited, ripe mangoes continue to adorn the fruit section of every supermarket and spices and coffee imported from around the world are accessible for the average person. The sheer amount of selection available to consumers is staggering. 

Really, we have globalisation to thank. Nearly half of what we eat comes into the UK from abroad, and two-thirds of that has, in more recent years, come from the EU. The UK’s largest importation was of fruit and veg back in 2021, valued at just under £10.5 billion. 

However, this capitalistic move, whilst improving our ability to access produce that otherwise would be out of reach to us all year round, comes with a host of issues: 

  1. Tonnes of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions released in their transportation;
  2. Excess plastic and polymers used to protect and keep produce fresh;
  3. Pesticides and chemicals used in the growing process which run-off and pollute waterways.

Our desire for more is having consequential, and devastating, effects on the very environment we need to grow and produce products in the first place.

The ‘what’ and ‘where’ of our food

But there’s good news on the horizon. Born out of the (relatively recent) Brexit vote and following the effects on buying habits felt by most households throughout the pandemic, the ‘eat local’ movement is gaining renewed momentum — with positive repercussions for the world at large, including across environmental, economic, social, and health. 

The reduced carbon footprint alone, as a result of the smaller distances travelled, plays a part in reducing our overall emissions. However, research is beginning to question whether our focus on reducing our footprints is best served by looking at where our food comes from (local vs. global), or what we eat in the first instance. 

For most foods – and particularly the largest emitters – most emissions result from land use change and from processes at the farm stage. Farm-stage emissions include processes such as the application of fertilisers — both organic and synthetic — and enteric fermentation (the production of methane in the stomachs of cattle). Combined, land use and farm-stage emissions account for more than 80% of the footprint for most foods

In relative terms, transport is a small contributor to emissions. For most food products, it accounts for less than 10%, and is much smaller for the largest emitters, including beef, where it’s 0.5%. 

Virtually processes in the supply chain after the food left the farm — processing, transport, retail and packaging — account for a small share of emissions. Research from Our World in Datashows that this is the case when we look at individual food products. But studies also show that this holds true for actual diets — food transport is responsible for only 6% of emissions, whilst dairy, meat and eggs accounted for 83%.

So is eating local pointless?

True, the research shows that transportation it’s only a fraction of the problem when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. However, societally we have collectively become fixated on passing the blame onto others at the expense of doing nothing ourselves. 

At Ubuntu, we believe that change starts with us — and that means changing both what we consumer, but also where that food comes from. 

Not ones to highlight an issue but then not offer any realistic solutions, here are some things you can do to get started. 

  1. Find a UK farm shop near you. Check out this helpful map to see a list of local artisans near you, where you can source fresh fruit and veg, milk, eggs and a variety of meats and snacks to get you through the week.
  2. If you’re a fellow Bristolian resident, then a personal favourite of ours is Better Food — an independent retailer and café dotted across our city. They stock local food products as well as less-local, but more-ethical brands across food, drink, health and household products. Not only is the stock and range great, but the staff are super friendly.
  3. Food shopping can be a pain in the backside as it is, so we understand that running around town to indie greengrocers and farm shops can be quite time consuming. If you’re often short on time but want to start eating more consciously and locally, then try OddBox. The company’s mission is a little different to eating locally as not everything here is from the UK, however everything is marked very clearly as to where it comes from and the scheme works hard to fight food waste and they are known for using ‘wonky’ veg that supermarkets reject.

Do you have tips and tricks on how to eat local? We’d love to hear them! You can contact me directly at callum@ubuntustudio.co.uk and we’ll feature some of your recommendations in the coming weeks.