Just because we can have it all, doesn’t mean we should.
I have absolutely no idea what season different fruits and vegetables can grow here in the UK as our supermarkets have always enabled me buy whatever I like, whenever I like. The issue however is that this inevitably comes with a huge environmental cost. Between the hothouses, air freighting and refrigeration needed to make this happen, the carbon footprint of our fruit and vegetables is shocking. (Not even mentioning the land/water/energy use, fertilisers, packaging or waste!)
I am therefore now focusing on my fruit and veg buying habits and trying to make some better choices. Unfortunately it is a very complicated issue and so for the moment I am just trying to take a simplified view to at least start making an impact.
Basically the main headline is that I should be buying local and in-season produce as much as possible. However as the UK imports three quarters of its fruit and veg, ‘local’ is unfortunately going to be quite hard. So the next best thing I am considering in my choices is to avoid produce that has been grown in hothouses or transported by air. (Apparently produce that has been shipped is relatively ok, so bananas, pineapples, mangoes and oranges etc can still make it into my fruit bowl relatively guilt free.)
Simple? Unfortunately not! For example, it is actually less environmentally friendly to grow tomatoes in Britain in a hothouse than it is to import them from Spain?! (A UK tomato has 3 times the carbon footprint!)
So to try to make some headway, the first thing I am doing is to familiarise myself with some seasonal guides to see what I should be buying. The most handy lists (although sometimes contradictory) I have found so far have been in my ‘How Bad Are Bananas’ book, (a very interesting read if you get the chance) and the website http://www.eattheseasons.co.uk/index.php.
Unfortunately at this time of year we are very limited in our fruit choices from the UK, however I have at least been spurred on to change the type of apples that we buy. We always used to buy the Pink Lady variety from South Africa however I now make sure that I choose a UK variety such as the Royal Gala apples instead. As an indication of the impact that this could have, I found a statistic that said locally sourced apples emit 87% less CO2/kg than imported North American apples, so mileage clearly makes a huge difference.
Another quick win I am going to be implementing is broccoli. According to a few sources the traditional English variety such as purple sprouting broccoli is only available from Feb to April, however frozen broccoli is apparently the most environmentally friendly option and as an extra bonus it has more nutrients than fresh imported broccoli.
Something that I am really struggling with however is the soft fruits, we used to have these daily for breakfast but I have yet to find a low carbon option, especially for our favourite blueberries. So for the moment we opting for kiwi fruit from Spain (better than all the way from New Zealand) and pineapple and melon instead (I am presuming that these have been shipped.) Apparently the best way to enjoy soft fruits such as blueberries out-of-season is to buy them frozen, but unfortunately I have yet to find any in recyclable plastic, although I might try to find some in reusable plastic bags so that I can create my own frozen stock for next winter!
Another big change for us is that now that I know how hard it is to source environmentally friendly tomatoes I have stopped giving my eldest cherry tomatoes as his daily snack at school (apparently these are even worse as they are a low yield variety). So without him even blinking an eye, he now has a UK grown apple or pear instead.
This is definitely a work in progress and I have a lot to learn, but I do feel that even with the small, considered changes I have made so far it has reduced my carbon footprint. We really need to go back to the mindset of not expecting to be able to have everything available all of the time and the choices need to be made clearer for us. Fruit and veg need to be labelled with its carbon footprint or even better for a carbon tax to be levied. I do however think it is worth the effort to make these changes, not only because local, in-season fruit and veg tastes so much better and retains more of its vitamins and minerals, but if planes are going to fly I would much rather it be me racking up the airmiles instead of my food!