A few years back, when both our sons had recently left home and we had more time to play around with, we decided to set ourselves a personal challenge: to spend a month (February, as it happens) eating locally.
This challenge reflected our long-held concern about environmental issues, and now particularly the many challenges of climate change. We resolved that, for that month, we would eat only local seasonal fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy that had been produced locally, and buy ingredients that were produced as close to home as possible. We agreed some exceptions: tea, coffee and sugar to be bought fair trade and if possible organic; spices similarly fairly traded. We would see what we could learn from the experience.
Well, we learnt a lot. We had to carefully scrutinise every label on packaged food. We already bought few ready made products, but during that month we bought even fewer. Who could tell where any of the ingredients came from? certainly not us. Packaged foods containing more than one ingredient were opaque in the information they provided – often the words ‘prepared in the UK’ were used, glossing over where the contents actually came from. This was the same even for things like rolled oats ( the basis of our staple breakfast porridge or home-made muesli).
We learnt that there was a wide range of vegetables available to us, including salad ingredients. Fruit was much more restricted, but we still had some fruit we had grown and preserved the previous summer so that helped. We had no problem buying meat and dairy products – Bath Farmers Market provides ample opportunities to buy vegetables, fruit, meat and cheese, all grown or produced very nearby.
Where possible, we substituted locally grown and produced foods for those produced elsewhere, and we’ve kept those substitutions up. For example, we now use very little olive oil, preferring instead to use locally produced rape seed oil for most thing. (If you live around here, Fussels rape seed oil is delicious, and is grown and made just a few miles away).
We learnt that we could use barley (grown in the UK) instead of rice (imported). We learnt that most pulses are imported, so for that month we didn’t use them. However, in the longer term we recognise that the balance lies with eating these imported foods rather than the far more energy and water intensive local meat, so we have tried to reduce the amount of meat we eat. This is something we’re still working on.
The great thing about doing this for a whole month (and making a note of it as we went) was that we developed new shopping and eating habits. The habit of shopping mindfully and deliberately, choosing where and how to spend our food money, stays with us. Whenever possible we buy local, and ideally from small producers or local businesses. Of course we don’t pretend to have cracked it – like anything else in life, it’s a work-in-progress and a journey. And we’re enjoying the ride.