How we can eat our way to a healthier planet – For Alumni, By Alumni15 March 2022
Steve Garret (MSc 2009) is the Founder of Riverside Real Food, weekly food markets that promote fresh, sustainable and local food. Steve is a passionate food activist and an award-winning social entrepreneur. Here, he explains why it’s important to eat locally and the benefits of shopping at local farmers’ markets.
How many things are good for you, a lot of fun, and good for the planet? Not many – but buying and eating seasonal, locally produced food from your local farmers market is one of them.
Let’s start with the environmental side. The production and distribution of food is one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gases and global warming, so it only makes sense to try to make our food buying choices as sustainable as possible if we want to reduce our impact on climate change.
Eating food that’s been produced as locally as possible is a pretty good rule of thumb, because it means it’s travelled less, and transportation generates a lot of those greenhouse gasses. Also, food that has been produced organically or with sustainable methods is better because a lot of oil is used to produce the fertiliser in intensive farming, not to mention the damage it does to the land, and if we’re talking about sustainability, we certainly want healthy soil for future generations to grow in.
Processing of food is another big contributor to the carbon footprint of the food system, and processed food is never going to be as good for you (or as tasty!) as a meal made from fresh locally sourced ingredients.
Finally, meat production uses up a lot more resources than veggies for each calorie produced, so cutting back is a good idea for the planet and for our health. There’s no need for us all to become vegetarian but eating meat every day is unnecessary and excessive. And when you do buy it, keep in mind that animals on local small farms will have been much better treated than chickens and cows raised in huge meat producing factories.
The other really good news is that the food that’s produced sustainably using methods that are healthiest for the soil will also be healthiest for you – and, in my opinion, the most delicious! If you’ve ever tasted a tomato that’s been flown in from Spain and compared it to one at a local market that was picked fresh off the vine by the farmer, the difference is amazing, and that applies to most vegetables.
Of course, some of us are reasonably concerned with the price of eating locally compared to buying from a supermarket chain. But a bag of local salad stays fresh for at least a couple of weeks, whereas the same bag from a supermarket would be green mush after a few days because it’s already been in storage for a while before it’s on the shelves. This drastically reduces its nutritional content, not to mention killing the flavours.
It’s difficult to find ways in which you can have an impact on sustainability and “be the change” that you want to see, but shopping from local producers means you are contributing to a thriving local food production system, which means healthy people and a healthy planet.
Many people seemed to be thinking more these days about how their lifestyle affects their health and the planet, and this is certainly evident with food buying. More people want to know where their food came from and to have the best, freshest and tastiest produce available, with minimum environmental damage. This is why we set up Riverside Market and Roath Market more than twenty years ago, where our rules are that stallholders must have grown, raised or made what they sell.
Shopping at a farmers’ market is a wonderfully social occasion – totally different from walking up the neon lit aisles of packaged and processed food in the typical supermarket. You can talk to the producer, get ideas for recipes, taste samples, meet friends – and get the best Fair-Trade coffee in town. Give it a go sometime!