Make Your Food Shop More Sustainable by Asking These 5 Simple Questions

Supermarket deli

Our food shop is so intrinsically connected to how we treat the environment, though it often doesn’t cross our minds as we do this weekly chore. Growing, processing, transporting, selling, storing, chucking, and just about everything we do to food impacts the environment, and so the food we spend our money on can have a massive impact.


By Heather Grant

Being careful about your consumption and shopping ethically doesn’t have to be a big life decision or involve a lengthy plan, you can simply spend a little more time thinking as you wonder the supermarket aisles. These 5 questions to ask yourself will help guide you along the path to eating like an environmentalist:

  1. When will I use it?

Before you put anything in your basket, ask yourself when you are going to use it and check the best-before date. Over 10 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK annually, but by having in mind what you are going to cook and when, you’re less likely to have to throw it out. Get creative, and think of meals that require the same ingredients cooked in different ways.

  1. Where does it come from?

Try and have some knowledge about the process involved in what you’re eating before you consume the product. With meat and dairy stick to minimally processed stuff, and with fruit and veg, look for what’s locally grown and in season as its less likely to have been sprayed with pesticides and have had a lengthy transportation process.

  1. Is the packaging necessary?

To reduce plastic pollution, look for produce that is in minimal packaging, or ideally, completely naked. This can also link to the previous question: if you don’t think you’ll use the three peppers in the plastic package before they go out of date, buy one or two loose ones instead. Bringing tote bags or ‘bags-for-life’ is another way to avoid leaving the supermarket with more plastic and packaging than actual food.

  1. What do I know about the brand?

Although the most sustainable shop would be entirely fruit, veg, and wholefoods, after we have these essentials, we are inevitably going to buy some branded and packaged food. The key here is to ask yourself what you know about that brand and if it is in line with your environmental values.

For example, over other brands of vegan yoghurt, I would choose Alpro because I know that Alpro is the pioneer of the One Planet Action program which sets biodiversity targets, and there are many other food companies with similar schemes.

Understanding logos on the packaging is another good way to learn about brands, for example, you often see Fairtrade (protecting farmers), RSPCA Assured (animal welfare), Marine Stewardship Council (seafood) or RSPO (palm oil) logos on the packaging.

Fairtrade International
Fairtrade Logo
RSPCA Assured
RSPCA Assured Logo
Certified Sustainable Seafood MSC
Marine Stewardship Council Logo
Certified Sustainable Palm Oil RSPO
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Logo
  1. Have I got something new to try?

Eating for biodiversity is a powerful and understated move. The West’s mass-agriculture model has massively reduced nature’s enormous diversity to a few staple crops, reflected in the way we have come to rely on the same staples in our shopping, and has meant biodiversity is diminishing. Try planning a meal with beans or legumes you wouldn’t normally eat, or swap a meat meal for a plant-based alternative, to do your part to reduce the demand on the small amount of favoured produce.

And now you can get to the checkout knowing your food shop was done with ethical conscience, and enjoy the delicious food you picked up with a sound mind.

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