zero waste vs zero food miles

Once upon a time all our needs were met locally.  We collected wood for a fire, grew and raised our own food, made our own clothes us using whatever fabric was local to us from hemp to cotton to wool.  There are some people who, admirably, manage to do this today, but for most of us it is essential to engage in transactions with third parties to feed and clothe and entertain ourselves and our families.

I have long been involved in both the Slow Food and Local Food movements.  I was a founder member of The Durham Local Food Network and believe passionately in supporting local producers, not just of food but of as many other consumables as possible.  However how can I reconcile that with a zero waste lifestyle.  You would have thought it would be easy, surely the two go together.  But they don’t.

Bea Johnson, who genuinely does live the closest to a zero waste lifestyle as anyone I have come across in this journey purchases almost all her food from Whole Foods.  This is because she is able to take her own containers (thus no unnecessary plastic or even paper bags for anything from bread to meat) and she can purchase loose goods from pasta to biscuits from the bulk bins.  Well therein lies the first problem.  However, lovely Whole Foods is, it is essentially an upmarket supermarket (and has prices to match).  There is little local about purchasing my oats at Whole Foods even if I could get to one.

So the other option?  Durham Food Co-op buys in bulk from a large range of local producers and the balance from Infinity Foods (a co-operative wholesaler of organic and non-organic foods); Durham Farmers’ Market  has an excellent selection of local produce; I have access to a good local greengrocer, butcher, fishmonger and cheese merchant.  The problem?  Most of the food I buy will come prepackaged.  I don’t have the option, other than for the vegetables, to use my own containers.

Last year I read about Plastic Free July, unfortunately I heard about it rather late so when I attempted to go plastic free for a week I didn’t have the ongoing tips and support and fell quickly by the wayside.  I have signed up for Plastic Free July for this year and am giving myself three months to prepare.  I am going to need it.  Plastic free is very hard to achieve.  The easiest way to go plastic free is to start making as much as possible from scratch.  I make my own soft cheese, yoghurt, dog food and dog treats, granola, jams, jellies, wine and cider vinegars, pickles etc.  I have asked for a canner for Mothering Sunday with a view to canning our own home grown vegetables.  But there is only so much I can do myself and I don’t work full time so I have the time to do all this.

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So do I go package (and predominantly plastic) free or do I go local?  I know in my heart I will go local.  But that will mean compromise.  What is more important to you.  Zero waste or zero food miles?

3 thoughts on “zero waste vs zero food miles

  1. Again, my granny has been such a good role model – she has very little waste in her housekeeping, finds a use for most things etc. It’s a habit of a lifetime (and wartime). However, it really is very difficult to do zero waste where I am, I find. We recycle as much as possible, but there is always going to be some rubbish and I don’t worry about it too much. It is far more important to me to buy locally produced goods or at least goods that haven’t travelled too far (so from within Europe, if not Switzerland as far as possible). One blog I follow is gleeful at her low grocery costs and vegan eating habits – however, I pale to think what is in some of those substitute foods and where the 99cent asparagus come from… at the moment they are selling cheap asparagus, out of season, and it’s coming in from Mexico and Peru, which seems utterly ridiculous to me. How can they make a living with that kind of price?! I would much rather wait for the local season and buy mine at one of the many farms around here who sell from their own land. Also, asparagus is my source of rubber bands LOL!! Same with strawberries etc. etc.
    Similarly, I wonder about some recipes I see which combine foods that simply aren’t in season at the same time (and we’re not talking about frozen or canned) – do people not know what is in season at what times any more?!

  2. I agree entirely about the seasonality of food. One of the things we included in the Durham Local Food Website was a seasonal food calendar (including fish and game). LOL re the elastic bands. We grow our own asparagus but the postie provides me with elastic bands! (my mother used to cut the hands of old rubber gloves for elastic bands).

  3. What a great initiative to provide a calendar of seasonal foods!
    I bet my granny would cut rubber gloves up, too LOL
    The other thing is, we don’t have room for landfill in Switzerland, so everything goes to very efficient incineration plants if it’s not recycled. Yes, a certain amount of pollution but they do have extremely strict guidelines about it and haven’t heard of any big scandals. But then, nobody is perfect!

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