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.
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?