Eating Local – Environmental Challenge Blog

30 November 2021 Commissioner's Blog
Commissioner's Environmental Challenge Image with Farmer Market

One thing I have always known about myself is that I don’t like change.  Can’t be doing with it.  But what I didn’t realise is the extent of my dislike.

I believe that Climate Justice needs big actions by governments but that doesn’t abdicate responsibility from us as individuals.  We should all be doing our bit and like many I try my best.  Therefore, I embraced the challenge from the NICCY Youth Panel to myself and the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Kate Nicholl to “eat local” for the month of November. What a great idea.

I do our weekly shop on a Saturday morning in two supermarkets at each end of my local mall and then top up at the local Spar during the week.  Like many I rotate the same recipes for our meals every three weeks or so.  I tut tut at the airmiles of aubergines and green beans whilst placing them in my shopping trolley.  But I’ll try anything so bring on 1st of November…or so I thought.

We are now coming towards the end and I have been without a pepper for TWENTY EIGHT days – a record.  I have read every single label.  One Saturday my husband and I decided to make the effort.  We went to the Artisan Market and fish shop in our town, then we went to another independent food shop in another town, on the way home we popped into a farm shop in a third town.  Once we got home I went to the supermarket to get everything else.  The whole endeavour took over 5 hours and was quite expensive.  I then had to sit down and work out recipes with what I had – that was quite a challenge.

But oh the joys of the food.  Seriously the salmon and cod bought locally was a-maz-ing and never again will I eat the bland offering from the supermarket.  The vegetables too had added flavour that was not entirely down to my smugness in eating local.  Don’t even start me on the black garlic butter from a local producer – I can never go back to tubs of butter, spread or margarine.  And as for locally produced chocolates – there are no words and very soon no money left. The list goes on.  I am still settling into new recipes and trying to go with what is available – although I do think there might be a mutiny if I cook another butternut squash or cauliflower.

Bread, dairy, fish and meat have been fairly straightforward but I have found having less choice for other things very difficult, particularly fruit.  It does make me wonder how much our government does to support local farmers and producers to provide a broader and affordable range of produce to local people.  I love artisan food but they are treats rather than staples for most people.

Labelling is also problematic – ask me any question I am quite the expert.  A lot of labels will say “packed locally”.  That doesn’t count.  Like with all such things you have to read the small print – they just travelled 000s of miles in big crates.

There also needs to be further consideration on what we teach our children about healthy eating.  Healthy eating must include local eating which inevitably will be seasonal – strawberries are for the summer and apples are for the winter.  We have to send a clear message to our children that healthy eating can be both our personal health and the health or the environment.

Before I end I have a personal plea to local producers.  There are a lot of beautiful locally grown tomatoes but when a recipe calls for tinned tomatoes I have been sweating, peeling, roasting and swizzing. This takes an hour vs 10 seconds to open a tin.  I am not too busy to do it for myself, just too lazy so all help will be appreciated.

We have settled quite a bit.  I am getting into the habit of no longer passing independent grocers thinking, “I can get it at the supermarket”.  I check what they have and top up.  So, as we approach the end of the challenge I will never go back to old habits (I will never again buy herbs from South America) nor will I spend 5 hours food shopping.  It is likely to be a mix of the two.  I will do the lovely artisan and farm shops regularly but not weekly, I won’t miss an opportunity to buy local because it is really worth it.  The flavour and the environment are worth it.

Change, it seems, is not such a bad thing after all!