Could you commit to living locally this Lent?

The average number of miles that our food travels has doubled over the last 30 years. Since 1992, the amount of food flown overseas has increased by 140%.

Food transport accounts for one quarter of all heavy-goods vehicle miles in the UK, [1] and estimates of the carbon emissions caused by food transportation range from 1.8% to 3.5%o of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.[2]

95% of the fruit and 50% of the vegetables we consume in the UK are imported. Whilst only 1% of food is transported by air, it accounts for 11% of carbon emissions.[3]

It’s not just the distance that food travels to reach our shops that matters. We now travel further for our shopping, and drive more to reach it. On average, we travel 135 miles annual to shop for food, adding further distance and impact to how we source our resources.[4]

How our food is grown makes a big difference too. For instance, tomatoes that have ripened naturally in a warm country and then have been shipped to the UK may have a lower carbon footprint than tomatoes grown in the winter in hothouses in Britain.[5]

So, what changes can you make?

Local living involves buying food produced as locally as possible. The Campaign to Protect Rural England defines ‘local’ as within 30 miles of where you live.[6]

This may mean cutting some of your usual favourite foods out of your diet, and focusing on fresh items that are in season. You’ll need to look more closely at the provenance of the products you buy – remember, it’s not just about where our food is grown, but when too.

It might involve changing where you shop, seeking out local producers at markets and community shops. You will often find local products in traditional ‘specialist’ independent food shops – butchers, bakers, greengrocers, fishmongers and delis. Many larger supermarkets have a small ‘local products’ section. Or you could sign up for a box delivery scheme from a local farm.

Of course, the most locally sourced food is food that you produce yourself!

Green Christian encourages people to choose food according to LOAF principles: Locally produced; Organically grown; Animal friendly; Fairly traded.[7] If you want to continue eating food items that cannot be produced in the UK, such as rice or bananas, you could look for organic or fairly traded versions. You might also consider reducing food miles by bulk buying from farms or wholefood wholesalers with neighbours and friends.

As well as buying locally produced food, you might like to try sourcing other products and services as locally as possible too. In some places, local currencies and exchange schemes encourage you to live local, sharing resources and skills in the local community.

Finally, think about how you travel to source your food: you can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of your food by walking, cycling, or taking public transport to where you buy it, or having it delivered.

What difference will this really make?

It is estimated that buying food originating from within a 20km radius would save over £2 billion in fuel and environmental costs per year.[8]

You’d also be supporting your local economy. Increased local spending has a ‘multiplier’ effect, as money spent locally typically re-circulates again at least 2 to 3 times, not just on wages and local suppliers, but also on services like accountants, marketing, printing, insurance, distribution, cleaning and so on. For this reason, locally produced food bought from a local retailer is worth almost 10 times as much to the local economy as the same food from a long distant producer, purchased in a supermarket.[9] Pound for pound, spending in smaller independent local food outlets also supports three times the number of jobs than at national grocery chains.[10]

Buying locally means a shorter supply chain and a more transparent supply chain, so you can get to know (even see) where your food comes from, who produces it, and be more in touch with the seasons. Many farms offer open days and tours.

Want to find out more what living locally looks like? Explore the articles and websites below.

How far has my food travelled?

Where does our food come from?

How and where to buy local food.

The pocket guide to local food.

Organic produce box schemes.

Sustain’s guide to buying local, seasonal and environmentally friendly food.

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