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How to save money by eating green

Judith Wills

Judith Wills explains how to do the right thing by your body, your wallet and the planet in this guide to ethical eating.

Ethical eating – it’s a phrase we’re hearing in the media every day of the week now. Organic, Fairtrade, local, seasonal, sustainable – they’re all the latest buzzwords. But with prices of even basic foodstuffs soaring,‘green’eating is seen as an expensive option, and therefore a non-starter for many of us trying to feed a family or shop to a limited budget.

However, you can you do your bit for the planet without adding even more to your weekly shopping bills. In fact, you can even SAVE money. Here’s how.

First let’s all agree on one thing – that buying organic food all the time is NOT going to save you money. By and large, organic items in the shops – from meat through to pasta sauces and bread – will set you back anything from 10% to 60% more than the equivalent, non-organic product. With the current credit squeeze, few of us can afford to do that.

However, buying organic is by no means always the greenest option – around half of the organic food that we eat in the UK is airfreighted or shipped in from abroad. Food miles, air miles, anyone?

No, if you want good food, honestly produced in traditional ways (i.e. as most of our farmers used to farm even in my lifetime, in the 1940s, 50s, and even on into the 60s) you are more likely to find it by shopping at local farmers’ markets, Country Markets (which used to be WI Markets) and by visiting to find butchers, greengrocers and other food merchants who stock decent quality food ‘as good as organic’ than you are by going to your nearest superstore and buying a tin of organic pasta tomato sauce from the USA.

My neighbour and smallholder, David Harris, for example, keeps around 500 old-breed hens on his few acres and sells their superb-tasting eggs. They lead a wonderful life – but he isn’t, and will never be, certified organic because, as he puts it, “It would take two years of my life and a lot of expense to get certified – I can’t be bothered. I know that what I sell is good quality and that my hens have a natural life. That’s what matters to me.”

In the quest to keep our food bills down, as you’ll have gathered then, I don’t believe that we should always use the cheapest supermarket. Shopping at smaller local producers and stores may not always be cheaper, but it often is. And if you plan out your shopping journeys carefully you may save a lot of money on fuel – I’ve stopped going to Sainsbury’s 20 miles from my home and now go to my local little town for 90% of what I need.

Here are my top six tips for saving money on your groceries whilst doing your ‘green’ thing. Believe me – they all work!

1. Eat simple Reducing the amount of ingredients, processing, etc. that your food goes through is a non-complicated way to achieve greener eating. As an example, you have a chicken breast. Eat it simply cooked - you don't need to stuff it with mozzarella cheese and wrap it in bacon. This will in effect mean that you are eating more wholefoods and fewer highly processed items, reducing cooking costs and reducing your energy intake, which leads me on to:

2. Watch portions Eat only what you need to maintain a reasonable weight. Overweight (which affects 70% of adults in the UK) is an ethical issue. Every calorie that we consume that our bodies don't actually need is energy wasted and food wasted.

3. Cut down on meat and dairy In Britain we almost all eat more protein than we need, especially animal protein which is one of the most expensive foods both to buy and to produce, in cash and in its environmental impact. Instead eat more pulses.

4. Follow the seasons If you have a choice between local and seasonal or imported out of season, go for the former - eg a cabbage instead of green beans in winter, a local apple in autumn instead of a kiwifruit. Also try to grow some of your own.

5. Shop efficiently Make a list, plan menus, but make a few changes if a local/good value food is there. Forward planning helps to save wastage.

6. Use what you buy The average family spends over £600 a year on food it doesn't eat, according to WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme ).


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.