How to Eat More Sustainably Without Going Vegan | Everyday Ethical: The Podcast [Episode 005]

Mar 12, 2019

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The Show Notes: Full Transcript With Links

Hello and welcome to Everyday Ethical:  A podcast about all of the small ways we can be more sustainable without the pressure to be perfect.

I’m your host Bethany Austin and I’m an ethical lifestyle blogger who talks about everything from slow styling to cruelty-free cleaning.

As you probably saw from the ever so slightly controversial title of this episode, we’re going to be talking about ethical food but NOT about veganism. Or even vegetarianism. Instead, we’re going to be talking about all of those often overlook things that you can keep an eye on during your weekly shop to make your trolley a whole lot more ethical. Let’s dive in.

[Intro music]

Let me say this nice and early: I’m not avoiding talking about veganism or vegetarianism because I don’t think they’re important in terms of ethical and sustainable living. Hell no! In fact, I’ve already done a whole episode about it already. To be honest, it’s all logistical really: I wanted to talk about how to food shop more ethically – meat and all – but you would’ve been left with a three hour podcast so I had to split it up instead. That’s why today we’re going to be talking about all of the other ways to be more conscious when shopping, but do make sure that you listen to the last episode too to get the whole picture.

The truth of the matter is though, veganism isn’t the be all and end all of ethical eating. Sure, it makes your diet waaaaay more sustainable, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any other things to consider as well. Plus, if you’re not quite ready to take the leap towards more plant-based living – or won’t ever be! – there are totally things that you can watch out for whilst shopping that will make what you put in your stomach better for the planet and, yep, even for the animals.

We’ll chat about everything from palm oil to non-GMO to locally grown and why those things are actually important and aren’t just from off the grid mamas who wear hemp sandals. Aka literally me in 10 years haha. We’ll also discuss how you can start implementing some of those changes into your everyday life, without it feeling massively overwhelming.

But, as always with this podcast, I talk about my own experiences with the aspect of ethical living that we’re discussing that week.

In terms of food shopping, I’ll be honest: I am not that experienced haha. I’m only 22, so I started really doing my own food shops when I moved to uni back at 18. That means I’ve racked up 4 years worth of insider knowledge so far. And let’s just say that in those 4 years I’ve taken a bit of a fast track through shopping (air quotes) “conventionally”  to trying my hardest to shop in a way that is less damaging to the planet.

When I first started shopping for myself, I was pretty much mirroring the habits of my family when I  was growing up really. It was already terrifying enough having to somewhat fend for myself, let alone to change the system that I knew most people shopped with. So, for one thing, I ate meat – as I touched upon in my previous episode – but for another, I just didn’t really think twice about getting all of my veggies

Fast forward to this summer, having left uni and got myself a nice little job, I started to take my food shopping more seriously. I took part in Plastic Free July which taught me a tonne of ways to reduce my plastic ways and I just had more disposable income – though still not a lot – that gave me the freedom to be more ethically conscious in terms of food. In summer I also read “Eating Animals” and that’s when I officially transitioned to being a full-on veggie and someone who has drastically reduced my intake of all animal products. But, like I said, we’ll touch on that in a bit.

When I first started shopping for myself, I was pretty much mirroring the habits of my family really. It was already terrifying enough having to somewhat fend for myself, let alone to change the system that I knew most people shopped with. So, for one thing, I ate meat – as I touched upon in my previous episode – but for another, I just didn’t really think twice about the brands that I was used to eating. Or where I was shopping for that matter. I was just going to average joe shops every week, usually Asda or Tesco, and picking up brands like Nestle and Heinz and all of the own brand stuff too.

On top of that, being at uni meant that I was on a serious budget, so it was lots of cheap food, wrapped in plastic and preferably freezable as I was only feeding myself. I didn’t care about the ingredients or the brand’s credentials – I just wanted to be able to feed myself on, like £25 a week. And I did it!

To be honest, even looking back now with the knowledge that I have, there’s not too much I could’ve done differently. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I deffo could’ve been more conscious about shopping, but a lot of it was driven by lack of money, so I’m not too hard on myself about it.

However, now that I do have a job and am no longer a student, I have a lot more freedom to be ethical in all areas of my life, but especially food shopping.

I’ll be honest, habits die hard. This has definitely been one of the things on my ethical journey that has taken a lot of getting used to. Food shopping ethically means repeatedly making decisions to be more conscious and checking labels and putting in extra effort to find ethical products. It’s not like buying a bamboo toothbrush where you make one purchase and you’re done for a few months. This shiz takes dedication.

The good news is though that you can start implementing the changes one at a time until they kind of just become second nature. And once you’ve found a product that meets the criteria that you care about you can just stick with it!

But that’s the important thing! Finding what matters to you. Don’t worry, I’m now going to talk through each and every ethical consideration that I can think of and why it might matter to you, so that you can decide what to focus on first.

Let’s talk about the recent hot topic first: Palm oil.

As you will know if you saw that incredible Iceland ad back at Christmas time, palm oil production is awful for our planet, and especially for orangutans. In fact, in the last 16 years alone, it’s estimated that it’s led to the death of around 100,000 orangutans, as well as many rhinos, elephants and tigers too. The main reason for this is deforestation. Because palm oil is in such high demand, huge amounts the rain forest have been cut down to accommodate the trees. Plus, even though the trees can live for around 28 to 30 years, they’re cut down when they get to high to reach the fruit from. Of course, this only leads to higher deforestation rates.

As you can probably imagine, cutting down all of those trees and converting rainforest into plantations for palm oil also produces a lot of greenhouse gases due to the types of machinery used.

Unfortunately is an ingredient that is pretty much everywhere in the food and cosmetics world. Because it’s trans-fat free it makes the health info on food labels look a lot more appealing so it can be found in everything from bread to ice cream and peanut butter.

So, what can you do to avoid it?

Well, first things first, you can start making more food from scratch and eating less processed food. It’s obvious, isn’t it? It means that you can monitor exactly what’s going into your trolley and into your stomach.

Obvs not everyone has the time or inclination to do that though, so you’re other option is to start reading the labels and looking out for it. If the label says “sustainable palm oil” then you’re good to go, but if it says just “palm oil” and preventing deforestation is something you value, then you will want to avoid that product. But, obviously, it can’t be that easy! Palm oil als comes under many different names including PKO (meaning Palm Kernel Oil), PHPKO (meaning partially hydrogenated palm oil), palmate and many, many more. I’ll link an article in the show notes that lists all of them. So, yeah, being conscious of the various aliases of this ingredient is also massively important if you want to avoid it. But there’s so many, you might need to create yourself some flash card. Or, ya know, copy and paste the names into your phone notes to refer to.

However, in good news, since palm oil has been quite a hot topic, more and more companies are cutting it out. Iceland has gone palm oil free in all of their own brand products, Whole Earth is a great option for nut butter that don’t use the stuff and Biona even make a chocolate spread that is palm oil free. Because Nutella isn’t!

Now let’s talk about “organic”.

Can I be honest with you? I used to think that organic food was only a health-based concern. Well, that and a reason to charge people more money.

However, after doing a little bit of research a while back I also learnt that organic foods can be massively beneficial to the environment, too.

Let’s start with the basics: What does organic mean? Well, according to Organic Org it’s produce and other ingredients that are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, ionizing radiation and pesticides.

Whilst they can be great in terms of being able to grow as much crop as possible, without it being eaten by bugs, the use of pesticides can have hugely negative impacts on our environment. For one thing, they are non-discriminatory, meaning that they harm both (air quotes) bad and (air quotes) good bugs. Bees, in particular, are influenced by pesticides, with some of those used causing memory loss, navigation disruption and even death. When these bees aren’t able to get back to the hive, their colony may collapse.

Ironic really, considering the very bugs we’re harming to grow more food are such a huge part of our food chain through pollination.

Pesticides can also interfere with birds, through them being sprayed in the air whilst trying to cover fields, and bats who eat the bugs that are carrying high levels of the pesticides.


As I said organic also means that foods are non-GMO. For those of you that don’t know, GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. So, for example, we can now make plants resistant to particular pests, diseases, environmental conditions or spoilage. And, wow, are they controversial. Those three little letters seem to send people into a state of panic though and there’s a lot of suggestions that GM foods are terrible for the planet.

I’m no expert on GM food, but here are my two cents.

One of the biggest benefits for farmers is that they can make their plants resistant to herbicides. They can then spray their fields with these herbicides and only kills weeds, not the crop itself.

Environmentally, this could be an issue – not because of the genetically modified crop itself – but because of the fact that it means farmers often use the same herbicide repeatedly (because their plant is resistant to it) and don’t use more sustainable and balanced methods. In doing so, the weeds become resistant to the herbicide – as they can to all herbicides – causing what people now call “superweeds”.

However, the counterargument is that, by being able to produce more crop in less space, resources like water and fuels are massively reduced, alongside less pesticides being needed.

As I said, it’s a contentious debate and something that you can look into more if you’re interested. But, in the UK, all GM food has to be clearly labelled and, if you’re buying organic food (again on the labels), then it’s not something you have to think about.

In terms of making sure that food is organic, just look for the organic certification labels: I’ve listed all of them in the labels to look for blog post, too.

For me, I buy organic food when I can but, because of the higher price, it’s not something that I live by religiously. So obviously I’m not suggesting you have to buy each and every piece of food you get from organic sources, but if you can afford to, try to buy a few things!

Another great option for more ethical food is to shop locally, which automatically means buying foods that are in season. Although it doesn’t always mean that foods are organic, it does mean that they haven’t racked up the greenhouse gas emissions from air travel. Plus, it means that you can support your local economy.

Shopping locally is a simple case of finding a local farm shop or farmer’s market to give your dollar to. However, to make sure that those veggies are in fact local, check any labels or ask the seller. It’s also handy to just know what’s in season. For example, in the UK in April Artichoke, Beetroot, Cabbage, Carrots, Chicory, New Potatoes and Kale are in season. I’ll link a guide to seasonal food in the UK in the show notes.

I promise we’re nearly there! Only two more things to talk about!

You’ve probably heard people discussing the environmental benefits veganism having the word “BUT AVOCADOS” shouted at them.

Whilst, no, I deffo don’t think that avocados are enough of an argument to sabotage the massive positive effects of veganism, I do think that it’s worth touching upon. The reason that avocados are causing so much controversy is two-fold. Firstly, some of those grown in Mexico are grown under actual drug cartels who demand farmers pay them a percentage of their income (I mean, did somebody say “Ozark”) – who knew that your avo on toast was so dramatic? And if that doesn’t put you off, the water use might. 72 gallons of water is needed to grow a pound of avocados.

Almonds have also been under fire, as it takes a gallon of water to produce each and every almond.

So, thinking about the water consumption of your food might also be an area that you want to google before you buy.

Finally, and this is definitely the one that needs the least explaining: Fairtrade food. Again, these are really clearly labelled and will be included in my labels blog post.

Fairtrade is defined as “an institutional arrangement designed to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions. Members of the fair trade movement advocate the payment of higher prices to exporters, as well as improved social and environmental standards.”

So it basically ensures that the people that grow our food – who are far, far too often overlooked, are treated as they deserved to be with decent pay and safe, fair working conditions.

Naturally, this means that the prices go up but of course, if you can afford it, buying some or all of your food fairtrade where possible would be incredible.

So, there you have it! Those are all of the main ethical and sustainability issues that I consider whilst shopping. Bare in mind that I don’t follow all of these rules and certifications all of the time, but I’m trying to be more conscious of it and shop ethically where I can afford to.

Before I leave you alone, let’s do a super quick recap of the things that you can do to make your food shop more sustainable with some goal ideas you could set yourself next time you go shopping.

  1. You could aim to buy all of your fruit and veg locally and seasonally
  2. You could aim to buy some of your items organically, maybe focusing on a certain category of food like your veggies for the week  
  3. Each week you could aim to find one item in your food shop to switch to being palm oil free – start with something like nut butters which are usually very clearly labelled!
  4. You could switch out your avo toast for beans on toast for the week!
  5. You could make sure that you chocolate bar treat at lunchtime is fair trade every day.

Let me know if you do decide to go with any of those – or if you set yourself another goal – by tagging me in an Instagram story (I’m @BethanyPaigeAustin and It’ll be linked in the show notes) – and also make sure to use the hashtag #EverydayEthical too.

I really hope that you’ve learnt something new in this episode and that it’s made you stop and think about an area of your everyday life in a different light. If it did, please leave me a glowing review on iTunes – it really, really does help me out – and also share the podcast with all of your pals, online and off!

I’ll speak to you guys next week!


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