5 Steps to Sustainable Grocery Shopping

For some, grocery shopping is one of their favourite things to do. For others like myself, it’s not my favourite, I always seem to pick the wrong time to go and rush through, forgetting a few things that I needed because there is a line and I want to get out as quickly as possible. But, the weekly or bi-weekly trip if you’re lucky, is essential to keeping us happy and healthy. Our climate does not necessarily support year round gardening unless you have a greenhouse which means we rely on other farmers and stores to produce the food we need. But a lot of the fresh fruits and vegetables end up in the trash due to being over ripe, a little ugly or because we have not stored them properly at home. 

Part of living sustainably is doing what you can with what you have. While it would be great to have fresh local vegetables, especially fruits (yum!), our -30℃ winters don’t support that notion. So we turn to our handy and trusted grocery stores to satisfy our needs and hope that we are making good decisions. Shopping sustainably doesn’t mean that everything has to be local or organic, but following a few of our tips below will help you make better choices for both the environment and your wallet. 

  1. Buy seasonal. Buying seasonal is one of the top ways to make sure your groceries are sustainable. When buying in season, we reduce the need for extra energy to grow the produce in a greenhouse or other artificial environment and it also cuts the transportation costs. To get fruits and vegetables year round, try freezing your berries or other fruits found in the summer and enjoy them later in the winter. Here is a list of some fruits and vegetables broken down by season courtesy of the Foodnetwork:
    1. Winter (December to March): Rutabagas, Turnips, Beets, Carrots, Cabbage, Red Onions, Garlic, Leeks, Potatoes, Squash, Sweet Potatoes, Pears, Brussel sprouts
    2. Spring (April to June): Asparagus, Radishes, Spinach, Rhubarb, Kale, Salad Greens, Arugula, Beets, Lettuce, Green Onions, Gooseberries, Saskatoon Berries, Strawberries, Broccoli, Celery, Swiss Chard, Garlic (Fresh), Peas, Summer Squash, Tomatoes, Turnips, Zucchini, Fennel, Cherries
    3. Summer (July to August): Raspberries, Currants, Cherries, Blackberries, Apricots, Apples, Crab Apples, Blueberries, Gooseberries, Melons, Nectarines, Plums, Prunes, Strawberries, Artichokes, Green Beans, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower,  Celery, Swiss Chard,  Corn, Cucumber, Garlic (Fresh),  Leeks,  Lettuce, Green Onions, Parsnips,  Peppers,  Potatoes (New), Radishes, Rhubarb, Rutabagas,  Salad Greens, Shallots, Spinach, Summer Squash,  Tomatoes, Turnips,  Zucchini, Beets, Eggplants, Grapes,  Peaches, Watermelon, Kale, Pears
    4. Fall (September to November): Cranberries, Apples, Crab Apples, Pears, Quince, Artichokes, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower,  Celery, Swiss Chard, Corn, Garlic (Fresh),  Leeks,  Lettuce, Green Onions, Onions, Parsnips,  Peppers, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Radishes, Rutabagas, Salad Greens, Spinach, Turnips, Beets, Eggplants, Kale
  2. Buy local or Canadian. Ensuring that you are buying as locally as possible is another way to make your trips to the grocery store sustainable. Buying Canadian produce at the very least helps to lower the distance of transportation so your produce will be fresher and have a lower carbon footprint. COntinuing to buy from local producers year round is another great option. Make use of local “Community Supported Agriculture” projects like Busy Beas winter box program, Fork in the Rowed or the Noble Farm box program. Mocha Cabana also has their Mocha Local box which delivers local products to Lethbridge and surrounding areas.    
  3. Buy the ugly ones. Oftentimes grocery stores have unrealistic beauty standards that fruits and vegetables have to meet to get sold. Avoid sending excess veggies to the trash by shopping for the ones that are a little ugly. Misshapen fruit will still taste as good as it’s perfectly round counterpart. Even a little bruising won’t hurt you, it just means you may have to eat that apple first. 
  4. Store properly. Proper storage of fruits and vegetables will extend their fridge life immensely. Not all food likes the cold, dark crisper drawer in your refrigerator and placing them in a spot they do not like is a guaranteed way to reduce their life and cause you to throw out a large amount of groceries. 
    1. Store potatoes, onions and garlic in a cool, dry place like your pantry
    2. Store your pineapple upside down for a few days to allow the sweetness to spread evenly throughout it and then enjoy all the tropical goodness
    3. Keep your berries cold in the refrigerator and only wash once you are ready to eat them. Keep the stems on to preserve freshness. 
    4. Tomatoes, bananas and oranges can be kept on the counter top. To help speed up the ripening process of peaches, plums or pears, store in a brown paper bag on the counter for a few days and then place in the refrigerator. 
    5. Store your lettuce with some paper towel to help absorb excess moisture and keep your lettuce crisp in the refrigerator. Store your celery the opposite way, with a damp paper towel or even in some water to keep the snap.  
  5. Use reusable bags. And lastly our favourite tip to reiterate over and over again, use reusable bags all the time! There are now so many different brands and varieties for large carry all bags, small snack bags and even bags to put your produce in when you are shopping. We could save a lot of single use plastic bags from the landfill if we simply used as many reusable items as possible. If you do end up having to use a plastic bag, you can bring them to the recycling depots to be recycled. 

As with all new adventures, start out small and gradually introduce all of these practices. Remembering to bring your reusable bags to the store is an easy step by placing them next to your door or leaving them in your car. Supporting local farmers in the summer when farmers markets are in season are a great addition to your grocery routine. And if you really want to tackle it, build yourself a greenhouse and have your own fresh produce year round. Proper storage of your groceries are also essential to making them last and saving you from throwing away money. Shop sustainably, save the environment. 

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