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The Sustainable Guides Christmas Series: Food and Drink

At Christmas time, a lot of us will be taking a break from work, getting cosy, sitting back and enjoying the finest pleasures in life: food and drink. Unfortunately, what won’t be taking a break over Christmas is our current environmental crisis. 

Small changes for significant results

Christmas has become a time of year very much associated with consumerism, and whilst in many ways this helps to make the festive season the joyous occasion that it is, our consumption habits can have a detrimental effect on the environment. Christmas is a time when almost the entire population of some countries head out to pay for often large quantities of food and dink. That’s millions of people heading to the shops to buy festive products. 

At Sustainable Guides, we want to encourage people to consider the sheer quantity and overall scale of this kind of mass consumption at Christmas time. The festive time of year could become one when consumers use their purchasing power for the better. It could be a time when people implement new sustainable behaviours. In turn, a whole myriad of environmental impacts could be reduced.

By adopting a few new behaviours and trying something new this year, we can lessen our impact on the environment and celebrate the local, the ethical and the environmental-friendly. Read on to find a handful of tips and tricks to lessen your environmental impact this Christmas.

Try to eat less meat

Traditionally, meat is the very centrepiece of our Christmas dinner tables. We gather as families and friends around the turkey – or whatever kind of meat you choose – and celebrate Christmas with helpings of delicious homemade food. Unfortunately, meat comes with a hefty environmental price; one which can be avoided or at least lessened. WWF recently reported that eating less meat and dairy is one of the best things we can do to reduce the impact of climate change. 

Chicken and turkey farming – whilst having a relatively low carbon footprint compared to other meats such as beef, lamb or pork – certainly doesn’t come guilt free. A UN Report published in 2007 revealed that poultry slaughter uses more energy than other EU meat industry sectors. What’s more, the poultry industry notoriously leads to soil and water pollution, with manure containing zinc and arsenic as well as antibiotics and pathogens. Turkey production also involves some scary ethical concerns too, with the animals mostly mass produced using intensive farming methods. In most cases, turkeys don’t see the light of day, live in cramped spaces and are overfed to speed up their growth.

Some relatives may be set on sticking with meat this Christmas. If you do cater for meat eaters, there are a number of steps you can take to avoid funding factory farms, environmental destruction and scary unethical products. Our best advice in this case, would be to stay local and find a local producer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and head straight to the source, rather than a supermarket which is disconnected to the farm itself. 

Alternatively, this Christmas could be the one to ditch the turkey and choose a vegan or vegetarian alternative. In the year 2020, you don’t need to head to vegan specialty shops to buy your plant-based alternatives and most supermarkets will offer something tempting. If you typically buy a turkey and sausages at Christmas, why not swap one out for vegan sausages, or opt for a plant-based turkey.

Which alternative meat should I try at Christmas?

For those who are UK based, try Plant Pioneers’ turkey parcels – or any of their other vegan products – from Sainsbury’s. Alternatively try the M&S festive wreath packed with mushrooms and chestnuts. Usually, we’d highly recommend Rudy’s; an online plant-based ‘butcher’, but it seems these guys are so in demand, they’re sold out. Keep your eyes peeled!

Australians will find vegan Christmas products in most supermarkets too. A yearly increase of 32% was detected for plant-based products this year, resulting in Woolworths bringing out more vegan meat alternatives. Try the Plant Based Christmas Roast, or just find the vegan section and go wild. Vegie Delights is another great option, offering a great deal of tasty products. Other tasty treats include that of the Chick’n at Unreal.

Whilst we can’t recommend products available in every country, we can recommend that you start Googling. As plant-based alternatives become more and more popular, eating a plant-based diet at Christmas becomes increasingly facilitated. Head into your local store, or order something special online and try something environmentally friendly and cruelty-free this Christmas. 

Make plant-based alternatives yourself 

Of course, a section about eating less meat would’t be complete without a few recipe recommendations. Part of the fun of Christmas comes in the form of making food with your loved ones, and that’s why we offer a few delicious recommendations below.

Try this vegan turkey by The Cheeky Chickpea or this succulent vegan roast by Zacchary Bird. For those less interested in the idea of ‘fake meats’, why not opt for a mushroom and nut roast or this porcini mushroom and vegetable roast. For a Jamie Oliver speciality, try this veggie roast with a sticky risotto base. Naturally there are thousands of recipes out there for similar products. Try your hand at some plant-based cooking this Christmas in the place of one of your usual meat products and see how it sits with the family.

Stick to local products where possible 

In our Sustainable Guides Christmas Series, we have spoken a lot about buying local this year in order to support smaller businesses. Not only does buying local mean supporting your neighbours or even your region, but it also reduces food miles and lowers your carbon footprint. A diet focused more on vegetables is certainly more sustainable, but when you’re paying for veggies sent from Kenya and fruit from Thailand, your air miles are stacking up. Whilst it may not always be possible, try to find a local grocer who knows where their produce comes from.

If you’re somewhere in northern Europe or in a colder part of the US for Christmas, you’ll know that oranges aren’t growing in your region – certainly not during winter. There’s no coincidence that the typical Christmas dinner consists of parsnips, cabbage, leeks, mushrooms, onions, Brussel sprouts, potatoes, chestnuts and so on. This is what’s growing in your region during winter. Make the most of these local products which are springing from the ground on local farms and embrace them in your cooking. On the other hand, if you’re based somewhere warmer for Christmas – like Australia – experiment with what’s growing around you and adapt accordingly. If it’s mango season, or there’s an abundance of juicy oranges on offer, make a fruity desert.

Your consumption at Christmas could potentially have a positive ecological footprint – or at the very least a reduced one – if you stick to local purchases this year. Just check the country of origin if you’re at the supermarket, or head to local farms, markets or organic suppliers for the biggest part of your shopping.

Reduce packaging and waste

Undeniably, Christmas is a time of excessive wastage. Not only does this occur with unwanted gifts but also food packaging. Just imagine how much packaging you have left after Christmas, and multiply that by millions of households. It’s a pretty bleak picture. Reducing your packaging is therefore a highly recommended practice if you are seeking ways to reduce environmental harm this Christmas. 

Plastic waste 

The battle against single use plastics has taken off in the last few years, but unfortunately supermarket packaging is one place where this lags behind. Our first advice would be to head to package-free supermarkets found in lots of cities and towns across the globe today. Australians will be familiar with The Source Bulk Foods, whilst across the globe independent chains are popping up in all kinds of unexpected locations. Having said this, even in supermarkets shopping can be practised with reduced plastic waste. When buying fruit and vegetables, consider your need for a plastic bag, or bring a cotton version of your own. Opt for fresh and unpackaged goods; breads, fish, cheese and so on. Not all plastic can be avoided, but if you manage to half the amount of plastic you buy, you’re doing pretty well.

Food waste 

Consider this, in the UK each Christmas, the equivalent of approximately 2 million turkeys are thrown away. Not only is this fact horrifying considering the number of people simultaneously going hungry, but it rings alarm bells in terms of carbon and agriculture. Try to reduce your food waste this Christmas by planning ahead. Buy less than you usually would, and you’ll likely realise that you aren’t missing out. Decide what meals you will be able to make from leftovers and use your food from Christmas Day to prepare a delicious Boxing Day feast. 

In addition, remember that freezing food is safe and also very efficient at this time of year. If you manage to make a soup with the leftover veggies, you have too much bread, or even too much meat, freeze the leftovers and prepare for next week’s meals in advance. WWF advises that about 11% of all greenhouse gases that comes from food could be avoided if we stopped wasting food. 

The never ending process of sustainability

Whilst our article might end here, sustainability doesn’t. There are a great deal more things you can do at home this Christmas to reduce your impact on the environment as you prepare to sit down and enjoy a cosy meal with your loved ones. Picking wines, choosing chocolates and buying desserts are all decisions which deserve a little extra thought. Implement a few points in this article into your 2020 Christmas and you’ll be well on your way to reducing environmental harm. 

Christmas is best enjoyed guilt-free.

Jessica Beaumont
Noticing the footprints left behind by travellers in the countries she has lived in and loved, Jessica found her calling in the sustainable travel niche. Aside from writing, Jessica is found exploring the Adelaide Hills for good views and delectable wines, dancing, taking leisurely walks on the beach and trying to make friends with dogs.