Buying Groceries with a Conscious Mind

I’ve spent the last couple of years prioritizing Danish fruit and vegetables whenever possible, simply because I was certain it was the more sustainable choice. But boy have I learned!

4 mins read

Walk around any grocery store and you’ll find shelves filled with melons from Brazil, blueberries from Peru, tomatoes from Italy, grapes from South Africa, and all kinds of produce from other equally exotic places.

I’ve spent the last couple of years prioritizing Danish fruit and vegetables whenever possible, simply because I was certain it was the more sustainable choice. I was idealizing the ‘good old days’ when people used to harvest vegetables straight from their gardens, collecting eggs from the hen house in their backyard, and buying milk and meat from farmers down the road. You can almost taste the intense flavors that come with eating locally and seasonally, can’t you? Turns out, that it isn’t necessarily the case.

It made perfect sense to think that produce that hasn’t been transported half-across the globe would be both fresher and more environmentally friendly due to less COemissions. But research shows that, when it comes to food and produce, it is more important to look at the production method rather than at transportation. Shipments via plane are of course a big CO2-emitter, but if we focus on produce within EU alone, transport doesn’t have that big of an impact on the final CO2 emission score. 

For a long time now, I have willingly paid the extra cost of getting produce that had a little Danish flag marked on it, thinking that it was more climate-conscious and socio-economically sustainable. But boy have I learned! Since I started following different social media profiles, such as PlanetariskFood Planet Prize and Fresh Land that focus on sustainable food and produce, my idea of sustainable sourcing has progressively changed. 

Contrary to Your Instincts, Choose the Spanish Tomato Instead

Today, a Dane emits an average of 17 tons of CO2 per year, which needs to be cut down to 2 tons if we are to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. Two tons is equivalent to approximately 5.5 kg each day. Looking into where your food comes from and how it was produced can make a huge difference in this estimation. Figuring out the ‘how’ is not exactly easy and not a piece of information that producers or supermarkets just flaunt around. So, my best advice is to think about seasonality. 

In the end, you can either get Danish tomatoes all year round that were grown in green houses using a lot of electricity, or buy tomatoes that have ripened under the warm Spanish sun. The South European tomato emits 10-12 times less CO2 than the Danish tomato and is, in fact, the obvious sustainable choice. Who would’ve guessed? Of course, the same logic can be applied to any other fruit or vegetable.

A rule of thumb is to use your common sense and always ask yourself questions: ‘Could Spain really deliver strawberries in the midst of January?’ Also, don’t forget to check the country of origin. Stay clear of anything from overseas – for both your own sake and the environment.

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