We’re a quarter of the way through A Year of Living Slower, a challenge in living better, not faster. Throughout the year-long challenge, we explore twelve themes, inspired by the slow living movement.
We kicked off the year exploring the basics; the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. Next, in February, we focused on putting the self-care back into Sundays. During March, we explored the roots of the slow food movement, from motivations for cooking from scratch to seasonal eating and London’s zero waste shops. It took the slow living movement one step further, not just focusing on ingredients and culinary heritage but also on food packaging and taking time to enjoy the food on our plates.
The Power of Getting Outdoors
With the first signs of Spring arriving, we turn our attention to April’s theme; slow living and getting outdoors.
This month seemed to be particularly tailored to city-dwellers, but in reality, it seems that getting more fresh air could be something we should all consider. It’s reported that UK adults spend 90% of their time indoors and 36% of parents don’t think their children spend enough time outdoors.
With this in mind, April’s challenge is about slowing down to reconnect with the reassuring pace and pattern of nature; a constant in our ever-changing world. We explore how getting outdoors can affect our happiness and mood and share some of London’s finest green spaces.
How are you finding the challenge so far? Use the hashtag #AYearOfLivingSlower on Instagram to share your experiences.
Seasonal eating means buying and cooking fresh food that is at its best at a particular time of year. Of course, most of us would struggle to be without bananas and other foods that can’t be produced in the UK, are grateful for the vast choice we have and find it important to support Fair Trade producers. However, there are still many reasons to try and eat more seasonally when it comes to the produce we can grow over here.
After sharing these seasonal eating motivations, we list what’s in season with a rough month-by-month guide to fruit and vegetables in the UK. Remember that the seasonal periods can change slightly each year due to the weather and many local foods can be stored to be eaten later.
As locally grown seasonal produce is harvested at the optimum time and eaten sooner, it’s often more nutritious.
Senior nutrition scientist for the British Nutrition Foundation, Ayela Spiro, explains that fresh fruit and vegetables “can spend weeks or even months in transit; refrigerated lorries and chiller cabinets slow down the spoiling of produce rather than preventing it.” Eating or freezing produce soon after it’s picked can help maintain nutrients and taste. However, older fruit can still be put to good use and edible food should not be wasted.
There are many reasons to cook from scratch, including slowing down and enjoying a mindful activity after a busy day, placing more importance on family mealtimes and eating fresher, less processed foods. Eating seasonally encourages creativity in terms of trying new recipes and new ingredients.
“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” – Anna Lappé , advocate for a sustainable and fair food system.
This quote reminds us that one of the most powerful tools we have as consumers is our purchasing power.
Research by Ethical Consumer indicates that we’ve already started to realise this power. Between 2016 and 2017 the not-for-profit organisation reported a 10.8% rise in ethical cosmetics sales and similar rise of 10.1% in sales of household items that were bought for re-use.
Fair trade clothing or buy at vintage and charity shops
Plastic-free shampoo and conditioner bars
Reusable cupcake cases
Stainless steel wire pegs instead of plastic
Glass food containers
These are just some of the sustainable swaps you can make to reduce waste and lessen your environmental impact. Many of these swaps are very easy to implement and the reusable nature of some products may also save you money in the long run!
Sometimes, throwing together a meal from scratch is the last thing you want to do after a long day. The contents of the fridge feel uninspiring and you’re hungry. Really hungry. The urge to reach for your phone and order a delivery or head to the shop for a ready meal is like an itch that won’t subside. Finally, you give in and settle on the sofa to await a moped-riding waiter or the ping of the microwave.
While sometimes a takeaway or a few supermarket-bought shortcuts for the kitchen are the only option, there are many slow living-inspired benefits of cooking from scratch that aren’t limited to the savings for your back pocket.
Slow Food: Reasons to Cook More Meals from Scratch
1. Reduce Packaging
Ready meals are often plastic packaging intensive. But, it can be recycled, right? In the UK, around 1.3 billion black CPET trays are used in packaging each year, but despite being recyclable, most still end up in landfill or being incinerated. Why? The black pigment doesn’t allow light to pass through, meaning that the trays are often not detected by waste sorting equipment. This is a great example of why we should be striving to reduce our overall plastic consumption, rather than just relying on recycling.
By cooking from scratch you have more control over the plastic waste you produce, for example by opting for loose vegetables or buying dry goods at a zero waste shop.
2. Mindful Cooking
Cooking from scratch is a great way to practise slow living and mindfulness, whether you’re living in the city or countryside. The slow food movement focuses on preserving culinary traditions and understanding how our ingredients have been produced. However, in the digital era, the concept of slow food can also be taken a step further to incorporate how we use those ingredients in the kitchen.
Preparing a meal offers the opportunity to switch off from digital notifications and distractions and focus on the repetitive rituals of cooking techniques. Many see cooking as a mindful experience, especially when you make a conscious effort to be present and engage with the senses as you chop and stir. Therapists have even begun practising ‘culinary arts therapy’, using cooking as a way for patients to experience therapeutic expression.
3. Know What’s in your Food
The mindful aspect of cooking introduces this next reason to don your apron. By connecting with the food you are preparing, you’re more aware of what’s going into your body and are more likely to eat fresher, higher quality food, versus ready meals and other food options that may cut corners on quality to be able to be produced on a mass scale.
But, being more conscious about your ingredients isn’t just about knowing what’s going into your body. It’s also about being informed about where your food has come from. Just like the plastic packaging point above, you often have more freedom to make sustainable choices at an ingredient level.
4. Meaningful Meal Times
Of course, cooking from scratch doesn’t automatically mean your dinnertime conversation is going to be riveting, but the effort put in to prepare the meal can encourage a slower, more mindful approach to eating.
Keeping regular meal times is important psychologically, socially and biologically, according to mentalhealth.org. Rather than rushing through meals on-the-go or accompanied by a smartphone, sharing meal times with others can “provide a sense of rhythm and regularity” and a chance to connect.
In our fast-paced world, cooking from scratch and being creative in the kitchen is one of the easiest ways to slow down while doing something positive for mind, body and planet.
In 2018, the journal Science Advances revealed how approximately 90.5% of the plastic waste produced to date has never been recycled. This sobering fact, as well as thought-provoking footage shared online around the impact of plastic waste on marine life in our seas, helped to heighten the conversation around tackling plastic pollution.
The results of the plastic bag tax, launched in 2015, show how changing consumer behaviour is possible, but relies on us making conscious lifestyle decisions. Compared to the 2014 calendar year, between 2016 and 2017, the major supermarkets reportedly issued 83% fewer bags.
Looking to reduce your own plastic usage? In addition to saying no to single-use plastics and making sustainable swaps, London’s zero waste refill shops are a great way to reduce unnecessary plastic consumption on food and household items. Here’s where to find them and how they work.
Zero Waste Shops in London
Unpackaged at Planet Organic – Various locations
Unpackaged has become a champion and inspiration for the zero waste lifestyle since 2006. Initially, founder Catherine Conway began Unpackaged as a market trader, before setting up shop in 2007 in Islington and later moving to Hackney in 2012. Although the store is now closed, Unpackaged has teamed up with Planet Organic to focus on “scaling up from niche ‘corner shop’ to mainstream supermarket”. Four Planet Organic outlets currently offer loose, packaging free goods under the Unpackaged brand: Muswell Hill, Torrington Place, Islington and Westbourne Grove.
The Source Bulk Foods – Battersea and Chiswick
The Source Bulk Foods was founded by Aussie couple Patrick and Makayla in 2012 in Byron Bay. The brand believes in reducing food miles and offering high-quality packaging-free bulk foods at affordable prices. With over 40 stores in Australia, The Source Bulk Foods is the country’s largest specialised bulk food retailer. Lucky for us, the brand launched in Battersea and Chiswick in 2018. In the short time since they’ve been in the UK, their customers have helped to save over 5,000 kg of plastic waste.
Hetu – Wandsworth
Hetu, meaning ‘purpose’ in Hindi, sells vegan, unrefined and unprocessed whole foods and reusable items without unnecessary packaging. They say to be “on a mission to change the world with one of the most powerful tools at our disposal; our buying power.” The nearest station to Hetu is Clapham Junction.
Naked Larder – Herne Hill
For those in the South, Naked Larder allows you to pre-order and collect your packaging-free shopping using your own containers. As recycling is still energy intensive, Phili’s mission, founder of Naked Larder, is to try and reduce packaging as much as possible, especially for dry goods which can be difficult to buy without plastic in supermarkets.
Bulk Market – Hackney
Fed up with plastic, which is designed to last, being used for single-use disposable items, Ingrid Caldironi founded Bulk Market. After a successful pop-up in 2017, Bulk Market crowdfunded to open a permanent location in late 2018 at Bohemia Market in Hackney, a couple of minutes from Hackney Central overground. They are working hard to be able to provide wine and beer, in addition to their current stock of fresh veg, grains and pulses and household items.
As Nature Intended – Various locations
As Nature Intended has six locations across London: Balham, Chiswick, Ealing Green, Marble Arch, Spitalfields and Westfield in Stratford. The brand champions organic and natural produce and was created by Iceland founder, Sir Malcolm Walker, back in 2000. Rather than being wholly dedicated to zero-waste, As Nature Intended has bulk sections (though, not currently at their Stratfield store) where you can buy packaging-free.
Harmless – Wood Green
If you’re in the North, try Harmless in Wood Green. This shop which sources producers and suppliers that are both environmentally and socially conscious, is not just zero plastic, but also vegan. You can find Harmless just five minutes from Wood Green station at Blue House Yard, a temporary redevelopment that provides creatives and entrepreneurs studio and retail space. If you come with a list, you can explore Blue House Yard or even have a drink while Harmless prepares your order.
How to Buy Food in Bulk and Reduce Waste
Although many of these shops provide paper bags you can use and new glass jars to buy, most encourage you to bring your own containers, re-using whatever you have at home or sourcing second-hand containers from charity shops.
From glass jars to tins and pillow cases, as long as you can weigh your receptacle, they’re quite flexible with how you to choose to go no-waste. But remember that they aren’t responsible for any cross-contamination, so make sure your containers are thoroughly clean and dry. Once you’ve got your containers sorted, here’s what to do:
Weigh and make a note of your empty container, or measure the liquid capacity using water. This is called to ‘tare’.
Fill your container with your chosen bulk item.
Re-weigh your filled container and subtract the empty item’s weight.
Pay for your goods.
If you enjoy good food and want to do something good for the planet, these shops are almost like an adult version of pick ‘n’ mix, but with less refined sugar! As long as you come prepared, it’s an enjoyable and slow way to shop in London.