Are Supermarkets Sustainable?

June 24, 2024
min read

Did you know that our current food system, while offering unprecedented convenience, is causing serious environmental and social damage? Find out about the hidden cost of how our food is currently grown and sold and how we can fix them.

The Problem with Our Food System

Environmental Impact

In Britain today we can go to the supermarket and pick up whatever we want whenever we want it. All without the need to think about where it came from, who grew, packed or delivered it and how it was made.The abundance of food we now enjoy in Britain and the rest of the Western world has been made possible by the intensification of farming across the globe since the 1950s. For the past few decades, we’ve been using more and more land, water, energy, fertiliser, and chemicals to make our food cheaper and more plentiful. However, this comes at a significant cost:

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Globally, food production is responsible for a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions by humans.
  • Water Consumption: Agriculture is the single largest consumer of freshwater.
  • Biodiversity Loss: It is the leading cause of biodiversity loss around the world.

Social Impact

Even with all this production, we still don’t feed everyone on the planet. Around 730 million people go hungry every year while a fifth of the food we produce goes to waste. In the UK, we’ve seen massive reductions in wildlife since our food production was industrialised during the Second World War. Our landscape is now ranked as one of the most nature-depleted in the world. Despite using around 70% of Britain’s land for agriculture, we still import 46% of our food, and over 2 million people live in households that rely on food banks.

Economic Impact

The way that we buy our food also has a damaging effect.In Britain, the grocery sector is dominated by massive corporations, with 94% of all food sales coming from 10 companies like Tesco and Sainsbury’s. These corporations are legally bound to operate in the interests of their shareholders, not for the well being of their customers and suppliers. As a result, almost half of Britain’s farmers worry they’ll go out of business in the next year, with most blaming unethical supermarket buying practices.

The Solution: Sustainable Food Choices

So there’s a lot wrong with our current food system, and it can be a struggle to know where to start in addressing them. However, you don’t need to quit your job, move to the countryside, and become a farmer to become part of the movement for sustainable food. Just making a small change to what you eat and where you buy it can have a massive impact. Here are three principles to guide you:

Choose Organic

Organically grown food doesn’t require artificial fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides, which massively reduces the fossil fuels needed to produce it, as well as making it much better for us to eat. Organic farmers use natural systems to ensure their crops grow well, taking care of soil health and fostering biodiversity on their land. The lack of artificial inputs also means organic farming causes significantly less pollution in our rivers, oceans, and air than conventional farming.

You can support organic farmers by buying food with a Soil Association or Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) logo. Organic food can be a bit more expensive than industrially grown alternatives as the prices tend to reflect the true cost of production. But you can have an impact just by switching a few of your staple items to organic, like chopped tomatoes or oats. Getting your fruit and veg from a local organic veg scheme like Veg Box People’s can also help you save money as you can choose a size of bag/box that suits your needs and avoid the temptation to over-buy in supermarkets.

Eat Seasonally

Eating seasonal food avoids the need for heated greenhouses or transporting out-of-season produce from thousands of miles away which massively reduces its carbon footprint. Eating seasonally also means you’ll enjoy a more varied diet of fresher and more nutritious food, and have a greater appreciation for the joys of each season!

Foods that are in season locally can often be bought at a really good price from a local farmer’s market or shop. Find out what fruit and veg is in season with our handy guide here.

Buy Local

Locally produced food means fewer food miles, reducing emissions from transport. Getting your food from farmers near to where you live also means a more transparent supply chain, so you can be confident that the people involved in growing it have been treated fairly and ethically. That’s in contrast to food grown thousands of miles away that’s passed through many middle men to reach the supermarket shelf.

Supporting local, ethical supply chains is one of the founding principles of Better Food Traders, a group of small and medium sized food businesses working together to build a better food system in the UK. Veg Box People are a member of this community, but if you’re not in Manchester, you can find a Better Food Trader near you and buy produce that helps to support farmers and food businesses in your local community.


By making conscious choices about what we eat and where we buy our food, we can collectively transform our food system. Let’s embrace the power of local, seasonal, and organic foods and support those who are paving the way for a sustainable future. Join the food revolution today and be part of the change!


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