What can I do to make a difference?

24th February 2021

This is the third and final part in our series about Lee Greens and the bigger picture. Last week we looked forward to the future, in this final part, Celia Bradley looks at what we can currently do to make a difference.  

What can I do to make a difference? 

We’ve got an idea of the problems we face but what can we do about it? Last week I shared some truly inspirational examples of what different people are doing around the world.  

You can make a difference in several ways: choose areas that you feel passionate about and find activities that you can realistically make time for. If you are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out you are not going to make as much of an impact. I’m listing four different areas to consider.  

1. Support local  

According to research by Sustain, for every pound you spend on local food, a further £3 goes into the local economy through indirect means. I used to wonder why towns such as Totnes had their own currency. Now I see that it’s a way for customers to have confidence that they are supporting local businesses and the local economy. The transformation in Liege that I mentioned last week included not just food producers and a local currency but distribution businesses as well. Maybe one of our readers would like to set up a local green transport system. We’d love to support a sustainable alternative to our Zipvans!  

You may be aware that food production makes up 26% of greenhouse gas emissions. I have been shocked to learn about some insane activities that contribute to that figure. Because of the way globalisation has manipulated our international markets and trade, we are in a situation where although countries have the ability to supply their population, they are actually exporting produce which they could be consuming, and importing produce to fill the gap. For example, the UK imports 114,000 tons of milk per annum; we also export around 119,000 tons of milk each year. Similarly the USA imports about 950,000 tons of beef and exports around 900,000 tons. Madness!  

If you support the local food system, you will know that your food is grown and produced locally so you won’t be contributing to those statistics. Local food economies increase meaningful, stable employment and remove dependence on market fluctuations.  

2. Shop consciously  

If you buy organic, you know you are supporting sustainable farming practices but it’s not always obvious that you are supporting the local food system, especially if you buy from supermarkets or through nationwide box schemes. Try to find out more about where produce comes from. If you aren’t local to Lee Greens, you could look on the Better Food Traders website to find another scheme nearer to you. If you’re still stuck, search on the internet for organic box scheme or try Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  

If you shop at a farmers’ market, talk to the stallholders about their produce to find out what methods they are using. Small farmers don’t always have organic certification but they may still be farming sustainably. Look out for ‘spray-free’ or ‘organic in conversion’ and ask questions if you are unsure. For meat, you may find that suppliers don’t have organic certification but the animals are pasture-fed: this should ensure high animal welfare standards and nutritional value.  

If you don’t shop at a farmers’ market, see if you can find one near you and pay them a visit.  

If you prefer to shop online, check up on retailers’ credentials in terms of their farming methods; ask questions if you aren’t sure. Sustain has published a Quick Guide to Good Food Labels that might help you. If you do eat meat, as well as shopping more carefully, try to reduce your consumption. It’s well-known that a plant-based diet is much better for the environment.  

3. Campaign  

It’s not easy for us to influence national governments or huge corporations but there are some important campaigns to get involved with if you choose to. If you feel powerless, remember that there are countless others around the world fighting for change. Did you know that the largest social movement in the world is Via Campesina? This International Peasants’ Movement represents 200 million farmers globally.  

In the UK, Sustain is a good starting point for learning more and getting involved. You may have seen their Jellied Eel magazine which is focused on Good Food in London - if you can’t lay your hands on the print magazine regularly, why not subscribe to their email list?  

Local government is a great place to target your energies: they have enough financial power to really influence the system (and it doesn’t require a general election to change things!). The Transition Network is seeking to influence at a local level and people in Lewisham are working on this idea: visit their Facebook page if you want to get involved.  

4. Connect  

Over the past year, everyone has been acutely reminded of the importance of connection with other people. Zoom is no substitute for a drink in the pub with mates or a relaxed coffee inside a cafe with a friend. Humans have a fundamental need to be sociable.  

I love the fact that Lee Greens helps to build community. Even just exchanging a few words with the staff at our pick-up points can make a big change to somebody’s day.  It hasn’t been quite the same in recent months but hopefully you have still been able to appreciate the connections that we have built. Certainly, the organisations that we donate food to have welcomed additional contributions of late.  

Healthy food systems are built on human connection: with the land, with nature and with other people. Simply sharing good food with friends and family brings joy and will discourage feelings of powerlessness and fear.  

If you’d like to learn more about these topics, here are some suggestions:  

  • Local Food Can Change the World – Helena Norberg-Hodge speaks to the Oxford Real Farming Conference  
  • Local Futures: Economics of Happiness 
  • How to fix a food system that's not designed to feed people

Celia Bradley, Lee Greens Founder and Director