How to eat sustainably in Bristol

From Friday 4 to Sunday 6 September, Bristol 2015’s Lab Space will be taken over by various Bristol food organisations sharing ideas about our local food and how it can be made more sustainable. But what does a sustainable home-cooked meal actually look like for Bristolians?

Gassy food

If you’re reading this you probably realise that we need to change our eating habits. And fast.

Our food system massively contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Intensive production systems use high fossil-fuel based inputs of fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and, of course, fuel. 

Fossil fuels are also used in the refrigeration of food, not to mention processing and, to a lesser degree, transport.

This 2010 report sets out details of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food system.

American journalist and academic Michael Pollan famously said: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – a good place to start if you want to cook the low-impact, low-carbon option – “Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.” 

Joy Carey’s shopping tips:
1. Use fresh, in season ingedients as much veg and salad as you can.
2. Use a small amount of good-quality fish (line-caught locally), and meat or dairy products (from organic or grass-fed cattle).
3. Include something you've grown yourself or grown locally in or around Bristol. We can't all be self-sufficient urban farmers, but we could all grow something.

Eat your (local) greens

Joy Carey, the sustainable food system planning consultant who produced the 2011 report, "Who Feeds Bristol?" gives simple guidance for trying to reduce your impact on the environment when cooking at home.

Use “just a little meat, fish or dairy ingredients and lots of tasty vegetables and salad.”

Aim to buy as many seasonal ingredients produced near to Bristol as you can. 

“It could be vegetables and salad from Sims Hill or The Community Farm, or Leigh Court or many other local growers.

"Meat and dairy produce is plentiful around Bristol so look for local labels or ask in your local butcher. Or enjoy a trip to one of the farmers or local produce markets.”

But there are some Bristol-produced vegetables you can eat whatever the season. 

The Bristol 2015-funded Grow Bristol project combines vertical growing and aquaponics to give the benefits of locally produced vegetables and fish all year round.

Dermot O’Regan from Grow Bristol explains the "closed-loop" system of aquaponics: “a combination of hydroponics (growing crops without soil) and aquaculture (fish farming).”

“The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in.

"Micro-organisms that thrive in this environment convert the nutrients found in the fish waste into forms the plants can take up and grow.”

The aquaponics "closed-loop" system
Photo: Grow Bristol

The Grow Bristol system produces tilapia, a low-calorie and versatile fish and grows a range of greens from pea shoots to watercress.

One thing that strikes anyone viewing the plants for the first time is all the artificial lighting required.

However Dermot says, “LEDs are designed specifically for horticulture and are very efficient for plant growth and use very little energy.” 

Grow Bristol has also signed up with a green energy company to supply 100% renewables.

The plan is to eventually be ‘zero carbon’. 

You can see the Grow Bristol aquaponics system in action in Bristol 2015’s Lab Space from Friday 4 to Sunday 6 September.

Out and about
Eating out doesn’t mean ditching your principles. These Bristol restaurants are taking steps to be more sustainable.
Bordeaux Quay: Local, seasonal, wild, and organic produce. Fish comes from Cornish day boats as opposed to trawlers and is MSC approved.
Cafe Kino: Not-for-profit vegan co-operative, and a good place if you’re cutting down on meat and animal products. Cafe Kino use ecological practices and source ethical food and drink.
Thali Cafe: Cuts down on packaging waste with refillable tiffins. Also, filtered water is served in refillable glass bottles at a voluntary 50p, which is donated through Frank Water to people living in the Agra slums.
Find out more about how Bristol businesses are going green.

Spice it up, Bristol style

The Bristol 2015-funded project 91 Ways aims to capture the food stories of Bristol’s communities, reflecting the 91 languages spoken in the city.

Its founder Kalpna Woolf is discovering how Bristol’s communities bring resourceful practices to the city from elsewhere.

“The Punjabi community has a heritage of growing food and people in that community like to do that and are also changing the way they eat – so less ghee is used and more olive oil.”

The project is recording the food stories of Bristol’s diverse communities on the 91 Ways website – including Devon from Jamaica who is growing callaloo to remind him of his homeland. 

At the Talking Tilapia Lab Space event this weekend, 91 Ways will bring contributors to the project along to share recipes using aquaponics-produced tilapia fish, popular in Africa and Asia.

She says, “we have a wonderful culture in Bristol which questions food production and is really interested in food.

"But good food isn't available in the whole city and to all of our communities.

“On the surface, Bristol is a wealthy and healthy city, but we have high child food poverty rates in this city, a deprivation of wealth (high usage of food banks), and high levels of obesity.

“We need to educate people, get good food suppliers, growing areas, and ethical shops into all areas of Bristol.”

Sweet idea
On 18th September Source Food Hall and Cafe launches a new honey, exclusively available in Bristol Pounds. The honey is from Source’s hives, which are on the roof of the exchange building at St Nicholas Market. The labels are designed by Joe Berger from Centre Space (on Corn St), flyers are printed on recycled card in Bedminster and the jars are bought from a company in Keynsham. The bee keeper is from Bishopton. Definitely keeping it local!

What a catch

Joe Wheatcroft, Fishmonger at Source Food Hall and Cafe, will be demonstrating cooking with sustainably sourced tilapia fish at the Bristol 2015 Lab Space this weekend.

He stresses how important it is to ask your fishmonger lots of questions and be mindful of the season.

“Don’t buy fish with lots of roe or fish which is marked as out of season for our waters on websites such as MSC and MCS.”

Look for UK-sourced fish and shop in your local fishmonger to ensure you only buy what you need. 

“Buy sustainably farmed fish if you are unsure about the wild fish on sale.

"Sustainably farmed fish is fine and is even less of a burden on the environment when done properly.”

Joe is also aware of how much energy can be used in your appliances.

“If a recipe calls for the oven to be used, make the most of the heat and cook something alongside the fish such as a lunch for the next day or a crumble for dessert.

"Who doesn’t like a nice crumble?”

He also suggests filling water bottles with cold water to put in the space in your fridge or freezer  this can help the fridge use less energy as the bottles will stay colder than the air, which warms up when you open the door.

Choosing the sustainable option can require a little thought and planning.

But the first step is awareness. 

Joy says, “the most important thing is for us to know where our food comes from and how it's been produced.

"If that feels a bit too much like hard work, then start with just one food type  for example find out where your meat comes from.”


You can find more information about where to buy local produce at Bristol Local Food. Many of the local retailers also accept Bristol Pounds which helps to support the local economy.