Eating organic on a budget

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The launch of “Swallow This“, Joanna Blythman’s latest exposé on the food processing industry, has got us thinking about food labelling. Supermarkets bombard us with messages of “fresh”, “natural”, and “healthy” food…but there is no way to know if these claims are true. One label we can trust, however, is “organic”…

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What does organic actually mean?

Foods can only be labelled organic if 95% of the ingredients come from organically produced plants and animals. The product must have been produced to meet strict regulations, and inspected and certified by a registered certification body, such as the Soil Association. In the UK, organic certification is regulated by DEFRA,  but the guidelines on organic food production and sale are set in EU law. Typically, the “organic” label is used as a reliable marker that the product has been produced in a way that satisfies certain conditions of human, animal, and environmental health.

These conditions include:

– all artificial colourings and sweeteners are banned
– genetically modified (GM) crops and ingredients are banned
– artificial chemical fertilisers are prohibited
– pesticide use is severely restricted
– animals must be truly “free range”
– animals must not be given hormones to alter their development
– animal feed must be GM-free and at least 85% organic
– farmers must support biodiversity and water quality through crop rotation and responsible farming

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Why should we buy organic food instead of non-organic food?

Organic fresh produce is less likely to contain residues of chemical pesticides or fertilisers, and organic animal products will not contain hormones or antibiotics that could adversely affect your health.

Organic farming practices are also more supportive of biodiversity, groundwater and soil quality and have higher standards of animal welfare.

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Organic food is more expensive – how can we buy organic on a budget?

1. Prioritise.

Animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) are the most important to buy organic because of the combined issues of animal welfare, and risk of exposure to pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. Next most important are the “dirty dozen” – fresh produce with the greatest average pesticide residues including apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, cucumbers, potatoes, and peppers. The “clean fifteen” are fruit and vegetables with minimal pesticide residues, and the safest to eat non-organically, including pineapples, avocados, cauliflower, grapefruit, and onions.

2. Cook from scratch.

Processed organic items like smoothies and granola bars are usually cheaper if made from scratch. Make in bulk, and use your freezer to keep food for longer.

3. Sign up for a veg box scheme.

Cheaper and more convenient than supermarkets, veg box delivery schemes are a great way to get fresh, local, organic fruit and vegetables delivered straight to your door. Find your nearest veg box scheme here.

4. Buy seasonal, and in bulk.

Stock up on produce that’s in season – food is cheaper when it is locally abundant and hasn’t been shipped across the globe. Buying in bulk also reduces packaging, and works out cheaper weight for weight. Divide food into smaller portions to freeze and eat later.

5. Grow your own.

Even if you don’t have a garden of your own, get involved in community gardens like the Transition Edible Campus scheme. By growing your own, you have total control over how your food is produced.

A sneak peek at Green Week

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With Green Week kicking off on 7th March, we’ve put together an easy guide to the week’s events, whether you’re into poetry or permaculture, ethical investment or eco-beer. Go get your green on!

If you want to…get your hands dirty

There are plenty of opportunities to get down and dirty during Green Week! Want to get into gardening but don’t know where to start? Uni Hall gardener, Charlotte Davis, will be running an “Introduction to Permaculture” session on Wednesday afternoon to get you all clued up. Or if you prefer sand to soil, get yourself down to next Sunday’s Beach Clean with the Marine Conservation Society to help keep West Sands beautiful.

Leave a lasting legacy in St Andrews by coming along to one of our tree planting sessions – taking place on Monday at DRA, on Tuesday in the Community Garden, and on Wednesday at Albany Park. If you prefer to eat the things you plant, help plant fruit trees as part of an edible walkway in Guardbridge, celebrate the creation of a new Edible Campus garden at Agnes Blackadder Hall, and get stuck into some vegetable seed sowing at Andrew Melville Hall. Full details of times and locations are available here.

If you want to…try something new

Get yourself along to Sunday’s Skillshare Extravaganza – try your hand at everything from photography to cooking, hen keeping to bike maintenance, and much, much more! All the sessions are completely free (including the tasty lunch!), and will be running from 10.30-4.30pm in the Cosmos Centre.

If you want to…shape a sustainable future for the University

Tuesday’s Transition Open Forum is the place for you to share your big ideas for our small town, creating a sustainable vision for the future of St Andrews.  If you’re curious to find out how the University’s money is managed, come along to meet the fund managers at “Investing for a better future” on Wednesday and find out how our £48 million of endowed gifts have been invested.

If you want to…work up a sweat

Sign your sports club up to Cycletricity – the most competitive event of Green Week! Watch as the teams battle it out to produce the most bicycle-powered electricity in 20 minutes. Not part of a sports club? No problem! There will be a give-it-a-go session between 12-1pm so anyone can hop on a bike and feel the burn!

If you want to…get creative

Feeling crafty? Beat the 5p bag charge, and upcycle a boring bag or decorate a 100% Fairtrade cotton tote bag with the help of CraftSoc this Saturday. Alternatively, head along to one of StAnza’s climate change themed poetry readings, or explore folklore stories in the surrounds of the Botanic Garden with environmental writer Mandy Haggith on Monday.

If you want to…get sustainably sloshed

Reward yourself after a hard day’s tree planting! Cosy up with a glass of wine on Monday night at Topping & Co to celebrate the launch of Joanna Blythman’s latest book “Swallow This”, an expose on the food processing industry. If the Brew Pub is more your scene, sample a socially responsible tipple (or two!) at our biodynamic and organic tasting on Tuesday, or join Transition from some green chat over local brews on Thursday.

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Don’t forget to check out the Green Week website, Facebook, and Twitter (@GreenWeekStA) for the full event lineup and latest updates!