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How to eat ethically this Christmas

Food is a key part of Christmas celebrations for most of us. Here, we give our tips on how to eat ethically this Christmas - from where to shop and what to give, to how to keep it palm oil free.

Try to avoid buying everything from a supermarket

Supermarkets sales surge every Christmas, with convenience often appealing. But as we discuss in our new Supermarkets guide (coming 9th Dec), the mega chains are responsible for everything from enormous food waste and unfair prices paid to farmers, to workers’ rights abuses in their supply chains. 

There are lots of places where you can shop without funding supermarkets’ unethical practices. The UK has a huge number of wholefood stores, ethical supermarkets and zero-waste shops popping up: we provide a directory of how to find these in our supermarket guide.

Local greengrocers often allow you to pre-order a veg box and even deliver - or you could set up an order with best buys in our supermarkets guide, Abel & Cole and Riverford. Both do organic veg to your door, as well as other useful food products. 

If you’re daunted by the idea of changing your shopping habits at Christmas - undoubtedly a busy time of the year - you could make it part of the tradition. Ask whether a friend or family member wants to come to an ethical shop with you, plan a mince pie baking session together or look for presents at the same time. Even buying just some of your items outside of the supermarket might get the ball rolling for future years. 

Go palm oil free

Unfortunately, many of the things we like to eat at Christmas are often stuffed with palm oil. Mince pies, chocolates, biscuits and Christmas pudding all often contain it. Palm oil is associated with deforestation and serious abuses of Indigenous rights - so our suggestion would always be to either avoid it or opt for a company showing best practice (look for our Best palm oil rating). 

In our Palm Oil free Christmas guide, we list the companies that receive our Best rating for palm oil, as well as those going palm oil free. Roots & Wings, Riverford and Iceland all sell both palm-oil free mince pies and palm-oil free Christmas puddings. 

Avoiding processed food is often one way to dodge palm oil: make your own mince pies or Christmas puds using the recipes linked to in our palm oil free guide. Authentic Bread Co, Infinity Foods and Meridian all sell jars of organic, vegan, suet-free mincemeat. Just make sure the marg or spread you’re buying doesn’t also contain palm oil!

plate with 5 stuffed mushrooms

Opt for vegan or veggie options

More and more of us are having vegan, veggie or low-meat Christmasses.

Making your own is often the easiest way to be vegan at this time of year, whether that’s mushroom sausage rolls (lots of shop-bought pastry is also surprisingly vegan), a nut roast, or mince pies. There are some great vegan and palm oil free mincemeat options to fill your pies, including: Authentic Bread Co, Infinity Foods, and Meridian.

If making your own feels a bit much, then more and more companies are offering ready-made vegan alternatives. Even pigs in blankets are now easy to do with vegan sausages and bacon. Many of the Best Buys in our Meat-Free Sausages and Burgers guide do sausages, and recommended company Upton’s Natural does vegan bacon. Tofurky, also a recommended buy, does full roast options complete with stuffing. It is also vegan and palm oil free. 

Going for more veggie and vegan options at Christmas can be an excellent chance to persuade reluctant friends or family that it’s not so scary! And it will reduce your climate impact.

Buy ethical foodie gifts

Christmas is often a time of over consumption and feeling pressure to buy presents people may never use. Food gifts can be a good alternative option - particularly if you can find ethical ones. 

Chocolates

Chocolate can be a failsafe present, but there is a big divide between the companies in this sector doing good work and those that are lagging well behind. Best buys in our guide include the brands which go beyond fair trade -  Divine, Pacari, Beyond Good, MIA, Fairafric and Chocolat Madagascar.

If you are looking to avoid palm oil this Christmas, check our list of palm oil free chocolates to see where you can get them. 

Biscuits

Biscuits are often also a good option, especially for families and kids. Our biscuit guide has just been updated (December 2021) and the Best Buys are Dove’s Farm, Island Bakery, Lazy Day, Mr Organic and Traidcraft. Island Bakery do special Christmas tins of biscuits. The Dove’s Farm Freee [spelt correctly!] and Lazy Day brands cater for people with allergies. 

They all have more positive palm oil practices, but if you want to go entirely palm oil free, check out our list of where you can find them in the biscuit guide

glass mug of tea with christmas decorations

Teas and coffee

Teas, herbal teas or coffee can be really good gift options at this cold time of year. As with chocolate, these industries are rife with abuses, so it’s really important to look for companies with fair trade practices. 

Our Best Buys in these guides all only sell Fairtrade teas and coffee, and most sell Fairtrade and Organic double certified. See our separate guides to tea, herbal tea and coffee.

Olive oil

For a friend who likes cooking, nice olive oil can be a really lovely - and slightly more unusual - present. 

Conventional olive oil harvesting is responsible for the deaths of potentially millions of birds, as the machines used in night-time picking suck birds in off of the trees. Our guide to olive oil therefore lists companies that have made a bird-friendly pledge and harvest using traditional methods, as well as the Best Buy and Organic companies.

Alcohol

Lots of us give wine or beer at Christmas. 

Buying from a local brewery can be a great option for beers. Our beer and lager guide also has breweries that sell nationally and are doing something a bit different: from Toast who are brewing with surplus bread to Hepworth Brewing who are using beer-source heat pumps.

The Best Buys in our wine guide are vegan, Fairtrade and organic. Surprisingly, not all booze is vegan - lots use fish guts to clarify the product or gelatine or egg white. Our guides to wine and beer and lager both list those that are so you can make sure you’re buying an animal-friendly gift. 

You could even consider giving a home brew or wine fermentation kit! Lots of wine can be made from foraged plants, so it’s also a great present for the summer months.

Cut down on waste

With so much food, we often end up with copious amounts of food waste. Planning ahead and making different meals when you’re tired of the nut roast (leftover nut roast or mushroom pie sandwiches are surprisingly good!) can be a good way to cut down. 

Instead of using cling film wrapping, store in boxes, tiffin tins or food wraps. The Beeswax Wrap Co. supply both beeswax wraps and vegan wax wraps. They’re also surprisingly simple to make and a good present for others.

10 ways to avoid food waste this Christmas

Guest blogger Zoe Morrison gives her 10 top tips for food waste reduction at Christmas.

We all look forward to eating special foods over the festive season and it is lovely to have fun and enjoy yourself. However, when you buy more food than you need and can’t eat it all, it is a waste of resources and money. Plus, if the food is thrown in the bin, it contributes to climate change. So, I’ve written these 10 top tips to help you keep your food waste low this festive season: 

1. Plan to use up food before you go away

If you are going away, make a plan to run down or freeze the fresh contents of your fridge, fruit bowl and cupboards before you go.  

2. Draw up a meal plan

If you aren’t going anywhere, buy food in the quantities that are right for you. Before you go shopping, do a meal plan. The meal plan can include snacks as well as main meals. I think it is a good idea to include snacks because it is really easy to get carried away buying festive treats and end up with too many. Factor in if you think people will give you some as gifts too.

3. Write a shopping list and stick to it

Writing a shopping list doesn’t seem like such a big deal. But if you write a shopping list and stick to it, you can avoid food waste. Plus, it will save you money. Check your cupboards before you go and make sure you know what you need. It will stop you buying things you already have and getting side-tracked and buying things you weren’t planning on getting.

4. Don’t be tempted to shop early

Festive food is available from October, but buying it too early might mean it goes off before the big day. Or more likely you will end up eating it before you intended to and then end up buying more.

5. Before buying, make food back-up plans

If your plans change, what will you do with the food that you are going to buy? Can you freeze it? Would you be happy to give it away? You can give excess food to people you know, perhaps to your local food bank (check with them first, they usually only want long-life food) or via the food sharing app Olio. Will it last long enough to be used on another day?

6. Don’t forget about food left out to cool

One of the most upsetting ways to waste food is to leave it out too long. If you cook in advance, batch cook or have leftovers, you need to leave the food to cool before putting it in the fridge or freezer. My tip is to set a timer to remind yourself to put it away.

7. Freeze leftover turkey

You don’t need to eat turkey every night for a week after Christmas, put it in the freezer and it will keep for ages.

8. Make a use-it-up plan

After the big day, write a list of all the food that needs using up and come up with a plan for how you’ll incorporate it into your meal plan.

9. Ask for help with any food you aren’t sure what to do with

You could ask a friend or family member. Another option is to join my 'reduce food waste' Facebook group dedicated to helping people reduce their food waste.

10. Compost anything that can't be eaten or given away

Where possible, put any food that can’t be used up in a food waste collection bin or compost it. Food gives off methane in landfill which is a powerful greenhouse gas. When it is composted it can be used to grow plants.

As you can see there are loads of ways to reduce food waste this festive season and hopefully, save yourself a bit of money along the way too. One final bonus tip: if you want to take things further, challenge yourself to a zero-food waste festive season and see how low your food waste can go.

Don’t forget the wider community

While over-consumption is a concern for many at Christmas, others may not have enough. Food banks have warned that it may be the ‘busiest and most difficult winter on record’. Food scarcity and inequality also continues to be a major concern globally. Consider volunteering at your food bank in the run up.

Many cities and towns host community meals on Christmas day or during December. Although Google doesn't redeem its tax avoidance behaviors by allowing this, a quick search on ‘helping the community at Christmas’ can be useful in this case! 

In addition, loneliness and isolation are another recognised feature of modern living. Reaching out and helping others around us, and sharing what we have, has been a key element in festivals throughout history, and also lies at the core of many ethical codes.