How Far Has Your British Dish Flown?

Quality suppliers of local produce Eat Great Meat have analysed supermarket data on the source countries of their ingredients, to reveal the supermarkets, ingredients and meals with the least and most air miles. View the full piece here.

The Shepherd’s Pie has the Most Air Miles

Clocking in with 20,061 air miles on average, the shepherd’s pie has by far the most air miles of the popular UK dishes studied. A few ingredients, in particular, are sourced from incredibly distant countries – New Zealand and Argentina. These results are unfortunate because if you eat seasonally and locally, you can pick up these ingredients with next to no air miles, reducing your environmental impact immensely.

A Full English Breakfast has Almost Seven Times Fewer Air Miles

With just 2889 air miles on average, the classic full English breakfast has travelled a seventh of the distance that your average shepherd’s pie will have. Ingredients for this British favourite are generally sourced closer to our shores, with black pudding produced in Bury, Greater Manchester.

Tesco’s Ingredients Have Flown the Furthest

The air miles for the listed meals are dramatically higher at Tesco, where they average 16,221 air miles across all five dishes. The worst offending dish, the shepherd’s pie, clocks in at 27,711 air miles, with chicken tikka masala following in second, travelling 18,481 miles from the countries of origin to your plate.

In comparison, Morrisons has an average air mileage of just 710 miles across all five meals. Shepherd’s pies have travelled 901 miles, and chicken tikka masala has travelled a stunning 0 miles according to the listed countries of origin. However, this result is actually due to the worrying amount of ingredients that Morrison’s simply doesn’t list a country of origin for online.

Morrisons’ Mystery Origins

As is seen in the above table, Morrisons rarely lists the country of origin, with 29% of ingredients surveyed having an unspecified source.

Some of these products do have a box for writing in origins when supplied to shops. However, this doesn’t help many customers who now order products online due to the ongoing pandemic.

Which Ingredients Have the Most Air Miles?

The humble onion has the most air miles out of any of the ingredients in these meals, averaging 7860 miles. Not only is the furthest source country New Zealand (the most distant country for air miles from any supermarket), but Tesco and Sainsbury’s have multiple source countries for the product. At the same time, Asda only lists the source as the EU (for organic onions). Morrisons, as is common throughout this roundup, choose to exclude the country of origin from their online descriptions.

How Do Supermarkets Reduce Their Air Mileage?

Supermarkets don’t have to label the origin for many ingredients, according to government food labelling and packaging laws. Foods that do require this labelling include most meats, fish, wine, honey and olive oil. However, labelling the country of origin is up to the supermarket for most ingredients.

What to Watch Out For When Assessing an Ingredient’s Air Miles

Take note of the wording on the ingredients label. Some foods may have ‘packed in’ written before the assumed country of origin. Listing the country of processing is an easy way to hide the actual air mileage of a product, so assume that these ingredients come from further afield.

Why Shop Locally?

If your ingredients haven’t flown thousands of miles, they’ll undoubtedly be fresher and tastier as a result. While consumers think they could be getting a better deal at the supermarket, certain foods look better value than they are. For example, meat such as chicken is regularly pumped with water, to give the appearance of a giant, good value buy. This water, however, exits the chicken as you cook it, reducing its size and steaming the chicken rather than properly cooking it. The resulting cooked chicken is a small, tough piece of meat.

Noel Bramall, Spokesperson for Eat Great Meat: “For those looking to support local business, as well as reducing their carbon footprint further, an excellent step in this process is to weigh up the origins of your food.

“Head to your local bakery, butcher, or vegetable stall for the weekly shop, and even consider growing fruit and veg, a hobby that many over lockdown have found to be incredibly rewarding.

“I personally eat all of these staple UK meals, and will enjoy them even more with the knowledge shopping locally saves a significant environmental impact.”