The Cost of Being Eco: How to make your festive feast more eco-friendly

The festive season is upon us and if there’s one time of year to bring about eco-anxiety, this might just be the one. From wrapping paper, cards and crackers that are destined only for the bin to a feast that comes sealed in single-use plastic packaging, this time of year can send those with sustainability smarts into hiding.

Thankfully, there are an increasing number of brands offering eco alternatives for a grand old get together this season, plus some pretty clever swaps that could also save you money when you’re tasked with hosting a festive feast.

The Prep:

Thinking (and budgeting) ahead can help you save money and the environment. Here’s some tips on how:

Forage for your table dressing

Floral adornments for your festival table might seem like a great idea but much of what applies to food in terms of sustainability and carbon footprint also applies to flowers. The chemicals and toxins used to mass-grow flowers, the energy used to transport them and then refrigerate and preserve them before you pick them up at your local supermarket all leave a carbon footprint.

Instead, look to your next winter walk in the park for nature’s own, free alternatives to decorate your table with. Holly, rosemary, sage, pine and cypress conifers, birch, bay and mistletoe can all be found in nature. Head off into the woods, hedgerows, verges and field edges in search of these for your table decor. Even in the city. road sides or parks can provide a bounty. Or club together with neighbour and forage in your collective gardens and patio tubs.

Swap to fabric napkins

Swapping away from plastic-wrapped disposable napkins to more traditional reusable ones will set you up for future festive feasting.

Buy a reusable set of Christmas cotton napkins for around £20 and you’ll make your money back on serviettes (£3.50 average for a pack of 20) in six Christmases’ time. You can then hold onto these for every festive holiday, saving money in the long run, as well as paper and single-use plastic packaging.

If you can make your peace with non-Christmassy napkins, like these ones, they’re likely to come in cheaper and you’ll be able to make use of them for every fancy dinner party you throw throughout the year, so you’ll break even sooner. For winter celebrations, pop a bit of foraged greenery on to make them seem more festive.

Crackers for life

No Christmas lunch is complete without a cracker but all too often, the gifts inside as well as the crackers themselves, end up in landfill. Look for zero-waste alternatives like these reusable cloth crackers from Not on the High Street and fill with your own sustainable gift options. You can personalise and tailor the cracker gifts, jokes and facts to suit guests of all ages in this way, and of course, you can use the crackers year-on-year.

The cost of one cracker will set you back £14.95 (£59.80 for four). Which means you will need to use these for 6 Christmases before you make up the average cost (£20 for 8) of the disposable Christmas crackers you might otherwise buy every year.

The Food:

Watch your waste

More than half of Britons say that they spend more money than they should on food each year. This assumption becomes clear when we take in just how much food goes to waste during the festive period. In Britain alone, 270,000 tons of food waste is produced during the holiday season. 74 million mince pies are disposed of while still edible, along with 2 million turkeys. The average household spends up to £44 per head on food for Christmas lunch but a large part of this food will go to waste.

Buy quality produce, but less of it

Interrogating your family and festive traditions can yield some environmental and financial gains.

Do you really need the pigs in blankets this year? Do the pigs really need the blankets? What about the stuffing? Does it need to be a meat stuffing or can you swap out the pork for breadcrumbs and use that crusty corner of sourdough that might otherwise end up in the bin?

Minimising food waste begins with buying less. If you know you have a tendency to over-face your guests, take the decision to opt out of certain ingredients and spend the money you might save on these on the best quality, locally-sourced organic produce.

For example, 24 Pigs in Blankets from M&S add up to £7.50. Could you cut the pigs in blankets in favour of spending a little more on a locally sourced, organic Turkey? You can use this handy NFU turkey finder to source a farm with sustainable bird options that will likely cost more than your average, but be kinder to the environment.

Consider a Veggie Christmas

In terms of sustainability, an obvious swap that will also save you money this year would be to ditch the meat, fish and cheese in favour of vegetarian and vegan alternatives. Smoked salmon canapes with cream cheese will set you back around £10 to make with a good quality Scottish smoked salmon. By comparison, you can make a smoked carrot canape for around £4. Steep carrot ribbons in Lapsang Souchon tea for twenty minutes, leave them to cool before patting dry with a towel then add to a toasted slice of baguette with a sprinkling of dill fronds.

Look to local fruit and vegetable suppliers for in-season ingredients that haven’t been shipped around the world to arrive to you. Initiatives like Oddbox rescue vegetables that might otherwise end up in the bin (owing to their wonky shapes or strange sizes) and offer a large selection box of veggies for households of 4-5 at the cost of £19.99.

If you consider a nut roast for 4 from the high street costs around £10 and add to that the £19.99 Oddbox of vegetables, the cost of Christmas lunch for a family of four could be reduced down from £45 per head to under this for the entire family.

The booze:

Look for eco conscious wine labels

Reasonably priced wine label The Hidden Sea has dedicated itself to removing plastic from the oceans by reusing plastic sourced in the sea for its bottles. For every bottle bought, The Hidden Sea removes 10 single-use plastic bottles from the world’s oceans. 6.9 million bottles have been removed from the sea by this brand alone, so far and the company is on track to have removed one billion plastic bottles from the oceans by 2030. The Hidden Sea Sauvignon Blanc 2021 RRP is £9 and the Chardonnay is priced at £8, an affordable swap for many who like a tipple over the festive season.

**These tips come from Anastasia Miari, award-winning food writer and podcaster. **

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