JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A rant about air-freighted food

There's been a backlash in the British press, and indeed in one or two blogs I read, about sourcing food locally. Some people are taking excessive comfort from the news that, for example, air-freighted beans use less fossil fuels than those grown under glass in Britain in winter. They are using this type of information as an excuse not to think and not to act.

If you source food locally (even fairly locally), you are probably no longer dependent on a supermarket for fresh food, even if you still use one (as I do). If you source food locally, you are almost certainly eating seasonally. You are almost certainly opting out of agri-business foodstuffs fed on highly polluting nitro-chemicals. You have almost certainly worked out that, whilst the production of Kenyan beans as a cash crop for spoilt Westerners may provide jobs for a few, it is also using more than its fair share of water, a resource which is so scarce in some places (but, generally speaking, not in the West) that many predict it will be the cause of war.

And all that's before we get on to the subject of airfreight itself. Don't listen to people who say it's hypocritical to stop buying airfreighted produce whilst still flying to holiday destinations ... babysteps. Small changes in behaviour by many many people are hugely powerful. You've got to start somewhere, and deciding that you will no longer eat food with jetlag is a bit of a no-brainer. Even if you don't manage it every single time.

Of course it's complicated. But both the world and individual humans were healthier before agri-business got going on a truly global scale. And we should all remember that the most inefficient part of the food delivery system is the bit where we get into our cars and drive to the shops.

Related links

The Fife Diet's response to the same drivel in The Observer

11 comments:

Alex said...

I agree that the argument that beans grown under glass in winter use more energy than air-freighting beans from Kenya is completely false. Doesn't it occur to anyone that perhaps they should not be eating beans in winter?!

Richard said...

I think Alex hits the nail on the head. Green beans are not a winter vegetable... now a good Kenyan coffee, I'm happy to see shipped (not air freighted) to the UK and buy, particularly if it's ethically sourced. Kenyan green beans? No thanks. Instead I shall be eating purple sprouting broccoli, winter cabbages, parsnips... and it's only six weeks or so until the asparagus season hits!

Becky said...

Great post I agree and its something I always complain about the was a whole strange carbon footprint questions recent, recently an argument about scampi , langoustine caught in Scotland shipped to Thailand peeled re-frozen and then sent back to Scotland to be processed . They showed the carbon footprint on this long haul trip was less then the machine which would mechanically peel the langoustines here in the UK and provided jobs in Thailand Its when big companies try to use the ideas behind carbon footprints/ fair trade to their own ends..... I have never eaten scampi but something tells me fresh langoustine would be preferable - whole story http://kendrive.blog.co.uk/2007/12/20/green_light_for_long_haul_scampi~3468516
Becky Nicely summarised by Kendrive

Joanna said...

Thanks for these comments, it's great to have some support for views which I often feel are minority, extreme even. And I'd like to say that I'm not perfect, that there are gaps between theory and practice. Babysteps ...

Well, Alex, yes, you're absolutely right - but I visited Waitrose in Henley yesterday, and it was full of people who think that it's normal to eat in winter: beans, baby sweetcorn, peppers, asparagus, raspberries etc etc. I think the one that makes me crossest - probably irrationally - is watercress from the USA

And I completely agree Richard, let's ship the produce that can't come from anywhere else - good coffee, highland tea - and eat our own delicious winter vegetables: purple sprouting now you're talking, swede (yes, really!), so many different types of cabbage, parsnip ... and by the time I'm fed up with those, it'll be time for some lovely spring vegetables. Why would I want tasteless jet-lagged asparagus from the southern hemisphere?

Becky ... thanks for the link. I remember when that story surfaced. And I began to think about all frozen foods (well, apart from peas and the occasional bag of broad beans), and the electricity required to keep them frozen. And then I started to worry about how much energy is needed to put food into tins. Luckily, I prefer fresh food, and I like cooking. Which is not to say that I don't use some tins and some frozen goods. It's confusing, it's difficult. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

Joanna

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Any time I can be more solution than problem, that's the direction I should aim for. Like part of life perfect really isn't an option. But something less than perfect will likely be good enough.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Well said! Our eating habits have been transformed over the last couple of years - since we started ordering a veg box from Riverford. Now we eat entirely with the British seasons - which is a real delight and education in itself. Only a tiny percentage of Riverford produce is bought in from overseas - and the manjority of that percentage comes by road/rail/ship from France or Spain. They have a policy of no air freighting. If only every supermarket would do the same...

Joanna said...

Tanna - that idea of being more the solution than the problem, it's been in my mind since I read it yesterday, such a good mantra for all aspects of life ... thank you so much

and, yes, a Riverford box has transformed my life too ... love it

Joanna

Mike Small said...

Thanks for your comment on the Fife Diet Joanna. Their arguments were spurious, but the annoying thing is that this was all explained to them.

I suppose as an attempt to skewer the local eating movement it was a spectacular failure. As I said to them when they raised the famous study that New Zealand lambs, do you know who prouced that report? Silence. Funnily enough it was the New Zealand lamb industry. Geniuses these people are not.

Sophie said...

Definitely agree that lots of people doing small things is what will add up.

The newspaper articles have been generally unhelpful (as you say, there's nothing useful to come of giving people an excuse not to think about these things). But they do have a small point to make - I wish the research would catch up with all the chatter about these things so that we could have a more definitive answer about what actually is the best choice to make.

Angela said...

Thanks for this interesting post, especially the link to the Fife Diet. Even though I am a Fifer I had never heard of it, but I am signed up now. We are really lucky in my area and have a good range of items available. If we all spent a bit more time planning what to eat and then sourcing it locally, we would all be healthier.

nsavage said...

It is depressing to read good people with good motives coming to bad conclusions. The basic argument you are proposing is only a variant on the 'prosperity through parsimony' riff. If I cut down, I will be better off. Unfortunately, if everyone cuts down, we have a economic depression. Faced with a real problem - Global warming - people in 1st world countries, blessed with a good education and a good economic infrastructure, should be worrying how they are going to pay the bill - it will be huge - and provide the technical solutions to the problem. Fine tuning the menu options or hoeing rows of turnips in Fife is not the place to start.