At the time of writing, the people of Earth are concerned about food miles. I say at the time of writing because people are fickle and buzzwords are short lived, so by the time you read this the people of Earth could be past food miles like they’re past school dinners and Communism and be concerned instead about cheese hardening, badminton rash or horse implosion.
The idea of food miles is that everything that ends up on your plate started life somewhere else, and that else could have been somewhere thousands of miles away. Getting it to your gob means chugging out stacks of CO2 from planes, ships and trucks, which means your fancy pineapple could have us living in treehouses to avoid shark-infested flood water. A while back, liberal maniacs at The Guardian calculated the distance travelled by 20 everyday items of fruit and veg, figuring it at 100,943 miles. That’s a hefty carbon footprint. You’d need a petrol-powered Super Clown the size of the Empire State Building to get anywhere near a footprint that size, and that doesn’t even make sense.
The solution seems simple. We have to cut down on internationally-shipped foodage and go for locally-grown produce instead. That points us towards local farmers’ markets, veg box deliveries and additional pickiness in supermarkets. And that’s it sorted, bringing to a close another hard day’s Butterflying. Get home safe. God bless.
Except… There are a ton of complications with food miles, and when you throw in other do-gooding issues like buying organic or supporting Fairtrade we get the kind of ethical dilemma we thrive on. And by “thrive on” I mean “are exhausted by.” Firstly, the issue with food miles isn’t really mileage but carbon, and carbon depends on methods of transportation, so a strawberry taking a short-haul flight could be more harmful than a hundred peaches road-tripping a thousand miles on Route 66. That’s further complicated by scale: When The Guardian filled its trolley it bought an apple that had travelled 10,133 miles, but it would have shared the carbon its journey produced with thousands of other apples, reducing each apple’s carbon footprint even as their food miles remained shockingly high.
And then there are production methods, which means a western industrialised farm that uses tons of machinery, toxic fertilisers, plastic poly tunnels, carbon-powered hothouses, refrigerated lorries and plastic wrapping could be more polluting than a farm in a developing country that uses manual labour, cow shit and sunlight. Buying beans from Kenya that have been flown in en masse could actually be better for the environment than buying locally grown beans that were produced with oil-based pesticides and tractors and taken to market in small quantities in petrol powered vans. And then there’s the issue of Fairtrade, and whether a farmer in Kenya is getting humped by the global rich, and whether cutting ourselves off from exotic fruit and veg will knacker communities dependent on their sale. All of which is making me nostalgic for that easy answer we had a couple of paragraphs ago. Thems were the days.
Let’s try for some conclusions here. Or at least some compromises. This is supposed to be a Butterfly, not the keynote address at the annual conference of Indecisive Hand Wringers International – the date, time and location of which have yet to be confirmed. We need a hierarchy of decisions:
- As an alternative to researching every pea’s production method and transportation we’ll choose seasonal, organic, local produce whenever we can.
- When we can’t get organic we’ll go for old school oily-fertiliser stuff, choosing local over global produce and avoiding air freight altogether.
- If we occasionally get tempted by a banana, assuming they tend not to grow in our local area, we’ll go for Fairtrade so there’s at least some good coming from our heavily-polluting lapses.
- Whenever possible we’ll avoid buying produce that’s not organic, not seasonal and not local because carbon maths aside there’s something quite stupid about buying a potato from Albania when someone’s growing one round the corner.
The main conclusion, then: This has been a pain in the arse. The sooner we turn our attention to horse implosion the better. At least that’s a clear cut issue.
Consider food miles
Reduce carbon emissions
Save the goddamn world
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