Tuesday 19 October 2010

Food from afar: a short discussion about provenance

As promised, here is a short discussion about provenance, of where your food comes from and how it gets here.

The concept of food miles is a controversial one, which, in the minds of many, wrongly conjures up images of large jumbos flying fresh produce around the globe on a daily basis.

Let’s get that one out of the way. The vast majority of fresh produce that travels over the water to us, or to any destination, will travel by ship. In terms of percentages, this accounts for at least 95 per cent, probably more. It is an incredibly efficient means of getting large volumes from one point to another.

(Anything that is ever flown, by the way, tends to travel in the holds of passenger flights already bound for a particular destination, rather than specifically chartered plants)

Eating produce from overseas gives us access to foods we just can’t grow in here in Britain (avocados, for instance…), as well as new varieties of those we can. And at different times of the year. If we stuck to British fruit and veg for the autumn/winter season, we’d be eating nothing but root veg, brassicas, apples, pears and quince for the next six months (nothing wrong with these, but let’s have some variety).

With regards carbon footprint, we all need to do our research on the subject, as the impact of British and other food industries can fluctuate widely, depending on when we’re eating.

There is also a strong argument for purchasing from many sources, developing counties particularly, for ethical reasons: to provide jobs and income in areas where primary industry is the main source of both.

Here a few sensible articles we’ve noticed on the subject

And an interesting one on the relative efficiency of the New Zealand and UK dairy industries:

Also full marks to Food: What Goes in Your Basket programme a couple of weeks ago, for presenting a balanced report on Moroccan tomatoes. At certain times of the season, noted the programme, the carbon footprint of Moroccan tomatoes can be three times lower than that of their British equivalent. It’s not always the case - but this, and the other case studies above remind us that the debate about what we eat, and from where, is one of nuances - and for which we need to be in possession of all the facts before we form our opinions.  

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