© Kat Morgenstern September 2008, all rights reserved.
Not a day goes by without some news item about global warming and our massive carbon foot print that is threatening to stomp out life as we know it. We are all aware of how much carbon dioxide is blown into the air by just about everything, including bovine digestive systems, not to mention cars, factories or planes that atomize fossil fuels at frightening speeds and quantities. The modern convenience lifestyle is extremely energy hungry and more and more people around the world want their slice of the pie. It all adds up.
There are numerous energy hungry devices we simply cannot do without, though we may try to decrease our use. We all need warmth in the winter, and most of us can't do without cars, especially when we live in the countryside. But we do have a bit more choice when it comes to making every day consumer decisions.
I challenge you to take a look into your fridge and larder. What do you see? How many items do you buy that are pre-made? Where do your vegetables and meats come from? Butter from New Zealand? Meat from Argentina? Grapes from France, Avocadoes from Israel? If you are like most people chances are that the contents of your fridge come from all over the world, and have arrived at your home at a considerable energy cost. What do you detect that has been grown or manufactured within, say, 50 miles of your home? Do you buy local honey or jams from a farm store nearby? Are your seasonal fruits locally grown? Think about it. For each and every item that we commonly buy at our local supermarkets tons of energy are pumped not only into transporting them there from far and yonder, but often also to keep them fresh and cool, or, to produce them in the first place.
Fish caught anywhere except your local creek, without proper cooling, would rot before it even arrived at your fish market. Meat is no different and nor are certain sensitive vegetables or fresh herbs. Even cut flowers that decorate our homes are often grown far, far away. They must be flown in, in specially cooled air crafts, to arrive fresh and pristine at your local store and look as though they have just been cut at the nursery down the road.
I am not suggesting you should do without certain pleasures in life, but we can all do with a little bit more purchase awareness regarding the environmental consequences of our daily shopping jaunts.
As an experiment, how about trying to source your food as locally as possible, for, say, a month? Even city dwellers can usually find a farmers market where reasonably local producers sell their wares. For some items that might be tough or impossible, of course, unless you live in a tropical country. Coffee, tea, sugar and chocolate are just some of those things that you will not be able to buy from local producers.
You have a choice. Will you give it up, or go half way and buy fair trade and organic products so as to lessen the social and environmental impact in the countries of origin? Producing fertilizers, pesticides and other agrochemicals also eats up vast quantities of energy - not to mention their negative impact on the environment and on our own health - not to mention the farm worker's health who are most excessively exposed to these chemicals (and often become very sick from them). Organic farmers in developing countries are dependent on our purchases since their domestic market would be too small to sustain their livlihoods. Thus, if we buy organic, fare trade coffee we will still add to the global carbon foot print, but we will also help to nurture the seed of social and environmental change in countries that do not have as much choice when it comes to the economics of market forces. They can only afford to grow organic coffee or chocolate, or bananas as long as there is an export market for their produce. If there isn't, they will have to revert to regular pesticide and fertilizer dependent production.
In today's food industry 'convenience' is the big selling point: making the world's goodies available at your finger tips. It is all very well, but convenience comes with a very big price tag that we all pay indirectly. Supporting locally grown, and/or organic food producers is the most direct and powerful impact you can have on your local environment.
In Europe 'cottage industries' still exist and people are proud of their local specialties. Certain items are produced on such a small scale that they will never be seen on a supermarket shelf, not even a local one. You will only find them at farmers markets or directly at farm shops, where farmers sell their own special treats. Without the support of their communities these unique flavours and traditions, often passed down through many generations, will simply die and disappear. The choice is ours - use it or lose it and let the Nestles, Krafts and Heinz' of the world dominate our dining tables.
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