Saturday, November 6, 2010

Don't get fooled by the local eating edict

Who can resist the appeal of fresh, local produce? But imported foods often better served our needs.

Our local library is promoting the most foolish book of the year. The City of Kawartha Lakes Public Library invites us to get “on the same page” by reading “The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating,” by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. Smith and MacKinnon chronicle a year of eating nothing but food from within a 100-mile radius of their Vancouver apartment. No rice, pineapples, oranges, bananas, peanuts, olive oil, tea, coffee or sugar. They ate such things as turnip sandwiches and seaweed.
     Why? Because, they say, food in a North American meal typically travels at least 1,500 miles—sometimes 10,000 miles—before it reaches the dinner plate. That burns up gasoline, diesel or jet fuel, causing global warming. “Eating locally,” says David Suzuki, “may be one of the most important ways we save ourselves and the planet.”
     But if it’s bad to import food thousands of miles, it must be just as bad to export food thousands of miles. Try telling that to prairie farmers who rely on wheat sales to China!
     Only a fool would ignore the benefits of local produce. Never are those more appealing than at this time of the year when all the supermarkets, the farmers’ markets and the roadside stands groan with cornucopias of fresh, wholesome foods, bursting with flavour. What can taste fresher than food that goes from farm to table?
     But it’s just as foolish to ignore foods from distant sources when they do offer more of what you need—nutrition, flavour, price, convenience, or the wide variety of different fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and other good stuff that are the essence of a healthy diet. What good does it do you to eat locally grown plums if you need the extra potassium found in bananas?
     Who benefits if you pay a premium—a premium of price, choice or convenience—in order to avoid distant foods as much as possible?
     Not you. It doesn’t benefit your health, or your pocketbook.  Not 30 million other Canadian consumers. Not some of the world’s most destitute people whose livelihoods depend on the sale of bananas, pineapples and other food.
     Not most of our farmers. They can compete very well, thank you, without the need for any social stigma attached to distant food. Many would be hurt if everyone ate local.
     Not those whose jobs and incomes depend on a prosperous economy. Not in a county where one-third of all jobs depend on export sales. Not at a time when most of the world—including Canada—teeters on a knife-edge between economic recovery and slipping back into a hard-times recession. Not when the greatest danger of that is the type of trade restraint implicit in the local eating edict.
     Not the environment. There are better ways to curb global warming. Forget about giving up peanuts from Georgia or rice from Thailand. Instead, give up eating red meat, even if it’s local. That would be better for both you and the environment. It takes 900 litres of crude oil to raise a 560-kilogram steer. [Tim Appanzeller, “The End of Cheap Oil.” National Geographic, June, 2004.] By the time the horns, hide, hoofs and other parts are removed, the animal is transported, butchered, sold, and cooked, more than three litres of oil has been burned to yield one kilogram of roast beef. And that doesn’t consider the greenhouse gas emitted by the belching and flatulence of cattle, a substantial source of global warming. There are also other ways you can help curb global warming. Drive your car less and walk more. Scrap your gas- or electric-powered lawn mower for a push motor. It cuts your grass just as well, doesn’t pollute and won’t disturb the neighbours at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Plant trees in your back yard to soak up carbon dioxide and shade your house on hot, hazy and humid summer days.
     Trade—across provinces and regions or among countries—is oxygen for our economy. Misguided efforts that seek to curb that come at a price. Consider Woodville Farms, a produce farm near here owned by the Otter family. Cabbages thrive in the climate and soil conditions here, but not in Florida. Woodville Farms grows lots of cabbage and ships them by the truckload to Publix Super Markets in Florida, the largest employee-owned supermarket chain in the United States. The trucks haul back oranges to Ontario, where the climate is not noted for growing citrus fruit. What would happen to this family-owned enterprise in Woodville if the good people in Florida decided they would not eat cabbage because it isn’t local? How would Ontario consumers be served by impairing the supply of oranges? What would happen if the Chinese decide to boycott Canadian wheat?
     Don’t be taken in by those who want you to boycott distant food. Eat what’s best for you, whether it’s tomatoes from your backyard garden or kiwi fruit from New Zealand.
TAGS: Food. The 100-Mile Diet. Alisa Smith. J.B. Mackinnon. International trade. Agriculture. Global warming.

No comments:

Post a Comment