As I was saying…

Apparently, there are some people who’d like me to continue writing the occasional blog about local food, so thanks for the feedback and apologies for the gap. The last post was at the beginning of October, and there’s been lots going on since then to write about, so today’s entry will be a quick gallop just touching on a few topics of things I’ve come across in the last six weeks that I can remember, and if possible I’ll include links so you can find out more if you’d like.

One area that I’m always debating in my own mind as much as with friends is the relative ‘greenness’ of buying food: is it better to buy local and reduce food miles, or import tomatoes from Spain where they grow in sunshine rather than heated greenhouses? Is airfreighted food justifiable if vulnerable populations in Africa are dependent on the income? As more than 90% of the fruit we eat  and almost 40% of our vegetables are imported (figures taken from the Airbus article mentioned below), how can we as consumers make the ‘right’ choices when the issues are complex and the information not always available? I’m not promising that I have the right answers by any means, but I try and do what I think is best for the planet in the long term, based on what I know now and trying to be aware of issues as they change.

 The topic raised its head when I got the free Airbus Community Review Filton 2010 through the door which contained an article about this issue, emphasising the humanitarian benefits of flying in food from abroad. Personally I have a problem buying Kenyan green beans in July when they’re flourishing in the UK, and there’s a drought in Kenya, but guiltily justify buying bananas, coffee, tea etc as we can’t grow them here and they provide much-needed foreign currency to rural African communities. So I was intrigued to read The Green Food Bible by Judith Wills, published in 2008, which recommends buying seasonal, organic, local food if you can, and if not, then seasonal, local, non-organic food. If that fails, then buy seasonal, non-organic UK food. After that buy local non-organic, before buying fairly traded imported organic food, recommending that you only buy imported food if you consider it a vital part of your larder (she mentions most spices, citrus fruit, lentils, bananas, coffee and tea). I think that was the conclusion I was getting to anyway: that way we eat locally and seasonally, but still provide income to developing countries who can grow certain foods better than we can.     

Next I came across an article saying that the National Trust had carried out research into local food with the conclusion that regional food flavours are as distinctive as dialects and that by buying locally we are preserving these unique tastes. ‘Food in its raw state can be made up of hundreds of thousands of flavour compounds, and small changes – such as the kind of soil a carrot was grown in – will have lasting impacts, which give them their flavour characteristics.’ Apparently food from the south-west has a primary flavour of cream and honey…

And then in Manna (the Bath and Wells diocesan magazine) there was an article calling for a farming renaissance, with food production based on custodianship and safeguarding the earth’s resources rather than on making profits. Coincidentally, I only now realise that the article was written by Graham Harvey, author of The Carbon Fields, which I read in October. It advocates the return to pasture-fed animals (rather than grain-fed) as permanent pasture provides better flora and fauna diversity, happier animals, food with higher vitamin and mineral content, improved soil quality, and the fields capture carbon rather than releasing it through annual grain crops.  

10:10 brought an article by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall encouraging people to eat very locally in order to reduce their carbon footprint… Nigel Slater denied himself the pleasure of baked apples as he couldn’t justify putting the oven on for those alone… A writer in the Independent was surprised that shopping in farm shops and farmers’ markets (where the food is produced by the retailers) is consistently cheaper than supermarkets as the middleman is cut out…. And the campaign to stop up to 60% of fish caught in the North Sea from being discarded is beginning to get press coverage I sway between being delighted that the topics are being so readily aired to being despondent that the majority of people are not making changes to their lifestyles, or seeing the benefits either in the short or long-term.     

Following my visit to Oatley Vineyard in September, I joined in picking the harvest in October and had the most enjoyable day, photographic evidence can be found in the Gallery via  

I think I should stop here, but just a small plug for the film evening next Tuesday 23 November, 7.30 at Clevedon Town Council Offices. We’ll be showing Rebecca Hosking’s film A Farm for the Future, which is both beautiful and inspiring.

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