Food Miles and Sustainability
A Season for Everything
A luscious, sweet strawberry three months after the local harvest has been bought out in the market. An exotic, tropical mango grown and flown from thousands of miles away. Or simply a bowl of out-of-season leafy greens that only show up locally for a few weeks every year.
Imported and exported fruits and vegetables are popular despite their higher price and environmental cost because of their perceived value. Out-of-season vegetables and fruits seem more desirable because it feels like having something we normally can’t have. It always feels thrilling to be able to taste the grass a little beyond the metaphorical fence in the grass field. Even wholesome treats like seasonal fruits and vegetables have been subjected to the demands of an impatient culture that doesn’t like to wait.
Food Miles and Sustainability
Yet the question whether the import of out-of-season and foreign produce is economically and environmentally responsible is open to debate. Some say that it’s good for international trade and helps developing nations by increasing their income. Others contend that importing out-of-season and foreign produce is not really necessary and causes environmental problems to boot (which increases food miles). Carbon emissions caused by air freighting locally grown produce for consumers thousands of miles away is one of the foremost issues.
“I think we’d be very foolish to expect that we can just import everything from somewhere else and imagine that that’s going to last for ever and ever and ever” – HRH The Prince of Wales, BBC interview, October 2005
Land used for traditionally grown local crops may be sacrificed for crops in demand with the international market. Also, local farmers and producers may lose out to imported produce dominating the market. Then there are cases of conflicts in trade agreement between nations. Does an importing nation have the right to ban and/or challenge imported products from an exporting nation because the production method used is environmentally irresponsible? Is it right to accept imported seafood delicacies when they have been harvested through dynamite fishing that may cause widespread damage to marine life and ecosystems outside the exporting country’s national boundaries? Or is it none of the importing nation’s business?
Questions like these involve complex international debates and agreements, but individual consumers can take their stand on the issue. If you feel that buying and supporting imported and out-of-season produce is economically and environmentally irresponsible, you can do the following:
Choose Sustainable Local Produce
Locally grown fruits and vegetables have fewer food miles than imported ones, which translates to lesser carbon emissions caused by transport. The term “locavore” is used to describe a consumer who chooses and buys local produce over imported ones.
Buy in Season
When fruits and vegetables are sold during their local natural season, chances are they were grown and transported near or within the area. Some people swear that locally grown, in-season fruits and vegetables taste the best. Plus, they also tend to have lower prices than imported and out-of-season produce.
Grow Your Own
Homegrown fruits and vegetables have significantly less food miles than imported ones – they travel from your garden to your kitchen. Growing your own also means you have complete control over use of pesticides and fertilizers on your fruits and vegetables. If you are unable to maintain a home garden, support local farmers instead by sourcing your fresh produce from them.
Compare Food Miles
If you simply must have that Middle Eastern variety of tomato or that delicate Southeast Asian spring onion, try to compare different products’ food miles. Choose the ones grown and transported closer to home.
It may be hard to sacrifice the thrill of having that little tuft of grass beyond the fence, but for those who choose to look homeward, they will find that the grass within their reach tastes just the same – and even better.
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