Friday, December 15, 2006

Save The World - Eat Nothing!

I recently read an article in last week's (December 9, 2006) Economist called 'Good food?', and now I'm not sure what the hell I'm supposed to be buying. You have to have a subscription to the magazine in order to see the article online, so I'll just paraphrase it's main points:

Buy organic, destroy the rainforest:
...greater use of chemical fertilizer has tripled grain yields with very little increase in the area of land under cultivation...producing the world's current agricultural output organically would require several times as much land as is currently cultivate.

Fairtrade food: ...designed to raise poor farmers' propping up the price...with a subsidy passed back to the farmer. But prices of agricultural commodities are low because of overproduction...the Fairtrade system encourages farmers to produce more of these commodities rather than diversifying into other crops and so depresses prices - thus achieving, for most farmers, exactly the opposite of what the initiative is intended to do...most of the mark-up goes to the retailer rather than the farmer.

Local food: ...reduces "food miles" and "carbon emissions", right? Surprisingly, no! Most people live closer to a supermarket than a farmer's market which means that there are more "food-vehicle" miles (i.e. miles travelled by vehicles carrying food...from home to the farmer's market and back). Moving food around in big, carefully packed trucks, as supermarkets do, may in fact be the most efficient way to transport the stuff.

The article goes on to say that change must come via government channels - global carbon tax, reform of the world trade system, and abolition of agricultural subsidies. The only real way for consumers to make a difference is by voting at the ballot box instead of with their shopping carts.

So, what did I buy at Géant this morning?

Well, for starters, no organic stuff. I've never felt that I could trust the fact that this stuff is really organic. Plus, the organic produce usually looks like crap. I'll take good-looking, plump, and cheaper non-organic produce over higher-priced, shriveled-up, blemished organic produce any day of the week! As my old neighbor Dr. John used to say: "Better living through chemistry!" With one exception: I like the organic lemons for drinks and grating because the non-organic lemons have too much wax on them.

Fairtrade food? Nope! I just had this feeling that the grocery store was making most of the extra money off of this stuff, and, according to The Economist, I was right. Plus, how often do I need to eat quinoa anyway? Not often.

Yup...drove to the "big-box", French grocery store (after dropping Mrs. TBF off at work...carpooling...huh, Huh?), and loaded up the S.U.V. (doh!) with chemically-laced, non-organic, non-Fairtrade, non-local, good-tasting groceries that'll lead me to an early grave; and since it was a beautiful, seasonably-cold morning, I drove back home with the window cracked open a bit in order to breathe in the cold, clean air. Yes, I was feeling pretty good about myself...

...saving the environment, and all!


Anonymous said...

yeah, that was a tough article. they had some good things to say about The Rainforest Alliances fairtrade model, I guess my parents have it right, grow a bunch of the stuff in your own house and then ride a bike to the farmers market for the rest.

The Big Finn said...

Sara - That's a good point. We've always had a garden in one form or another. I think the best thing people can do is grow herbs or vegetables (backyard, container, etc.) during the summer. A couple of zucchini or tomato plants, or a few sting bean plants will produce more vegetables than a person can eat for weeks. Plus, herbs...we're still picking fresh parsley from our herb garden.

christina said...

Geez. Who knew? I guess we'll never get it right.

I'm still picking parsley and chives as well.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more about the produce. I look at that crap and think I would rather eat the you know what of a you know what(ing) skunk!

The Big Finn said...

christina - CHIVES!!! Of course! I need to check mine!

tms - I have no idea what you're talking about. Is that some kind of code?

Unknown said...

We love being so close to our city center here so that we can walk to get everything. When we do go out, we usually make just one trip to a location..

By the way, since I did have to drive by Geant France 3 times daily, I'd say stop making kids get out of school for lunch so that parents don't pick them up and that would save more on the environment!

But what got me, you think voting will help? certainly not in the US!

The Big Finn said...

et - "...the article goes on to say..." The Economist said that voting at the ballot box is key to change...not me.
Also, I think most of the kids here in Basel who come home for lunch either walk or use the tram. A lot of the parents at the International School of Basel drive their kids to school, but those kids actually eat their lunch at school.