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Monday, November 12, 2007

The moral duty to eat African strawberries at Christmas

This article (Acrobat PDF opens if you click the title of this post) explores the problem that arises if we all reduce our food miles. The author argues that poor people who are trying to sell the produce we will no longer buy because its air-freighted, will pay a high price for our good intentions.

A prominent environment and development consultant from Kenya has commented:

"My congratulations to the author of the article! At least some one else is able to put in clear writing what I struggle to say in so many places. Simplistic solutions such as food miles will hurt the environment more and lull us into the false belief that we are part of the solution when are actually still part of the problem and making it worse."

Here is one extract:
"A number of studies analysing the total carbon footprint of agrarian products, particularly those sold in the UK, have conclusively shown that the full life-cycle climate change impact of food supply in industrialised countries cannot be reduced to simple distances between consumers and producers.

"According to a report by the New Zealand Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit (AERU),6 the carbon footprint of NZ milk solids, lamb and apples sold in the UK is up to four times lower than that of their locally produced equivalent, even if transport emissions are included."

If you are thinking of reducing your carbon footprint by reducing food miles, make sure you have done the calcuations!

They also say:
"over one million livelihoods [in Africa] are supported in part owing to the fresh produce trade with the UK alone.”

I think this just shows how complicated everything is.

A large part of our reason for doing the local diet was to learn more about our own culture and land, and get more connected to the earth. These might sound like woolly concepts when you are considering how to support poor farmers but to us they were important and I think that a lot of the "local produce" trend is actually driven by this desire to connect with roots and identity and to assert one's identity through a sense of place. 'Food miles' might appear to be an eco-concern but I believe it taps into a much more primeval tribalism. That tribalism is what drives it, and the noral justification is found inthe eco-movement, which itself is partly driven by the same desire to create a sense of place and connection.


  1. Anonymous8:43 am

    mmm, noral justification

  2. I don't accept that Strawberries are the only crop the Kenyans could grow. Someone somewhere has decided to encourage them to grow a crop which relies on airfreight.

    Anyway, good to read that you've been there ahead of us. Good luck.