What’s your food footprint?

Posted on February 6, 2013

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Eco friendly food

Food writer Joanna Blythman recently penned a controversial Guardian article – Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa? She claimed that western demand for super-grain quinoa was pushing up its prices in native Bolivia and Peru to the extent that locals could no longer afford their staple grain and were turning to cheaper junk food for (mal) nutrition.

On top of this, those pesky bean lovin’ herbivores were also responsible for mass deforestation in South America, due to increasing soya production.

Thanks a LOT, vegans.

A sad tale indeed for the discerning ethical eater, if it were entirely accurate. The article was rightfully slammed for persecuting vegans for the wider problem of globalisation and western superfood lust, as well as conveniently forgetting that meat eaters enjoy quinoa too. It also turned out that 97% of soya production is used for animal feed, not to be gobbled up by greedy vegans. It seems it’s not the ‘affluent foreigners preoccupied with animal welfare’ that are driving up poverty, but a far more complex system of global trade and personal choices. Not to mention the piece was riddled with errors – Jeremy Cherfas elaborates on the issue far more eloquently here, and Stefan Jeremiah and Michael Wilcox here.

But this did get me thinking about my own food footprint, and how damn hard it’s become to eat both ethically, and affordably.

Having been on first name terms with the guys in my local grocer’s for some time, these days I have to sneak past the shop with leopard-like stealth, hiding my supermarket bags in red-faced shame. I’m a Tesco branded, baked-bean-toting, urban leopard bitch. And I feel bloody awful about that, I really do.

I’m embarrassed to show my face in store. After a week-long hiatus in local shopping recently, I was cheerfully asked where I’d been – had I been on holiday? Anywhere nice?

‘Er…no…just been…working…’ I mumbled awkwardly before buying twenty pounds worth of completely unnecessary cleaning products to alleviate my guilt.

Even though my lovely local grocer’s fruit and veg are twice the size and freshness of what you find in branded stores, their prices have swollen so much that I’ve been forced more and more into the over-packaged, soulless and corporate lands of supermarket shopping. As much as I value supporting my local community, I’m not working as much as I’d like to be able to right now and I need to keep my food over-heads down, like so many other people trying to stay afloat financially at the moment.

One thing I am trying to do is eat seasonally. Want blueberries in November? Butternut squash in June? Not only are they going to taste rubbish thanks to being grown out of season or flown in from some far-flung country, your carbon footprint will go through the roof. Sticking to fruit and veg that’s in season is one thing we can do to trim back the environmental cost of eating healthily. So that’s no Peruvian chick peas or Botswanan goat’s cheese for you, OK?

New age meals on wheels

New age meals on wheels

Companies devoted to carbon friendly food distribution are springing up everywhere. Social enterprise Bike Box cycles food produce from various growers and sellers to consumers across London, and Scottish company Vegware is the UK’s first and only completely compostable food packaging firm – making cups, cutlery and other packaging from raw plant materials.

Buy-one-get-one-free curly fries from Iceland are always going to be a cheaper alternative to getting your five-a-day, and you won’t have to worry about the exploitation of Mongolian potato farmers. A diet like this might send you into cardiac arrest when you have to run for the bus, though. Ethical, sustainable and healthy eating isn’t generally the easy option. It takes careful consideration, and sometimes more money. But if you want to avoid cowering behind lamp posts to hide your Sainsbury’s Finest pea and ham soup (it was HALF PRICE), then it’s definitely the way forward.

Images

Earth food – http://www.sheknows.com
Meals on wheels – http://www.telegraph.co.uk

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