Deciding what to buy these days involves the weighing up of a multitude of sometimes competing considerations. The big one, of course, is the big, ugly splodge of carbon that gets footprinted in the course of growing, manufacturing or distributing the product in question.
It’s easy for us Africans to laugh at Europeans’ angst about such matters. After all, their supermarkets are stocked with produce that’s been flown or trucked in from all around the world. However, rising affluence in South Africa means there’s a greater willingness to pay a premium for out-of-season produce that’s been flown in.
Last week I needed green asparagus, so I made the usual visit to Woolies. I noticed that the price was double what it had been a month previous, but thought no further of it. It was only when I was about to trim them in preparation for blanching that I realised they were produced in Peru. We’ve had Kenyan or Zimbabwean green beans, broccoli or rocket for some years – and in any case they’re in Africa – but asparagus from Peru somehow pushes us into another bracket.
It has to be said that I would not normally buy produce at double the in-season price – I’d rather switch to something else that’s in season – so I’m not going to be responsible for spreading that splodge too much. I do sometimes buy imported avocado, which I pretend has been brought in by ship, which is a relatively carbon-friendly way of moving goods around (for the record, wine moves around the world by ship, not air).
I’m looking forward to the day when a bottled-water-sipper gives me the carbon footprint lecture. There are few places in the developed world these days where it is not safe to drink tap water, which by some distance is the most carbon-efficient way of distributing aqua (not to mention the cheapest). I suspect most people who order bottled water in restaurants do so because they don’t want to be perceived as being miserly. Somehow it seems so un-cool to ask specifically to be served tap water.
One of these days I’ll stop writing about Tokyo, I promise, but I must mention the bottled water I encountered at Foodex. Labelled Arabian Oasis, it comes from the Emirates, the carbon centre of the world, and was being dished out by promotion girls dressed so scantily they would be in danger of getting stoned in some Muslim countries. When we’re drinking bottled water from a desert country (probably produced by reverse osmosis) the perversity of modern consumerism has reached a dangerously destructive pitch.
It used to be thought that organic farming was where the ducks ate the snails, and the farmer ate the ducks (I’m happy to eat the ducks, too). While I don’t actively seek out organically-farmed produce I prefer to consume food or drink that’s been produced with the minimum of chemicals. When it comes to wine – notoriously difficult to grow organically – bear in mind that the vines have to be sprayed more regularly for downy mildew, which substantially increases the carbon footprint.
I’m troubled by the viability of fish stocks every time I see a big, beautiful tuna, yellow tail or geelbek lying on crushed ice at the fishmonger’s. How long must it take them to grow to that size? Can there really be so many of them that they can be fished as intensively as they are? My solution is to switch to farmed salmon, but then I have to consider the carbon footprint (fresh salmon gets flown to South Africa). There just doesn’t seem to be a win-win solution.
I could switch to Karoo lamb, which is effectively farmed organically, but what would Patrick Holford say about me eating all this meat, not to mention the lack of fish in my diet? Dare I suggest that he has a box of pills or capsules to sell me?