Does locality matter?

I’m a complete glutton for soft fruit, and love it when the shops are full of local (or at least british) berries. But there are some times of the year when there just isn’t much local produce around, and sometimes I really like the idea of some fresh green beans, say, even when they aren’t in season over here. But I always feel rather guilty about buying air-freighted fruit and vegetables – surely the carbon costs of all those air miles can’t be a good thing?

So I was really interested to read this blog entry in the Observer. There’s apparently a good argument that western consumers actually have a moral duty to eat strawberries out of season. There are several reasons – food miles within the UK are by no means negligible, and sometimes are actually more than for imported produce. Also, it’s the people growing fruit and veg in sub-Saharan Africa who will suffer disproportionately from climate change, so is it right to make them suffer in order to avoid climate change? And, anyway, if you buy imported organic produce you’re probably saving more emissions from the production of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides than you’re causing from air freighting. So the argument is that if you buy organic and Fair Trade you are outweighing the food miles.

It’s clearly not a simple matter, and I bet there are good arguments pushing in both directions. And in many ways life would be a lot easier if there were simple answers to questions like this. But from a purely selfish point of view I’m glad that I needn’t feel too guilty about occasionally indulging my taste for foreign fruit and veg.

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