260,000 died because of the famine in Somalia in 2011-12 according to UN statistics. This occurred because of a cocktail of the worst drought in sixty years and aid relief not getting through because of rebel military extremists. Thousands of people escaped from Somalia over the border to Kenya to over-crowded, under resourced refugee camps. Yet it is from Kenya that our supermarkets are sourcing cheap fruit and vegetable produce, in their eye catching 3 for £2 offers. I feel something is not ethical about getting cheap grub from a continent that suffers so much from the consequences of lack of rain.
In fact it is these deals, which are contributing to their lack of water. While we are all becoming more aware of the damage of our carbon footprints and the need to reduce our Co2 emissions; bringing cheap fruit and vegetables from the third world means not only do we increase the carbon footprint by the air transport required, we are also removing water from their eco systems. The BBC 2 documentary “the Future of Food” showed how the vegetables carry water with them. Therefore when we eat our green beans as part of our five a day we are also depriving these countries of their water. Regions in India, that produce Iceberg lettuce, are depleting their underground water tables by not growing native crops evolved to suit the conditions. The last thing we need to bring into northern Europe is extra water.
Grow local eat local is healthy, and good for the planet. Having a permanent abundance of what we want, when we want is not actually good for us. Things eaten in season taste better and contain the nutrients we need for that season of the year. Fruit especially does not travel well; having had the fortune to live in the Rioja Region of Spain that has a bounty of fresh food and vegetables, not just the grapes for their famous wine, I know what eating recently picked fresh juicy peaches are like. Fruit should ripen on the tree, what we get are prematurely picked to not bruise while travelling ,to ripen at home, the result tasteless with unpleasant mouth feel.
Scotland is famed for quality produce and a diet to keep out the cold of our damp northerly climes. Mother nature also provided us with oats, they have been recognised as a food that reduces cholesterol naturally. Sadly, many have given up on the porridge but are eating more stodgy ready-made food than ever.
While people in the third world are dying of hunger, we in the west are getting fatter and unhealthier. Bombarded by fad diets, slimming aids and products, the diet industry is making big fat profits from the fact that we have lost the plot as far as food is concerned. We should admire the French whose chauvinism regarding their food have lead them to ignore all types of food fads and diets, they eat a lot of cream and butter but paradoxically their health as a nation is much better than most of west.
Another sobering statistic is the increased growth and need of food banks, 170% increase in 2012 13. Zero hour contracts, low salaries, minimal wage increases, have left people with the choice to eat or heat, that is not a choice any human being should have to make, especially not in a society that prides itself on being fair and protecting the vulnerable. We should hang our heads in shame.
And let’s not forget the amount of waste produced by all the packaging and transportation that supermarket presentation requires and sell by dates; a super marketers dream to sell more produce, it is quite easy to tell when most food has perished and do not forget the amount of preservatives and hormones that are added.
Supermarkets though are a convenient efficient business model, one that Margaret Thatcher adored and imposed on the country’s economy and see where that has got us! Many of the ills we have today can be traced back to those years, running down of manufacturing, de regularisation of everything and anything. Followed on by pointless, expensive to implement EU rules dreamed up by over paid researchers and bureaucrats.
Supermarkets have thrived in this economic environment but they are like an invasive predator species, while they have a place, they are destroying communities with their large out of centre hyper markets: what is saved at the till is paid for at the pump, their mini city stores squeezing out local traders and they are also harming agriculture. One simple example; Britain has lost many, many varieties of indigenous apple because the apples did not fit neatly onto pre-pack trays for the supermarkets. The consequence of this is making the remaining varieties weaker there is no cross pollination and that is just one case in point. Their solution GM crops, which result in seeds that do not reproduce but make the fat cats even more money because new seeds have to be purchased every year.
Food in this business model is a commodity, which is quite immoral. It is essential to life and in every religion the making and sharing of food plays an important part in the spiritual life of the family and community, something we are losing touch with because of the filling station attitude we have acquired. We have to eat, grabbing food, eating while working, at the computer, on the move, habits disastrous for the digestion. None the less we can all play our part by buying and shopping locally for local foods and using the supermarkets for genuine offers and remembering the French paradox. Our health at personal, community and global levels will be better for it.