Saturday, 22 December 2007
The BBC's been looking at sustainable food this week in a series of special reports. A recent survey suggests that the British public is thinking much more about where their food is sourced from when out shopping. Whilst I applaud this upward trend, I'm unsure whether the high percentage (57%) found in the survey is actually reflected on the High Street - I'm sure that price and affordability are the key factors for most people.
Part of the sustainability debate is around food miles and our appetite for year-round availability. The Soil Association is considering whether to withdraw its organic label for food airfreighted from abroad, though there are also counter-arguments about how this helps the developing world stand on its own two feet. A good article on the pros and cons can be found here. A recent commercial response to this is the setting up of a vast greenhouse just outside Middlesborough for the production of year-round tomatoes. Waste heat and carbon dioxide from a nearby ammonia plant are being used for heating. It's being touted as a neat solution to utilising industrial waste products (and reducing the UK's carbon footprint) whilst cutting down on those pesky food miles. Initially it sounds great, but I'm worried about how good the solution actually is. Around 7,000 tonnes of tomatoes will be produced annually - how does this fit with the UK's total consumption? UK manufacturing is in general decline, what happens if the ammonia plant closes, never mind about its environmental impact in the first place? What's used to light the greenhouse, is this also sustainable? It cost 14 million pounds to set up, so it doesn't sound commercially viable to me. I've tried to find the answer to these questions, but failed so far.
Another approach of course is to concentrate on eating seasonal foods only, which is one of the reasons why I took on an allotment. However, NAH and I like to have salad for tea during the week - whilst I can supply a good selection of leaves for our salad for most of the year, I can't see NAH agreeing that readily to change from the tomatoes, peppers and cucumber he likes to have. So, I'll probably make these the tomato of choice when they start appearing on the supermarket shelves, but it will be with the reservations noted above.