Reading The Sun’s Bizarre column, as I am wont to do, I came across a piece about celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. In the article, Mr Ramsay, whose name cannot be mentioned in a tabloid without the adjective foul-mouthed being inserted, called for restaurants to be banned from selling out-of season fruit and veg. He then went on to rail against eating asparagus in December or Kenyan strawberries in March. The law should, according to Mr Ramsay come down like a ton of bricks on establishments which engage in such practices. Yes Mr Ramsay, what we need now is a War on Asparagus to combat this evil. Perhaps I should send Ramsay my shopping lists for his personal approval.
Ramsay also talks about having everything locally sourced which gives me an opportunity to talk about the Buy Local movement. Needless to say I am extremely sceptical about this movement as I think trade is a positive international force for creating wealth and actually making the world a better place. Historian Will Durant when talking about Ancient Greece summed it up eloquently:
The crossroads of trade are the meeting place of ideas, the attrition ground of rival customs and beliefs; diversities beget conflict, comparison, thought; superstitions cancel one another, and reason begins.
It seems incredible to me that so many self-proclaimed progressives support Buy Local campaigns and it is all the rage to be a locavore. I have no problem with buying local but for me there is no inherent virtue in buying local. If a product can be made cheaper and/or better somewhere else, I think we all benefit from the deal. The whole question of food miles has become an article of faith for the green movement but is applied in a very simplistic way. Transport represents only one component of the total environmental impact of food production and consumption. One study published in 2003 showed that tomatoes grown in Spain and transported to the United Kingdom may have a lower carbon footprint in terms of energy efficiency than tomatoes grown in the United Kingdom, because of the energy needed to heat greenhouses in the UK. A more recent report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology says that the distance that food travels is only around 11 percent of the average American household’s food-related greenhouse gas emissions. But this is about environmentalism as a kind of religious movement. Questions such as food miles, recycling, air travel become moral imperatives; we need a cooler perspective to deal with the problems that exist. I agree with Stefan Lomborg:
When we fear for our environment, we seem easily to fall victim to short-term, feel-good solutions that spend money on relatively trifling issues and thus hold back resources from far more important ones. This does not mean that rational environmental management and environmental investment is not often a good idea – only that we should compare the costs and benefits of such investments to similar investments in all the other important areas of human endeavour.
And what about the effect on Kenyan farmers? They are denied the possibility of earning a living. We don’t need fair trade – we need more free trade. That, alas, is a political utopia.
Further reading and listening
The Sun Gord: Ban out of season veg.
The Observer: How the myth of food miles hurts the planet