It wasn't till we moved to Colorado that I started thinking more seriously about the food we eat: where it is grown, how it is grown, and where I buy it. My preferences evolved slowly: local over organic, organic over standard supermarket produce, and imported over local depending on the product. I am all over the place when it comes to choices. And, after following some food bloggers on the Eat on $30 challenge, I am deeply grateful that I am able to make these choices.
It took me a while to start frequenting Farmers Markets. My first visit to the Boulder Farmers Market was very disappointing. It was on one of the hottest days of that year where I watched expensive produce wilt in the heat. It didn't help that I didn't have a cute puppy in tow - dogs are great conversation starters and ice-breakers at Farmers Markets and street fairs. I saw hitherto strangers becoming friends over talk of food, pets, music and art. Me? I felt out of place and couldn't understand the excitement or fawning over the limited produce. After all, I had bought fresh seasonal produce off the streets and in bazaars in Bombay and in Nairobi, before that.
It was only a couple of years later when Louisville Farmers Market opened that I started enjoying the concept. I had also, by then, discovered how hard it is to grow anything in my backyard. Sticking saplings in the soil and expecting them to grow no longer worked. Soil pH, sun radiance and weather in general, coupled with a short growing season, play such a huge role that a veggie bed is a monumental task for a lazy person like me. My respect for farmers in my area grew by leaps and bounds. To me, Farmers Markets soon became more about supporting local farmers and strengthening community. It is not about eating local or organic or reducing the carbon footprint of the food we eat. That in turn raised some questions in my mind: how concerned should I be about the carbon footprint of our food? If the food or product is locally grown or made, does it mean it is more energy-efficient?
How could I explain why I bought New Zealand lamb even though I live in a state known for its lamb?
I was heartened when I chanced upon James E. McWilliams' article Food That Travels Well in the NY Times. He writes:
lamb raised on New Zealand’s clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton while British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed. In other words, it is four times more energy-efficient for Londoners to buy lamb imported from the other side of the world than to buy it from a producer in their backyard.I wondered if a similar comparison were made with Colorado lamb, which would be more energy-efficient. I have no clue. But price and accessibility put New Zealand lamb in my shopping cart as Colorado lamb is more expensive and harder to find. The truth is that I felt a little less guilty about it, too.
The article makes for some excellent reading, drawing attention to the fact that eating local is not always the most environmentally sound solution if more emissions are generated at other stages of the product life cycle than during transport. (quote from the same article). He puts forth solutions that will take long-term planning towards achieving sustainable produce for all parts of the nation.
Williams' Op-Ed article unleashed equally thought-provoking letters.
I am sending this article to The Write Taste, if Sra will let me.
What are your food buying habits and what do you pay more attention to: local, organic, price, assumed carbon footprint?