06 January 2009

Still worth a kin's ransom

As I worked my way through the second section of "Omnivores Dilemma" this morning, so far examining the Organic food industry in the US (and today it very much is an industry, just as mechanised and conglomerated as its non-organic counterpart), I realised that the fridge was empty and it was my turn to cook tonight. Seeing an opportunity to kill two metaphorical birds with one allegorical stone, I shuffled into town to buy some Organic vegetables and add some fuel to my own local vs Organic produce fire (which astute readers will remember I have been stoking for almost two days now. Quite a conflagration indeed).

Limiting myself to mass market supermarkets, who in recent years have hopped wholeheartedly on the Organic bandwagon, I ended up in Marks & Spencer, and bought 150g of Green Beans, 500g of Parsnips, 1kg of new Potatoes and 350g of mixed Broccoli and Cauliflower, all certified Organic and about enough to form the basis of two days' dinners for two people for just over €10.

Not one of the items came from Ireland.

Given that it was Marks and Spencer this is to be expected, as their range of Irish produce is very poor, but surprisingly few of their items came from their home base in the UK either. While the parsnips and cauliflower came from the UK, the broccoli was from Italy, the potatoes from Israel* and the beans all the way from Kenya. Of course if I was limiting myself purely to seasonal vegetables, their origins may have been different, but I was specifically looking for food labelled 'Organic'.

The 'FoodMiles' of my dinner is one of the major factors in the local vs Organic debate. Modifying the helpful (and just for fun, not really and truly scientifically accurate) FoodMiles carbon calculator found at OrganicLinker to reflect distance to Dublin rather than London, arbitrarily using a country's capital city as the port of origin, and assuming the produce arrived by plane given its shorter shelf life due to the lack of preservatives, we get the following results:
Beans: Nairobi to Dublin = 4507 miles = 356 kg carbon
Broccoli: Rome to Dublin = 1182 miles = 93 kg of carbon
Potatoes: Tel Aviv to Dublin = 2501 miles = 198 kg of carbon
Parsnips: London to Dublin = 291 miles = 23 kg of carbon
Cauliflower: London to Dublin = 291 miles = 23 kg of carbon
for a grand total of 693 Kg of carbon to get the food to my table, as opposed to roughly 2.5kg of carbon it would take to throw them all in the back of a truck and drive them from Denis Healy's farm in Wicklow to the Farmer's Market in Ranelagh.

According to the calculator at Responsible Travel my dinner is the carbon equivalent of five flights between Dublin and JFK. So basically it is more sustainable for me to take the Very Understanding Girlfriend to New York for dinner tonight than to shop in Marks & Spencer.

She might not buy that, but it's worth a try.

* One of the ironies in the fabulous world of the potato is that (according to the Very Understanding Girlfriend) Irish people do not like the taste of Irish potatoes. Coincidently English people do not like the taste of English potatoes. We therefore export almost all of our potatoes to England, and most potatoes in Irish supermarkets actually come from England. Perhaps this is our revenge for the Famine.

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