Did you know that “Pringles potato chips are sold in more than 180 countries, though they are manufactured in only a handful of places”? Consequently, the consumer can have quite a hard time finding local products in the supermarket.
The world we live in nowadays is highly complex as far as food goes. As the NY Times wrote some time ago: “Cod caught off Norway is shipped to China to be turned into filets, then shipped back to Norway for sale.” Just one of many crazy examples. What is the environmental and social price for that behaviour?
The Times brings it to the point when stating: “But the movable feast comes at a cost: pollution — especially carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas — from transporting the food.” And what’s worse, “under longstanding trade agreements, fuel for international freight carried by sea and air is not taxed.” The numbers are alarmingly high; the Guardian wrote in 2008 that “annual emissions from the world’s merchant fleet have already reached 1.12bn tonnes of CO2, or nearly 4.5% of all global emissions of the main greenhouse gas.” Which makes it rank right after cars, housing, agriculture and industry in the list of the worst climate changers. (read here about the idea to impose an environmental tax on cargo ships).
Having our products come from far away and on complicated journeys also means that we have no possibility of controlling the way they have been produced. Longer supply chains mean more possibilities for companies to produce in ways that damage the environment. They also heighten the chances of workers facing dangerous and inhumane working conditions.
One of the clearest reasons why our food has turned into globetrotters is the fact that we want to eat everything all the time. “Consumers in not only the richest nations but, increasingly, the developing world expect food whenever they crave it, with no concession to season or geography.” Combined with faster and cheaper transport (and those chemicals which help keeping stuff fresh) a new big business has been born.
As the NY Times concludes rightly, the problem and the solution lie in education: “unfortunately, we’ve educated our customers to expect cheap food, that they can go to the market to get whatever they want, whenever they want it. All year. 24/7.” It’s time to educate our children to be more sustainable consumers. In the meantime, a label like the one above might be useful for consumers with a conscience.