Last winter when I was visiting Sim for reading week, we got an e-mail from Mom. She had a dilemma, and wanted our advice – she’d gone to the store to buy tomatoes (in Walkerton, in winter). Usually, mom likes to buy local produce, and in the winter purchases hothouse tomatoes that are grown hydroponically using leftover warm water from the power plant. However, this week, the hothouse tomatoes were packaged in those plastic clam shells that very few recycling systems actually take. So – her options were – buy the tomatoes that have come from Mexico, burning fossil fuel and polluting to get them to us millions of miles away in Walkerton, or buy the tomatoes from down the street that come in packaging that will sit in a landfill for thousands of years (and then likely leach cancer-causing chemicals into the groundwater when it finally does break down).
In my early days in Ottawa, we got an organic food basket. For a set price, we’d get a selection of fruit and veggies for the week. However, we began to feel weird about going down to the market every week to get our vegetables, passing the local farmers to pick up our oranges in the middle of July. So, now we try to buy our produce from the market (carefully reading the signs in each stall, because some of the vendors are wholesalers, rather than local producers).
And the list of ethical dilemmas that occur somewhere between “man I’m hungry” and getting something on the plate goes on and on – Here’s another one – farmed or wild fish? Fish farms were supposed to be the answer to over-fishing, but have led to sea lice and all kinds of problems. And wild salmon is so expensive (so then the selfish consideration/reality comes into it too – we have the same problem with organic meat).
Today another food warning has been announced (listeria in ham and turkey) – in the past months there’s been a myriad of contaminated food cases in North America. Something is broken in our food system, and we need to look at our habits and assumptions, and the systems they support, if it’s going to get fixed. I have no answers, but I think that realizing the questions need to be asked, and considering the “externalities” that go into the prices at your grocery store, is a first step.