Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Grocery Store Politics

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.

Just Food


Simone said...

Ahhh, my favourite topic (of the moment). I'll maybe pipe up with a longer comment when I have a chance to think (ie not at work) but thought I'd provide a link to a off topic, but slightly related food story that fits with the theme of the blog - apparently MacDonalds is trying to patent the method of making sandwiches...

too bizzare

Simone said...

everyone needs to draw their own line and for me I've decided local first, organic second. It is very difficult for local farmers to compete with those from mexico, china and even the states due to labour and other costs of doing business. Although i'd find it difficult to buy the tomatoes in the clam shell - I think in general buying local should be the first priority. It seems to me that if local farmers are able to make some sort of a living from farming they will be more able to think about things like how to farm more sustainably. of course, the demand for local and organic products is the best however, we do need to be willing to pay a bit more for our food. We get in a strange situation where we don't think about the total cost of shipping those peas from China or apples from new zeland. I can imagine that in addition to the GHG's needed to transport food here we wouldn't be impressed by the labour conditions or environmental impact of where most of our food is grown. If it seems too expensive to switch everything, then pick one thing. we started buying organic milk because it's local and toxics build up in fat. now we don't think about how much it costs, we just buy it. we still haven't moved to Organic cheese though as it seems too expensive. it is a struggle to de-couple cost from decision making but as you get further from student life and have more disposable income it does become easier to do.

knsheppard said...

Hey there fellow blogger. Just thought I'd drop you a comment, so we can connect in the blogosphere!