Written by: Cally Worden
Our diet in the west is fabulously diverse, rich in the kinds of foods that simply weren’t available to us just a few generations ago. But the price of this on-tap variety is an increased carbon footprint as foods are moved by rail, road and air around the globe to satisfy our dietary whims. As the latest food fad takes flight, the industry gears up to get the stuff of the moment onto the supermarket shelves, whatever the cost to the planet.
A Global Issue
Most of us know, deep down, the damage this is doing to the environment. Yet the sleek gloss of marketing and the simple ease with which we can slip exotic items into our shopping trolley makes it easy to ‘forget’. And in the grand scheme of things like global industry, the sheer volume of vehicles on the roads and planes in the air around the world what difference does the contents of our fridge really make?
Individuals Making a Difference
Well, collectively, quite a lot. And that’s the thing. With all such global issues there is no single thing or entity at fault. It’s a volume issue, a problem being caused by so many small elements combining as one. Change can only really come because of individuals choosing to act, on mass. And making the decision to eat a diet of food that has, in the main, been produced locally is one way in which individuals are increasingly choosing to make a difference.
A Recent Phenomenon
As recently as 2006 studies such as the Stern Review in the UK, highlighted the impact of climate change on the global economy and the (in) ability of the world to continue to meet the demand for natural resources in the face of increasing global warming. Coupled with films like Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, which graphically highlights the current and potential impact of continued global warming, these public awareness communications began to serve as wake-up calls to people around the world. The message – we can arrest this change, but it will require a global effort, from individuals to multinationals. No one can succeed without the commitment of all. And we have to start somewhere.
The Hundred Mile Diet
This publication was released in 2007, and detailed the decision by a Canadian couple to source all their food only from within a one hundred mile radius of their urban home. No more oranges that had been transported overnight from California. No more exotic fruits that had been shipped in from overseas. Their journey was a success, an inspiration to a generation of people around the world who began to realise that individual action can make a difference. Within a few short years the idea of local sourcing blossomed.
The Fife Diet
Mike Small and his family in Fife are just one example. Having swapped an urban existence in Glasgow for a rural life in the Scottish countryside, Mike was becoming increasingly disillusioned about the apparent lack of commitment on climate change at a government level. The imminent arrival of his new baby contributed to his motivation, the family made a commitment to source 100% of their food from the Fife area, representing approximately a 30-mile radius from their home.
They began to grow their own produce too, pickling and otherwise preserving any excess from the summer to help tide their diet over the leaner winter months. Sensing a desire for change among the local community, Mike and his family established a series of community lunches across the local area to spread the word and inspire others to become involved.
Such was the success of their project that the Scottish Government allocated funds from its Climate Challenge Fund, allowing the Fife group to set up communal growing projects, and run workshops to educate people and provide them with the skills to take the project forward. The group eventually conceded that a total block on foods from external sources was potentially holding back the commitment from many others who may otherwise like to become involved, so they changed the principle of the Fife diet to allow for 20% of its produce to come from beyond the Fife area. The likes of Olive Oil and Chocolate represent treats that make those involved feel less like they are punishing themselves, while still allowing the basic idea behind the project to thrive.
As well as making a positive impact on climate change, initiatives like the Fife Diet (which has been used as the inspiration for similar diets in other parts of the UK) have had a wholly positive effect on local businesses. Local producers have felt less constrained by the demands of big supermarkets, their growing confidence in local demand has led to the production of more artisan products, such as ice cream and specialised local cheeses that may otherwise have never made it to the shelves.
What You Can Do
You don’t have to grow your own produce to participate in change. Simply committing to buy locally helps. If everyone bought only a portion of their weekly shop from local markets and producers, slowly change would take place at a more global level. Not all-local produce is more expensive, fresh stuff often tastes so much better from not having been transported halfway around the world. So next time you reach for a punnet of Strawberries in December, take a moment to ask yourself – do I really need these today? Sometimes waiting for the right season makes the food taste sweeter, in more ways than one.