Is non-UK OK? 22nd-28th September

posted Oct 2, 2012, 11:38 AM by Dinner Lady   [ updated Jan 11, 2013, 3:19 AM ]

For various rather boring and convoluted reasons I have been venturing to the supermarket almost weekly, with a vegetable box delivery only twice a month. Over the past year I have rigidly stuck to my 'usuals' list on the monthly online shop and so my in-person supermarket visits have broadened my shopping horizons as I venture down aisles previously unknown to me.   I have also braved the experience with all three children.  We would be spending the money on the shop anyway and so I consider it as "free" entertainment when the weather is wet and we need to get out of the house.  Despite the inevitable silliness at the check out, supermarket trips with the children are generally quite fun.  We enjoy looking at and talking about all the tempting food.  This Sunday I told each boy that they could each choose an edible treat for the week and instead of lurking too long in the chocolate or crisps section much of our time was spent in the fruit and vegetable aisles lusting after ripe mangos, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, juicy tomatoes. Unfortunately much of our food lusts originate in other countries, and it begs the question: given I have pledged to buy local, how does this fit with our aspirations? If we buy into the 'buy local' mantra for sustainable eating, we have been failing within the first few minutes of arriving at the supermarket!    

We 'ethical food' consumers are fed the instructions to buy locally produced food from local food outlets, shunning imported produce and the large corporate supermarkets.  And last year, when I was writing our Rules and regulations I too bought into it. So much so that I asked the farm vegetable box to leave out French vegetables, which they sometimes included, even though France is closer to us than some parts of the UK. I pass chalk boards outside popular grocers, butchers or delis, advertising their 'local' produce. Restaurants are considered good when they source only 'local' ingredients. And they get my custom.    

So why is only UK ok?  When I stop to think about it I wonder. How do I know that my local farm's agricultural methods are sustainable?  More than once I have read that eating grass fed lamb imported from New Zealand is more environmentally friendly than eating grain fed local lamb.   How do I know that my local tomatoes come straight from the farm direct to my local grocer and not via some long motorway journey, emitting clouds of carbon in the process?  I don't, unless I have time to ask this question of each food product I buy.  And what pollutes the air less:  me driving to several (usually out of town) farm shops, butchers and grocers or popping into one supermarket on the way back from another trip, where the produce has arrived on one large lorry?   I don't know. And I haven't got time to go to my computer to find out or create a spreadsheet because by that time my children will be hungry and grouchy and it will be time for me to go to work.  When I buy local, am I buying into some kind of middle class, green protectionism?  
Over the past year I have come to realise that 'farm to fork', or food distribution, is only one small part of the life cycle of each piece of food we eat.  Taking a more 'cradle to grave' approach, I now understand that how we Dinner Ladies store, cook and dispose of our food contributes a significant proportion of a food's total carbon emissions.  According to Love Food Hate Waste, if we cut out all the food waste we UK Dinner Ladies create, it would have the equivalent effect of taking 1 in 5 cars off the road!   And every few months I read something in the news about turning to a vegetarian or vegan diet as a necessary means of slowing down climate change.  

The good news.  If we Dinner Ladies made these seemingly simple small steps, we may actually have a powerful impact on climate change.  And these steps are something over which we have direct control.  The bad news.  For hardened meat lovers like myself, a diet of pulses, however healthy, however sustainable, is hard to stomach.  For those on a budget, buying a more expensive but more efficient fridge is a big sacrifice.  As winter approaches the idea of eating raw food rather than leaving the oven on for hours to slow cook a casserole is not comforting.  And for the busy Dinner Lady time spent scouring through the fridge, the larder and the fruit bowl to spot rotting produce before it walks away by itself is time not spent sitting down with a book or playing with our children.  In short, these seemingly simple small steps are not trendy and certainly not easy to buy into.  

Waste not want not

rotten or gone off 2 small potatoes; half onion; 1 pear; 1/4 pack salad leaves; 1 pot taramasalata; 1 kiwi; 1/2 cucumber

left on our plates PB- a few crusts and 4 chewed pieces of satsuma; 2 small pieces of crumpet; 1 tbsp Weds lunch

- we have been working on portion control and PB has been leaving less and less

left overs I have forgotten to use up 1/4 jacket potato

The amount of food I have let go  off is shocking. It would have been really easy for me to have eaten or cooked them before they went off. I suspect I have been planning meals badly and buying too much food.  Given the amount of methane all this food is going to produce, I need to do better.