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Make a difference: Eat homegrown, local or organic produce!

datePosted on 12:00, January 26th, 2009 by Anita

A while ago I saw somewhere on the sustainability/edible gardening part of the net I hang out in something that said:

  • If you can, grow it yourself
  • If you can’t grow it yourself, buy local
  • If you can’t buy local, buy organic

I can’t find it to point to, so instead I’ll link out to the 100 mile diet, and this on Relocalise.net  :)

There are many good reasons to eat homegrown, local or organic (including taste – homegrown sweetcorn beats the sweetcorn from the market, and the market sweetcorn beats the supermarket corn hands down), but my reasons are sustainability and peak oil.

19 Responses to “Make a difference: Eat homegrown, local or organic produce!”

  1. Edward Sargisson on January 26th, 2009 at 14:24

    Alright, I’ll provide the con.

    My position is that the complete cost of transport should be included in the price paid for food. With respect to climate change, the cost of the pollutant held to cause is not included in the cost of transport as yet and this is a bad thing.

    The fundamental problem in the homegrown, local, organic position above is it ignores comparitive advantage. NZ is really good at producing milk while China, say, is really good at producing iPods. International trade means that we swap a couple of gallons of one for one of the other.

    NZ is better at producing milk than China is and China is better at producing iPods than we are. If both countries do what they’re good at then they’re both better off.

    The problem with growing food at home is that it takes land and time. Would a householder be better off out in the garden preparing land or working at their day job and using their salary to buy food somebody else has made? Secondly, if everybody requires a quarter-acre, say, per house to grow food then cities have to be quite low density – this requires more oil to be used for commuting which rather goes against the original justification.

    The problem with buying local is comparative advantage again. I currently live in Canada and some parts of Canada are really cold in winter. So cold that not a lot will grow there. There are some diamond mines way up near the North Pole. Should the people who live there only eat what can be grown within 100 miles? That’s effectively nothing – or maybe seals, moose and lichen – I’m not really sure. These people are producing diamond which enough people think are valuable enough that the diamond miners can buy in what food they need to expand their diet.

    Lastly, I have an issue with being blindly organic. I agree that the use of chemicals should limited to exactly what is required – however I wouldn’t ban chemicals completely. For example, there is a common fungus which infects wheat and rye called ergot. Ergot is poisonous to humans and can be controlled by chemicals. Without chemicals, shall we all be subject to random poisoning in our bread or, will farmers be subject to having their livelihoods wiped out by ergot and not being able to do anything about it. My final issue with organic food is that production is lowered. Consequently food is more expensive. We have enough difficulties feeding all the people on this planet without making it more difficult.

    Certainly, using chemicals without understanding their effects is dangerous and not something I like. However, some chemicals, judiciously used are important.

    I suppose, at root, these are the reasons why I can’t support the Green party. While they rail against emitting carbon and using chemicals to produce food I never hear an alternate vision of how the world might work. Must all countries hunker down and close off their borders to imports? If this is the case then how will we all live? To see how very bad this idea is look at how the trade barriers the US erected during the Great Depression dramatically hurt the US and world economies (lookup Smoot-Hawley).

    Lastly, peak oil. Yes, it’s coming. It might already be here. Will it mean the end of the cheap transportation completely? I don’t know. Maybe our scientists and engineers will replace it with something almost as cheap or maybe they won’t.

    Will we all end up living in small agicultural villages? Is that the end result of the Green vision? If so, what do we do with all the population we’ve grown on the basis of the increased food production that oil and chemicals have brought us.

  2. Quoth the Raven on January 26th, 2009 at 16:44

    Edward –

    The problem with growing food at home is that it takes land and time. Would a householder be better off out in the garden preparing land or working at their day job and using their salary to buy food somebody else has made? Secondly, if everybody requires a quarter-acre, say, per house to grow food then cities have to be quite low density – this requires more oil to be used for commuting which rather goes against the original justification.

    It doesn’t take much time at all to take care of a small vegetable garden. You don’t need to quit your day job. Some people find the time spent in the garden very relaxing and fulfilling. I know I do. The point about low density housing is moot. Our cities are already fairly low density. The point is though if you can, grow it yourself not that everyone ought to do it. Very few pople who live in suburbs bother to grow some of their own food. People ought to be encouraged to do it because nothing could be simpler.

    My position is that the complete cost of transport should be included in the price paid for food. With respect to climate change, the cost of the pollutant held to cause is not included in the cost of transport as yet and this is a bad thing.

    Our taxes pay for roads to be built and maintained, for harbours, &c. This amounts to a subsidy from tax payers to companies who engage in transporting goods long distance over and above those that transport locally. To say that consumers should pay again through higher food prices is nonsense.
    I agree with you re organic food. I also support GE so I’m at odds with the greens there.

  3. BLiP on January 26th, 2009 at 19:10

    Good grief, woman! Are you absolutely stark raving mad? Do you even have any idea of the consequences of your seditious statement?

    Food prices would drop, fertiliser sales would plummet, there would be less packaging, the population would become healthier, less oil would be consumed, seed stocks would be rescued from genetic engineering, people would save money, and children would learn the wonder of working with the planet!!

    What kind of a world do you want? : )

  4. Organic Candles on January 27th, 2009 at 02:40

    Definitely agree with the taste for homegrown. Sometimes though not really sure what constitutes “organic” as the guidlines are often skewed, especially with non-food items.

  5. What would Hayek say on January 27th, 2009 at 10:18

    Agree with Edward. Comparative and absolute advantage provides the major drivers for productivity growth, increased specialisation, lower costs and a higher standard of living for all people.

    As a foodie, I endulge in seasonally available food. And yes nothing is better than fresh, high quality local produce, which is why I endulge in it when it is available. But I’m also aware that seasonality is a feast or famine situation, either you have masses of broccoli, feijoas, apples and strawberries or you have none. Bottling/canning helps carry you through, but is not as enjoyable as being able to peel an freshish orange from Oz or the States in the middle of winter, when your inside its wet and have a cold. The lemons are also great with honey, ginger and hot water.

    More importantly what about my supplies of single malt, french sauternes, german riesling, central otago pinot noir and a big aussie red to go with the bowl of frittes, pizza with sugo, basil, parmesan, prosciutto and rocket leaves? or even just my morning coffee with croissant. Revolutions start from the grumpy people who haven’t had there coffee or can get a decent glass of wine (decanted properly of course) at the end of a rough working day!

    Peak oil and the future – well whether peak oil is real or not it won’t stop international frieght. SO i’m less worried. Worse comes to worse we will have significant sail fleets reappear if we also ban coal. The history of the 18th and 18th centuries shows how significant international trade was even before oil.

    End result – stick with specialisation, but as a consumer demand a high standard in the produce/food you consume.

    A bigger worry is the disconnect people have with teh food chain. Large numbers of urban dwellers do not connect the roast lamb on their plate with the cute lambs in the countryside. They also don’t realise the labour/capital intensitivity required to produce food.

    QTR says it doesn’t take much time to keep a small garden, But misses the point that a small garden won’t feed you for a year and also leaves you at significant risk of a crop failure (because your growing loacally your limited to a select few crops that will grown in your area) in your garden may/will mean famine.

    Further as a minor point to QTR – the NZ roading system is fully funded by the users of the roads via petrol tax and road user charges. In fact for many years there was a net transfer of taxes away from infrastructure to the wider economy. This also is true for harbours and freight being moved off the dock onto the wider network. So in fact the subsidy is the other way. International trade provides significant benefits to the local economy.

    Another example of this occuring (of sorts) is with smoking – the health system actually does well off the taxes on smokers. This is not to pick a fight, just to provide better information to what is a common social myth.

    Higher prices are not that bad – so long as you see them as a communication mechanism that tells you that something is either in scarce or abundant supply. Improving the price mechanism ensure feedback is coming from consumer (by refusing to buy) to producers and producers to consumer (supplies are short), so that substitutes are developed, more or less investment is made in agricultural production etc.

    QTR – I agree with you largely on GE – Gregor Mendel showed to a large extent we have already been messing with GE for many many centuries already through genetic selection and propagation techniques.

  6. StephenR on January 27th, 2009 at 13:14

    If you can, grow it yourself
    If you can’t grow it yourself, buy local
    If you can’t buy local, buy organic

    A fourth would be ‘strategic organic buying’, if one can bring oneself to compromise further – buying non-organics that use very little pesticide/herbicides, and buying organics that would normally use a LOT e.g. capsicums, apparently. There’s a lot of info out there for fruit and veges out of the US, though not totally sure how similar that is to NZ’s produce (different rules/regulations/or even methods). Organics cost quite a bit, after all.

  7. felix on January 27th, 2009 at 17:13

    QTR says it doesn’t take much time to keep a small garden, But misses the point that a small garden won’t feed you for a year and also leaves you at significant risk of a crop failure (because your growing loacally your limited to a select few crops that will grown in your area) in your garden may/will mean famine.

    Do I really need to point out the absurdity of this comment?

    It’s like saying “Walking may be good for me, but I can’t walk the 50 ks to the beach on the weekend. Therefore I won’t walk anywhere, ever.”

  8. What would Hayek say on January 28th, 2009 at 13:44

    Yes – go on Felix please do.

    We all value your contributions to informed debate and presentation of solutions. Make a choice, are we debating nice lifestyle choices or about long term sustainable food supply to the public?

    If its about lifestyle choice, then yeah a small garden is a nice hobby. If its about long term sustainable food supply, then a hobby garden doesn’t cut it.

    Now where is my refill, never understood the guideline of not enjoying a good before 5.

  9. insider on January 28th, 2009 at 14:50

    I have a dilemma. I coudl grow my own food but the 3/4s of my property that is covered in native would need to be cleared. What shall I do?

  10. StephenR on January 28th, 2009 at 15:02

    Truffles? Probably be easier to release some native pigs and come back six months later with a gun though eh.

  11. felix on January 28th, 2009 at 16:29

    Make a choice, are we debating nice lifestyle choices or about long term sustainable food supply to the public?

    Don’t make the mistake of writing off a partial solution as no solution at all. Even a “hobby garden” makes a big difference.

    My garden is providing about 70-80% of my vegetables at the moment and it’s a small garden, about 2 square metres in several plots on a small section.

    Does this mean I don’t have to go shopping? Of course not, but it means I spend about 50 bucks less every time than I otherwise would and reduce my carbon footprint with regard to transporting that amount of food.

    As others have said, it’s really not very time consuming or difficult to maintain a small garden and those who do are in no doubt as the rewards are obvious and tangible, both economically and in deliciousness.

    It’s not a question of everybody growing everything they need, but the more of your own food you grow, the better off you are. And if we assume that transport and food production costs will continue to rise, this will only become more so.

    Meanwhile, good luck with finding a one-size-fits-all- 100% solution to the food issue – do let me know how you get on with that.

    As for the other matter I think you should consider the advice of Jimmy Buffett who wrote “It’s 5 o’clock Somewhere”.

  12. BLiP on January 28th, 2009 at 17:00

    Insider – get together with your neighbours (might be a good chance to actually get to know their names) and organise a collective enterprise on some empty land close to where you live and establish a community garden.

  13. What would Hayek say on January 28th, 2009 at 17:19

    Better response Felia – constructive points noted.

  14. What would Hayek say on January 28th, 2009 at 17:27

    opps that should be “better response Felix – thank you for the cosntructive points” and the its 5 o’clock somewhere advice should be considered before typing.

  15. Anita on January 28th, 2009 at 17:32

    I’ve been trying to work out how to reply and failing, so here’s another try :)

    I’m suggesting you change what you eat.

    That’s the answer to many of the points up thread. If you grow some of your own food I reckon you’ll start to love fresh perfectly in season veg; you’ll find more ways to cook beans/zucchini/potatoes/tomatoes/peas (or whatever is currently in season) because they’ll be in the garden looking ripe and beautiful and they’ll taste better than whatever out of season of four-day-old transported veg the supermarket has. If you buy locally you’ll have wonderful fresh veg that still smells and tastes real.

    I’m not arguing against specialisation; we should grow what grows best here and cook, eat and enjoy it. I live in Wellington so I can get wonderful local plums but no apricots. I’m ok with that, I’d rather have fresh gorgeous plums in the fruit bowl than slightly old apricots that have been brought to my house at significant environmental cost.

    Finally, I’m totally aware that my garden will never provide all my fruit and veg (although it will get close). There are a handful of things which just can’t be grown locally that I buy occasionally (bananas, mangoes, pomegranates and fresh dates for example) and others than I just don’t grow in sufficient quantity or am disorganised about (I don’t seem to have the succession planting of lettuces under control, I have failed to establish a grapefruit) that I buy locally. I give away quite a lot to friends when I have oversupply (eggs, cilantro, basil, beans and zucchini in particular) and get given things by other friends.

    I’m not suggesting everyone needs to grow as much as I do, but if all you can manage is a row of herb plants on the windowsill it’s worth it :)

    As for buying locally and organic – you do what you can, it’s not compulsory but it’s a thing that does make a difference and makes life directly better at the same time.

  16. Anita on January 28th, 2009 at 17:38

    What would Hayek say writes,

    A bigger worry is the disconnect people have with teh food chain. Large numbers of urban dwellers do not connect the roast lamb on their plate with the cute lambs in the countryside. They also don’t realise the labour/capital intensitivity required to produce food.

    Absolutely!

    That’s part of why I like having my own garden (and chooks), I know where the food really comes from and how much effort it takes.

  17. What would Hayek say on January 29th, 2009 at 10:33

    Hi Anita – I think your last two comments on this thread are worth exploring more and are probably the more relavent debate.

    I’d add an additional point on the disconnect with the food chain. We are also wasteful eaters with the supermarket providing only four cuts of meat (Steak, chop, mince whole carcass – variations of this theme for different animals). Getting to know that there is brisket, oval and a variety of other cuts of meat is a gastronomic pleasure and better use of resources. Not much beats a slow casserole awaiting you on a winters night.

    I don’t blame this on the public or business however – we moved in this direction because it was efficient, provided for a time better nurtition than what previously was available. However technology (food storage, processing) including the domestic kitchen has advanced and we are now in a position to re-example our culture of food. Despite some dislike for the showmanship of many TV food shows, I have to applaud there support for a better food culture and introducing new ideas into our diet and helping to support demand for quality and variety. Many businesses have adapted to this. The range and quality of food available from supoermarkets and speciality stores today compared to ten years ago is impressive.

    If your lucky enough to live in Wellington you have gastro porn available from Moore Wilsons, the sunday markets, both inner city New Worlds, Meat on Tory (don’t forget Shoc choc next door if your visiting) and a variety of other places.

    I’m hopeful for our culture so long as we maintain a curiosity to explore the new. The we can learn, adapt and enjoy.

    Good eating.

  18. Anita on January 29th, 2009 at 18:13

    What would Hayek say writes,

    I’d add an additional point on the disconnect with the food chain. We are also wasteful eaters with the supermarket providing only four cuts of meat (Steak, chop, mince whole carcass – variations of this theme for different animals). Getting to know that there is brisket, oval and a variety of other cuts of meat is a gastronomic pleasure and better use of resources.

    I’m vegetarian, so I don’t get the example but I do get the point :)

    I think there are similar examples if veg/fruit/grain land where supermarkets only sell a very narrow range of what could be (and is) produced leading to both waste and less than optimal land use.

    I don’t blame this on the public or business however – we moved in this direction because it was efficient, provided for a time better nurtition than what previously was available. However technology (food storage, processing) including the domestic kitchen has advanced and we are now in a position to re-example our culture of food.

    IMHO it was part of the process of industrialisation, we moved closer to factories, we worked more hours outside the home, we could be provided with mass produced food.

  19. What would Hayek say on January 30th, 2009 at 10:00

    Anita writes
    “IMHO it was part of the process of industrialisation, we moved closer to factories, we worked more hours outside the home, we could be provided with mass produced food.”

    Will agree – I’m interested now about how more developed nations (higher average incomes) are now trading off more work/income for more time and expressing preferences for higher quality produce/food. And/or more time at home to cook, grow and share with family/friends.

    This change potentially means a lifting of quality for all in the economy as new production techniques and processes reduce costs making quality more accessible to lower income earners.

    Potentially a quiet revolution with benefits for all.

    I don’t hold your vegetarianism against you. Something that frustrates me on the occassion is being able to find barley at markets/shops. Its a great addition to winter soups and broths with cabbage (add at end), carrots a decent stock…

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