Thursday, October 12, 2006

Winter Produce Benediction

Summer's bounty of fresh local produce at the markets is winding down. I used to feel guilty about buying produce from the southern hemisphere during the winter until I read an article a few years ago (possibly, but I am not sure, in Technology Review). An expert in energy usage was interviewed about the ecological impact of groceries. He talked about the efficiency of global food processing and shipping.

Assuming that the typical American drives 2 miles to the grocery store and buys 20 items at a time, and using the American fleet average MPG, it takes more energy to move a box of Kellogg's corn flakes from the grocery store to the home than it takes to produce the cornflakes and ship them from a factory in Michigan to anywhere in the US. I read another article elsewhere that said that the advent of the shipping container and the efficiency of ocean shipping allows produce to be picked in a field in Chile and in the produce section of American west coast grocery stores in just half a week. It also said that was faster and more energy efficient than shipping produce from the southeastern US.

I read another article about the conundrum, "Paper or Plastic?" After a full-up environmental impact study, it came out a wash. The scientist that did the study said the best thing to do would be to bring your own bag. Additionally, he said it didn't matter whether you used paper or plastic if there was meat in your bag. He then went on to explain the huge energy expenditure required to produce meat. Pound for pount, beef production requires roughly twice the resources as pork and pork uses roughly twice the resources of chicken. Amazingly, the most resource-intensive food that we eat are tuna. Cattle are, at least, herbivores. Chickens eat chickenfeed. But tuna are carnivores. Remember the picture of the little fish being eaten by a bigger fish and that fish is eaten by a bigger fish and so on?

Anyway, reading these articles was like getting a benediction to eat the foods that I like. I walk to the grocery store and bring my own tie-dyed cloth bags. I am not a vegetarian, but I do eat small amounts of chicken and pork with my tofu. I enjoy a good steak or burger a few times a year. I also look forward to apple season in both hemispheres.

Digression 1:
House council in Berkeley. Someone put a note in the box asking why there were no grapes in the house even though they were plentiful in the markets. The kitchen manager replied that we were honoring the consumer boycott of Californian grapes to support the United Farmworkers. In winter, grapes would come from Chile and we were boycotting Pinochet's regime. Luckily, both boycotts are off and I am eating grapes again.

Digression 2:
My husband surprised me with a month-long trip to South America when I Phinally Phinished. We started out in Argentina which was even smokier than France. Entreaties to people to not smoke around me, showing them my inhaler, were met with the same derision as in France. (I have asthma, headaches and become nauseous around smoke and chemical fumes.)

When we went to post-Pinochet Chile the difference was amazing. I put my inhaler on the restaurant tables and everyone around us would put out their cigarettes. People would even motion to their tablemates who had their backs to me to put out their cigarettes. It wasn't just the consideration over cigarettes. There were so many reasons to admire their culture and the landscape was awesomely beautiful. Whenever I buy Chilean produce in the winter, I think about all the sympatico people we met there.

And now the knitting content:
I am almost done with an item of my own design. I hope to block and blog it over the weekend. I am laid up with a cold right now.

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