My eco-warrior just laid her weapons down in defeat.
For anyone who knows me, you know I can be a little too passionate about the environment and living a “leave nothing but footprints” lifestyle. The philosophy came about after spending a lot of time backpacking and ‘low-impacting’ camping while in college. You know the phrase, “pack it in, pack it out.” Now while I would build a fire if it got cold, I didn’t always.
This carries forward in my daily life in several ways: I never drive if I can walk it (and less than three miles is considered walkable), I use public transportation when possible, and I shop locally owned business whenever I can. Yes, this means I spend more for food than if I drove to the Super Walmart in the big-box shopping center at the far edge of the suburbs. But supporting my neighbors and not spending an hour in traffic is worth spending the extra 5-cents per item (I figured it out once, and the formula generally holds no matter where I’ve lived).
I have a carbon footprint that is half of the average, by the way, and if I could give up my car altogether, I likely would. But I draw the line at giving up my coffee.
Yes, I have an eco-price.
What revealed this character flaw is a new show on Plant Green called the 100 Mile Challenge. The show's premise is the people of Mission, British Columbia, will eat “local” for 100 days. As in any reality TV show, cameras will follow participants around, filming triumphs and failures for the world to see.
From what I saw in the premiere, it’s going to be a loooooonnnnnngggggg 100 days.
Now there are many real and vital benefits to eating local. Food is fresher, the fuel cost of bringing it to you is less, and chances are you’ll be cooking more, so you’ll probably eat healthier.
But think about this… although it varies depending upon where you live, the bulk of what you eat and drink doesn’t grow within 100 miles of you.
Coffee? Not unless you live within a narrow, equatorial band.
Not in Florida? No, orange juice.
If you're outside the Napa Valley, forget wine (OK, maybe not all wine, but definitely some of the best we produce). Other items probably off your list: olive oil, almonds, and spices, as well as fish and shellfish (even fish farms tend to be located in the South).
And the little known zinger: chances are some of the produce, homemade jams and breads, and cheeses for sale at your local farmers’ market was trucked in from farms more than 100 miles away.
Staples such as corn meal, sugar and flour probably could be grown within the 100-mile radius, but are they? Not in British Columbia. One woman boiled up rhubarb to use as a sweetener with her morning yogurt.
Now, true eco-warriors would say I’m whining over the loss of indulgence and convenience. That there is plenty of nutritious, healthy food available locally. We just need to expand our palates, pump up our cooking skills and get serious about saving the planet.
And they are right.
Then I think of the ancient long-distance trade in spice, precious metals and silk. Ideas flowed from one town to the next along with pepper, salt and saffron. The lure of tea and coffee changed the world, politically and economically. The search for a shorter trade routes is why Europeans found the Western Hemisphere. I have the life I do because goods came from more than 100 miles away.
Yes, perhaps we are a too reliant upon a vast commerce network for every day sustenance, and we should pay attention to the environmental impact of our choices, but commerce isn’t the big bad evil. Neither is orange juice.
So, I will consume local when I can, and enjoy my morning cup of coffee guilt-free when I can't.