Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Food and Fuel

As the cost of oil rises, you might think one unintended (but welcome) consequence might be a shift to local production for things like fruits and vegetables. Consumers have now been conditioned to expect year-round access to foods like avocados, strawberries and Belgian endives no matter the growing season. But you might assume such luxury is being threatened by the global oil crisis. Surely the cost of transporting kiwis from Italy (now the world's largest supplier) or mangoes from Mexico or the Caribbean by air or by refrigerated shipping containers to markets as diverse as the United States, the European Union and more far-flung outposts in sub-Saharan Africa are rising to prohibitive levels? Increasing fuel prices might be just the boost proponents of the Italian-inspired Slow Food movement needs to propel it into the mainstream.

In fact, there is little evidence that food imports are being displaced by local production. The International Herald Tribune did an excellent piece a few months ago, entitled Putting Pollution on Grocery Bills, which explores how taxation policy impacts the food on our plates. But as I think about this oil crisis (well, it is only a "crisis" if you are on the wrong end of a gas pump), food, pollution and local production I wonder if it is possible to go back in time. Can we go back to a softer, gentler era where countries of the world grew their own crops to feed their own populations. What are some of the unintended consequences likely to arise from that? How about the many developing countries that are less efficient in food production--wouldn't their food prices only continue to rise? I am not sure what the answer is, today I am only full of questions.

2 comments:

Hope Lewis said...

Thanks for this post, Marjorie...I'm no trade expert, and perhaps it is romanticism. But I remember how good it was to get "local" foods (sometimes that meant foods introduced to the Caribbean under colonial rule)in Jamaica. Sweeter, smaller bananas, mangoes of every variety, star apples,yams, cassava,local herbs and spices,Blue Mountain coffee, etc. Now, local agriculture often cannot compete with large foreign producers and local people must increasingly depend on expensive imports. And, in my opinion,the food doesn't taste as good! Meanwhile,we in North America or Europe get a taste of these once common foods as "exotic" additions to the new cuisine...I don't have answers either and perhaps I'm just looking back on the past with rose-colored glasses... Peace, Hope

Marjorie Florestal said...

Hope,

When I was a kid visiting my grandmother's house in Haiti ,she has a mango and avocado tree right in front of her terrace. We didn't even need to climb--the fruit would ripen and practically fall into our hands. We got sugar cane every night from my grandfather's fields. I have never been able to duplicate the richness and freshness of those foods! Boy I miss that. But as our population increases, I'm just not sure the Jeffersonian vision of farming is sustainable. I do wish we had another model, however, than fruit picked way before its time and ripened in gas-filled rooms then "brightened up" with fake color before they make it to our local Safeway. Yuck! One day, I'm moving to the country and the first thing I'll do is plant a mango and avocado tree . . .