Where is the line on buying local?

(Image from here)

I’ve been pondering the Australian made and grown dilemma a bit more than usual lately, as I take part in Linda’s Tuesday Night Vego challenge.  One of Linda’s rules is that the ingredients of the dish must be locally in season together.  As a rule I don’t buy fresh produce that’s not Australian – though occasionally something does slip through my generally careful examination of labels, like the bean shoots I quickly grabbed at the last minute in the green grocer the other day –  but does Australian grown make it ‘local’?  I think probably not, especially considering the size of our country.  There are a lot of kilometers between here the the mangoes grown in the Top End or that sweet Queensland pineapple.  I’m certainly not maintaining a 100 mile diet!  There are a lot of things I really like to eat that simply would not be possible if I was to stick to a stricter idea of buying local than my usual criteria of Australian grown/made.  I’m not sure I’m ready to sacrifice some of those delicious tropical fruit or tomatoes grown in Queensland long after they’ve finished in Victoria (not that they’re anywhere near as good as home grown ones).

Then I come to the even bigger compromises I find myself making: Greek feta, Californian walnuts, Thai fish sauce, imported pine nuts.  These are all things that I either can’t find a locally grown or made product or, in the case of the feta, the local products I’ve tried to date are just not as good (although I will look out for the Barambah products as recommended by Sarah).  Most of these products are coming from the other side of the world, as someone concerned about what’s happening to our planet, should I also be eliminating these items from my shopping list?

Finally there is a small list of foods that I actually look to buy imported versions of, mostly because they are foods I don’t think we should be growing in Australia or because they support grass roots communities in developing nations.  These include rice (though I have heard that there are now varieties that require far less water to grow which might make me change my mind), coffee, chocolate and many spices.  I am happy to buy (hopefully fair trade) products that are going to support communities struggling for survival and overlook the environmental impact of importing those goods.

With every trip to the supermarket, green grocer and deli I find myself making a series of compromises between buying the things I want and sticking to my principle of buying local or at least Australian.  I would love to shop around more, going to smaller retailers where I’m sure I could find more local and Australian products than either of the big two supermarkets stock, but that would mean choosing to spend a whole lot more time shopping than I currently do.  That’s not a compromise I’m willing to make, giving up some of my gardening, cooking or family time to shop… definitely not appealing.  So does the fact that at least some of the ingredients for pretty much every meal come from my own backyard (can’t get more local than that) make up for the other items coming from much further afield?  Where do you draw the line and what compromises are you willing (happily or not so happily) to make?

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6 Responses to Where is the line on buying local?

  1. Liz says:

    I have exactly the same dilemmas as you, I talk about them with my partner and he calls me ridiculously middle class for worrying about it, and of course he’s right…to a point. I think the problem as I see it is that it depends on how you look at each issue. I buy imported fair trade items because I do think the developing world needs viable industries, but you are right in that it comes at the expense of food miles. Each decision has its pros and cons. I think at the end of the day as long as the product is made, distributed and sold ethically and you actually eat it (I read somewhere that a third of purchased food is thrown away) then you’ve covered enough bases, particularly as you do grow your own – but then perhaps that’s just me justifying my own behaviour but as its remarkably similar to yours I’m sure we are both right…he he he.

    • Barbara Good says:

      It really is a middle class concern isn’t it, I’m sure my husband too would roll his eyes at me, actually he DOES roll his eyes at me. It’s not like I’m worrying over how to afford the food in the first place, well not most of the time anyway. But then perhaps it’s the responsibility of those that can afford it to make the environmentally sustainable choices where they can? I too choose the ethical options where I can. but even that is hard and comes with compromises, often ones I’m not terribly happy with.

      As for throwing food out, that has been my goal to eliminate over the last few years and I can happily say that I’m pretty much winning that one. There is the occasional lost item at the back of the fridge that ends up looking like a science experiment and goes in the bin, but that’s rare. Any other waste goes to the dog or the worms – thanks to Miss Three’s refusal to eat most meals, the dog is getting VERY WELL FED. I did read this post, http://www.notquitenigella.com/2012/04/16/food-bank/ from Not Quite Nigella a while ago, which is another shocking take on food wastage. I also saw similar stories on the People’s Supermarket series on the ABC earlier this year.

      And yes, I think we are both right! Mind you a read a while ago that cutting out red meat has a more positive impact on the environment than if you grew 100% of your fresh fruit and vegetables cutting out all those food miles. That was a little scary, and I think Mr Good would be very worried if I were to suggest that one! Though there is far less in our diet now than there used to be.

  2. Firstly, I think being purist is a waste of energy. Stuff creeps into my shopping basket occasionally too. I don’t think that’s the point. I’m also, like you, not into making shopping an ordeal, reading every label. I don’t have time for that! But I have a series of “rules of thumb” that make it easy to make those constant decisions. 1. Fresh fruit and veg is from the garden or farmer’s market. (mostly, except for the aforementioned exceptions!), from within the 100 mile zone – and that’s the biggest part of the food we eat. 2. Dry goods (rice, flour, seeds, grains, lentils etc) are in bulk from the local wholefoods shop, choosing Australian grown, and preferring organic. 3. Meat is kangaroo from the supermarket, (which comes from South Australia but at least is free range ethically harvested), or free range beef or lamb from the butcher, or chicken that is our own or real free range – but in any case is not too much. 4. Fish is sustainable – worth the effort to research and choose carefully. 5. Dairy is local producers. 6. Eggs are home grown. 7. Spices, chocolate etc are fair trade and like you, happily imported. They are light and small and high value, so the food miles don’t count. 8. Processed foods of all kinds are avoided – they are expensive, yuk, and unhealthy anyway, who cares about the food miles. And the rest is a case of not sweating the small stuff.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Such sensible wisdom Linda. I will keep all that in mind and try to get to a few more farmer’s markets (though tricky with Saturday morning swimming) and start buying in bulk – and sort out some better storage system for it. Perhaps kangaroo meat will have to find its way into our diet.

  3. I was just re-reading this and one thing occurred to me. The point about giving up family time to shop. I’ve realised lately that there is nothing enjoyable about going to the big supermarkets to buy food. Buying from the local growers market is actually fun! I look forward to my Sunday mornings – I pop the toddler in his stroller and we have a lovely wander around looking at things to buy. He gets to do lots of taste testing! You get to know the stall holders and you can have a chat with them about what’s good or how they make their produce. Lots of people make it a family outing with the kids, and it’s a great way to get them involved in choosing and eating healthy foods too. Family time AND shopping time 🙂

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