On the 24th February, 2014 the BBC Food & Drink Show waded into the food miles debate with a lively debate on how imports were cheaper than domestic grown. The debate stumbled over the usual arguments of heated glasshouses producing tomatoes in the UK to the cost of producing them under natural sun and heat abroad. The argument considered the impact of the costs of growing out of season at home and abroad. There was much to say about carbon footprints but the debate missed the point. For all their love of food, Michel Roux Jr and his panel of foodies, sat there advocating eating seasonal food out of season.
Therein lies the crux of the food miles debate, our desire to still eat summer in the depths of winter. Food shows have done little to remind us that we live on an island subject to seasonal changes. That we once followed a nomadic eating style ranging from greens in spring, to the height of summer strawberries to the depths of winter cabbages. It's as if we have swept whole families of vegetables under the rug. Turnips, swedes and greens all seem to have been ridden over in favour of courgettes at Christmas. The food miles debate takes us away from the real debate, it should be a debate about why we have become detached from how we produce food in favour of how we see food on a television screen. We'd rather have innuendo, overblown food follies and pompous chefs who do not live in the real world. People are starving in the UK today, and though we have supposedly turned the economic corner, only 1 in 50 workers believe that things are getting better. In the last ten years we have seen a 12-15% drop in our wages while management in many companies have seen a significant rise in their wages. That leaves the rest of us silently trying to feed our families on dwindling wages as our bills rise. Something has to give. There is little in what Michel Roux Jr said on Food & Drink that even interacts with the real world of food and how people buy it. Sure we all know food miles aren't as bad as we think they are because of the volumes being shipped. That is economic sense. It's the basis of supply and demand. We have seen it with groups of people buying their utilities in collectives. It drives down costs for the consumer and importer. We wonder if that is the way forward for fruit and vegetables, taking the power out of the hands of the supermarkets? Yet, if we did do that, form clubs, large collectives of thousands to buy our food wouldn't we be forced to consider seasonal food more? Strawberries are cheaper in summer. Greens cheaper in spring. Cabbages given away in winter. It's basic economics again, Michel, and that should have been discussed beyond tomatoes in heated glasshouses in the UK. Likewise you should have discussed why growing your food in a country where the living wage doesn't exist, where levels of starvation are high, where we deplete the natural water table is also simple economics. That economic equation is cost of supply. Workers abroad are often cheaper than workers at home but the again we supposedly have pesky thing known as a living wage. Now, let's return to the seasonal question, so we can make it clear to Michel and his foodies. Doesn't it make sense to eat what is in season, to engage with our food, to preserve it, to create glut clubs, foraging clubs, growing collectives rather than exploit someone in a foreign country when we can keep the costs down at home? We are not talking about heated greenhouses. We are talking about real growing. We are talking about considering other forms of how we grow rather than monoculture. We are considering sound growing practices that puts food first rather than profit. We are discussing the rights of people worldwide to eat food produced in their country rather than see it exported for the profit of the few. In the end that's what food miles is really about, profit not convenience.