I think that Earth Day is a concept that we can all generally get behind. After all, Earth is where we’re all from and we have yet to find food available elsewhere. There are certainly controversial topics associated with environmental awareness and protection but there is also a lot of commonality.
I’d like to encourage everyone to take a moment to ponder the origins of one of their meals today. It is probably nearly impossible to know specifically where any given item originated but it is usually easy enough to speculate on the general region or country. It’s a good time of year to think about this. After all, in mid-April, fresh local food is scarce. Local agricultural crops are scarce (with some exception). We can find ramps, morels, and trout in our back yards but we don’t rely on them to nourish and sustain us. If we did I think we would quickly find those items scarce and in danger of extirpation. It is probably enough to think: Could this have been grown or raised here? If not, where could it have grown? How far away? Did it cross an ocean?
It is important to be aware of the total cost of our food. Think about waste, cost of production, and the cost of shipping. Fresh food is perishable, once harvested there is a finite time to consume it. In ordered to satisfy demand, excess must exist. Sometimes, if the market price is not high enough, it is not cost effective for farmers to harvest their crops. Those crops are left in the field. Processed food has clear production costs but even fresh food has costs of production. A bag of spinach was not only grown but it was likely fertilized, harvested, washed, and packaged. All of which consume resources. Shipping costs are obvious. It seems reasonable that the further an item was shipped the greater the cost. How many hands touched your product before you? It could have been picked, loaded onto a truck, unloaded, washed, processed, packaged, loaded onto another truck, unloaded at a depot, loaded onto another truck, unloaded at the grocery store, and placed on the shelf. All of this before you put eyes on it. There are so many links in the chain and a certain portion of the terminal cost goes to each link.
The state of California produces a large amount of food. Not only do we consume it domestically but California’s agricultural export brings foreign money into our economy. The drought that seems to be affecting them could impact us all. In this global market it is important to realize the factors that affect (and make tenuous) our food supply.
Modern society demands fresh food, and this is a good thing. I’m as tall, healthy, and mentally developed as I am because I had nutritious food items available to me year round while I was growing. As the world population continues to grow so too will the need to feed and nourish that population. Loss, waste, and excess will become less of a luxury because water, land, and sunlight are all finite. In the end, I think this is at the root of why consideration of our foods origins is noble. I certainly consider these things when I write menus and order product.
So today, Earth Day, I won’t ask you to attend a rally or protest some environmental injustice. I would just like you to consider where one of your meals came from and ponder how the state of the environment, as you see it, affects that product.