The Unsustainable Nature of Eating Unseasonably

The demand for a constantly available source of unseasonal fruit and vegetables seems, by its very nature an unsustainable way to live. As global carbon emissions and the effects of climate change continue to increase year on year, the need for an instant and impactful change in human habits and mindsets is now more prevalent than ever.

The much accredited Global Goals campaign was constituted by 193 world leaders under the United Nations in 2015. The campaign targets 17 ‘goals’ which relate to actioning key global issues, including poverty, gender equality and famine. One of the key goals featured here is goal no. 13, Climate Action. This targets a reduction in carbon emissions to a manageable level by the year 2030, in order to combat severe climate change and rising sea levels.

“This is not a partisan debate; it is a human one. Clean air and water, and a livable climate are inalienable human rights. And solving this crisis is not a question of politics. It is our moral obligation. – Leonardo DiCaprio

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The Problem.

Food miles

Recent studies suggest that one fifth of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food and drink consumption. One leading cause is the British appetite and demand for unseasonal fruit and vegetables. With 95% of fruit and 50% of supermarket vegetables imported from overseas, it’s clear to see how transport dependant and potentially damaging this import pattern has become.

Food imports from overseas are not the sole problem that face us when we talk about ‘food miles’ however as 25% of the traffic on UK roads is classed as food freight. Chaotic logistical patterns, driven by large supermarkets, contribute greatly to the ostensibly unnecessary over-transportation of fruits and vegetables. Such goods will frequently have to travel many miles for cleaning, packaging, refrigeration and storage purposes in several different locations before they reach our shelves. This is also the case for supermarket ready-meals, which will generally cover three different destinations in order to prepare a single meal.

Consumer habits have also contributed greatly to Britain’s total emissions, with the average British motorist travelling 270 miles a year to shop for food. The increasing reliance on the out-of-town supermarket has steadily driven up the consumer-led carbon foot print on food miles.

Non-seasonally grown foods

Another food related contributor to carbon and CO2 emissions comes through the growth of unseasonal foods in unfavourable climates. Greenhouse grown fruits and vegetables, especially in artificially heated environments, can prove to be far more harmful than road, air or sea transported foods. Large scale greenhouse farms will consume large amounts of energy to produce artificial environments, which in most cases dwarf the carbon footprint of crops that are naturally grown and then transported.

An example of unseasonably grown vs transported food carbon emissions can be seen in the graph below.

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Source: shrinkthatfootprint.com/food-miles

This example displays the carbon footprint of Swedish sold tomatoes. The graphs representing The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark show the CO2 impact of growing tomatoes in an artificially heated greenhouse. The blue section of the graph (production) far outweighs the emissions related to storage, fertilisers and transportation.

The Spanish graph is by far the lowest producer of CO2 emissions, despite having to travel much further afield in order to reach the Swedish supermarket shelves. This is because tomatoes are grown naturally in Spain and therefore require far less harmful production techniques, as an artificial environment is not needed.

Clearly, the impact for a demand of unseasonal fruits and vegetables is a mixed and complex picture. Whether goods are transported great distances or grown within an artificial environment, the costs in terms of harmful CO2 emissions are huge.

In order to achieve the UN Global Goals as explained in this article’s introduction, a change in individual human behaviours is required. In this case, the demand for unseasonal fruit and vegetables must decrease and change in order to bring down harmful carbon and CO2 emissions. Action is needed, right now!

The Solution?

The solution to this question would appear to be pretty simple in terms of its execution. Consumers need to stop buying non-seasonal fruits and veg.

Education

Of course, problems of this scale aren’t solved by easy solutions and quick fixes. Part of the problem of unseasonably bought foods stems to education. We have become so used to having a huge variety of goods available to us all year round that we are now disconnected as to what is classed as a seasonably grown crop.

Currently, school curriculums do not feature lessons regarding this topic and crucially, children are growing up disconnected to the food they consume.

The below graphic depicts a number of commonly consumed, easily grown vegetables within the UK. This should act as good reference point for a basic knowledge of the key harvesting times throughout the year.

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Five of Britain’s favourite vegetables and when they should be harvested throughout the year

Digging for victory

If you’re lucky enough to own a garden or a garden large enough to include a vegetable patch, this is a great way of getting some home-grown produce on your dinner table.

If your garden is non-existent or smaller than a postage stamp, allotment ownership is another great way to get cultivating some produce. Depending on the size and location of your allotment, plots within the UK can cost anything from £9 – £110 annually.

Home grown fruit and vegetables can work as a sure-fire way of cutting down the reliance on unseasonal produce. Not only will it solve the problem on the ground level (growing your own means less reliance on supermarkets), but will help to educate the UK and reconnect the population with our seasonably grown foods

A graphic displaying the key times for sowing crops within the UK is also included at the end of this section. This is to be used in conjunction with the above graphic as a quick go to guide for budding amateur gardeners.

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Five of the same same vegetables and the key times to plant and sow them throughout the year

There are a number of excellent beginner gardening blogs, website and online resources that can help you begin your new life as an amateur vegetable gardener. Please see below.

From the Royal Horticultural Society: http://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=84

Beginners guide to starting an allotment: http://www.myallotmentgarden.co.uk/starting-an-allotment/beginners-guide-to-allotment-gardening/

Homage to the Casamance

 

The Casamance region of South Senegal is a region in flux. Nestled directly South of The Gambia, Casamance embraces its own unique identity typified by its uniquely lush green sub tropical climate compared to the more arid regions of Northern and Eastern Senegal. 

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Getting to the Casamance is a job easier said than done, unless you’re blessed with your own private jet or yacht. Senegal’s only international airport lies far to the North in dusty Dakar. Traversing the cratered roads and epic Gambia river on the way to the Casamance will probably go down as the most painful travel experience I’ve had to date. The journey can take anything from 10 hours to several days, depending on the situation at the militant Gambian border crossing, road congestion issues and the decrepit ferries that will take you to the other side. Other than being an absolute bastard of a journey, it just goes to show how isolated this region truly is from the rest of Senegal.

On arriving in the Casamance, I noticed two things in particular. An abundance of thick green forests brimming with fruit tress and the obvious presence of military vehicles packed with armed soldiers patrolling the roads. I had read about the past violence notorious in the region, but was taken aback by the quantity of military encampments still present along the roadside. Something of an ominous undertone to the visually beautiful landscape that welcomes weary travellers into the Casamance. 

In my experience, people here are Casamancians first, Senegalese second. A proud people recovering from the recent memory of widespread violence across the region. The breakaway MFDC Casamance independence group fought a long lasting insurrection against the Senegalese government lasting over 30 years. Violence officially ended in 2014 with the signing of a unilateral peace settlement. However, rural areas continue to bear the scars of warfare. Unexploded land mines are still a cause of major concern in some areas. Families have been widely dispersed after fleeing conflict and young people are struggling to pick up the pieces caused by a generation of fighting. 

This fluid movement of people has lead to major obstacles being laid in the way of the future educational progress of affected young people. School registration is a major issue due to the lack of governmental certificates being issued. Huge numbers of young boys in particular don’t officially exist as residents within the new regions they have fled to. Access to training and apprenticeships are inhibited by this knock on effect of mass population dispersal. 

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Despite the past upheavals, peace seems to have found a permanent place across the Casamance. The capital of the region, Ziguinchor is as wacky, noisy and chaotic as any Senegalese city but violence and crime aren’t words I’d use to describe it. After 11 weeks living here, I feel pretty safe walking the streets alone or hailing cabs hours after night fall. Road safety isn’t exactly at a premium and Ziguinchor won’t be winning any awards for waste disposal management, but things just seem to work here despite the obvious lack of basic amenities and city council funding. 

Along with the beauty of the Casamance interior, the region also boasts an impressively untouched coast line. The gem of this being the small former fishing village of Cap Skiirng, a semi established tourist resort popular with French and Spanish holiday makers. The hotels, built far back from the beach luckily don’t spoil its rustic beauty and by European standards you pretty much have the place to yourself even in ‘peak’ holiday season. 

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Six Weeks in Senegal

On the whole, the African continent hasn’t had a hugely fair deal in terms of its place in the British press. As a white suburban teenager growing up in the naughties, the only time you’re likely to have seen it referenced in the mainstream media was next to the words famine, AIDS or refugee. Something that was reflected by the avalanche of jokes I received this summer after breaking the news of my travel plans to my close mates. Who are, no prizes for guessing, a bunch of white suburbanites.
Despite the predictions of my closest compadres, so far since arriving in West Africa I haven’t been attacked with a machete, been kidnapped by a character from Blood Diamond or even been savaged by a rabid dog. Pretty boring I know, but it just serves as a reminder of how little we really know about West African culture.

I’m not pretending to be any kind of an expert on this topic, and this blog entry is definitely not where you’ll find the answers. I’ve simply been living in the southernmost city of Senegal, (Zigiunchor), for six weeks now and here’s what I think I’ve learned along the way…

Things aren’t as different as you might think and once you get past the obvious contrasts with the U.K, like the lack of rubbish disposal, obvious presence of military personnel, lack of roundabouts and abundance of farmyard animals roaming the city streets at will, you begin to notice the similarities. Work sucks, and people take pride in enjoying themselves after they clock off. As a 95% Islamic country, alcohol isn’t a cornerstone of cultural pastimes here and public drunkenness is very much looked down upon. But as in the U.K, people are just looking for good vibes and a chance to get a party going.

imageAs an Englishman it’s hard to contemplate that the act of dance can take place before 8 pints of real ale, but the Senegalese seemed to have cracked the code on this one. Their ability to create some moves and rhythm on the dance floor is also a far cry from the British dance style of flailing like a wet salmon with 10,000 volts put through it. Any chance to get a dance on is a chance well taken in Senegal.  Something which serves as a constant reminder to the myriad of inhibitions we’ve built up for ourselves in Western culture.

As already mentioned, I was born and raised in England. Consequently I obviously don’t speak any foreign languages, especially French. So I’m buggered really. Generally you get by as best you can with trying to pick up the local dialects (Wolof and Joula), or in true British fashion you speak loudly and point at stuff. Other than that, the language barriers aren’t really too much of a huge obstacle in everyday life. Having a smile and a positive persona, no matter how much it pains you, can go a long way when making friends in here.

People are hugely welcoming and willing to help you out regardless of if they know you or not. The word ‘Toubab’ meaning ‘clear skin’, or ‘wealthy traveller’ takes some getting used to. It’s not usually a term of insult, more a term of intrigue and it’s mainly only little kids that will stare and repeatedly shout ‘Toubab, Toubab, Toubab’ in your general direction.
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The only thing that matches the Senegalese passion for dancing (aside from football) is the Senegalese passion for rice. They eat a tonne of the stuff. Ideal for solidifying the less than solid bowl movements of newly arriving Westerners suffering from a downgrade in water hygiene standards, but not so ideal when your usual diet consists of maybe one rice serving a week.

The struggle is truly real when you’re faced with anything up to 14 heavy rice based dishes a week and you’re living with a host family intent on fattening you up before your departure back to the U.K. The Wolof word ‘leckal’ meaning EAT! is constantly mobilised at dinner time as you try to live up to the expectations of being a strapping man with the appetite of Adam Richmond.

Despite their massively inflated expectations of rice consumption, my host family are the nuts. If there’s one thing our generation in the U.K can learn from Senegalese culture, it’s the importance of cherishing your family. In my experience, you’re seen as a bit of a wet lettuce if you’re living with or spending a lot of time with your parents and family once you’re in your mid 20s in Britain. I’ve come to realise that this is basically a pretty sucky view of the world. Some people just don’t click with their family and that’s fine. But the stigma against spending too much time with ‘the fam’ after some predetermined age is pretty much bollocks in my view.

Speaking of bollocks, I don’t know what they’re putting in the water here but to say the local male livestock are well endowed would be an understatement. This provides a constant source of childish entertainment amongst my Senegalese-based U.K friends. The affectionately named ‘little Tommy big balls’ is a Tom cat who resides at our favourite cafe in town. The little chap has earned that name for good reason.

Animals generally get a pretty bum deal in Senegal. From my experience so far they’re either used as food or tools and as a liberal-minded Westerner it’s been a struggle coming to terms with the lack of respect they’re given. My host family’s dog is a pretty lovable mutt, but I get the feeling that he’s a guard dog first, cherished family pet second. We’ve been called a nation of animal lovers in the U.K before and that label has never rung as true as it does now.

In danger of sounding too high and mighty, let’s leave the animal welfare topic for another day. Or not at all.

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog entry. I hope to write again soon.

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