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