I’ve just read yet another once-over-lightly article about eating and buying produce that’s seasonal and local.
This one in the NZ Herald is hooked on the suggestion that TV cooking shows and food magazines encourage people to buy “fancy” out-of-season ingredients that must be flown in from other parts of the world. Hort NZ comes out on the side of buying local (as you’d expect) and Turners and Growers say they only import to supply customer demand.
The subtext to this debate is Hort NZ’s campaign to introduce Country of Origin Labelling. Now, I fully support the campaign. I can see no reason why we can’t know where our food is produced. Personally I always do buy in season, which most of the time means local as opposed to imported. But things are never that simple.
For instance, when I buy snowpeas from Zambia it’s true I’m contributing to global warming (via food miles) and failing to support our local growers (by omission) but it’s also true that I’m helping the economy of a country that’s not as fortunate as my own. I think that’s a mitigating factor.
The other thing to consider is the double standard that’s rarely mentioned in articles like this one, ie, food writers like me encourage people to buy ‘in season and local’ but we don’t really want other countries to apply the same criteria to New Zealand. As an out-of-season supplier in many overseas markets, this country would be in serious trouble if everyone decided to be a locavore.
Similarly, we need to be careful with the assumption that local will be fresher – I’ve seen some very sad looking local vegetables for sale, especially outside the main urban areas. And if it is true that most imported fresh produce is “fumigated, irradiated or put in cool storage”, then I’d like to know how we keep our own exported produce fresh during long journeys.
There are no easy answers, I just wish reporters would take their stories a bit further than the obvious.
As to the Masterchef hook in this particular story, I’m not sure that cooking shows do drive a demand for out-of-season fruit and vegetables. If so, it can only be that they are being screened out of season. But I am sure about recipes in magazines and I strongly disagree with the man from Turners and Growers who says food magazines often feature certain products that people expect to be able to buy in New Zealand (and, presumably, can’t). I read the food sections of almost every NZ food and lifestyle magazine including the one I write for (NZ Life & Leisure) and the recipe writers are all really careful to stay in season, even ‘though the finished food shots may have been styled weeks before publication. There is also a notable effort to use products that are readily available.