A foodie’s dilemma!

There’s something a bit different in today’s blog post. No recipes or reviews. Today I’m waxing lyrical about an issue that is perplexing me. I’m conflicted and I’d love your input. Please tell me what you’d do in this situation.

I love food! I love to write about it, cook it, eat it and share it with friends and family. Food is something that nurtures both my body and my soul. I use my cooking to show people how I care – every bite guaranteed to contain that most special of ingredients LURVE. As you may have noticed, I am somewhat preoccupied with food!

But that’s not all. I also love the environment. I want to minimise any negative impacts on it and make sure our planet is left in a good condition for my young son and his (hopefully) eventual offspring. I read a lot about good environmental choices and try to implement them in my family’s daily life.

We try to abide by the sustainable mantra of eating local food that’s available seasonally. We try to live so as to minimise our carbon footprint.We’re still learning what this means for us and our lifestyle, but we’re getting there.

Consequently, we’ve just moved to a large block in a rural area to follow our dream of a better quality of life. We are trying to grow our own fruit and veggies where possible, feed our scraps to our worms and waste as little as we can. We’re about to get some chickens and ducks to recycle even more – we give them scraps; they give us eggs and poo – magical. And we’re toying with some alternative energy sources to feed our appetite for electricity. Our friends think we are modern day hippies!

And here’s the problem. What happens when you want to buy food that isn’t a sustainable choice? The dilemma in question is cherries!

What’s an environmentalist foodie to do when a major supermarket has the most amazing cherries, incredibly cheap, but sourced from overseas? They’re clearly not a sustainable choice – they are out of season and were sent on a plane from America. But the taste is fabulous – firm, sweet, delectably mouthwatering.

We normally have cherries at Christmas time, spending around $25 per kilogram on local cherries as a special treat for the whole family. It’s now August but the American cherries are here and will cost less than half that price. Should I buy them?

My 6 year old son is salivating as he asks me to buy a big bag to take home for him to eat. The mother in me wants to say yes to him. Cherries are a great choice for a snack for my son. I can put a few in his lunchbox each day and be assured that I’ve provided something healthy.

The foodie in me wants to say yes. We can gorge ourselves on cherries; eat them until the juice is staining our fingers and lips; revel in the freshness, the firmness and the delicious flavours. We don’t know when cherries will be this cheap again.

The responsible environmentalist in me says no. Think of the other costs associated with those cherries: the jet fuel and emissions from transporting them half way across the world by plane; the cost to the local producers of the fruit that people aren’t buying from them this week.

We are about to plant cherry trees in our brand new orchard, the environmentalist reminds me. We will be able to eat fresh cherries from our own garden very soon, in season.

The foodie answers that it will be at least 3 years before we can expect our first harvest. These American cherries are in front of me now! What to do?

In the end, I buy the cherries. The foodie mother wins and the failed environmentalist slinks off in disgust. The lure of those cheap cherries is too much for a dedicated foodie to bear. It’s clear I have no willpower and my greed for cherries and desire to please my son wins out over my love of the planet.

Now I have to justify my decision to myself. Cherries contain lots of vitamins and will be a healthy choice for my son. We will have some delicious fresh fruit in the fridge for snacks. It’s a special treat and I don’t buy out of season very often. These cherries are the cheapest I’ve seen them. Blah, blah, blah.

In the end, my justifications are irrelevant. My inner environmentalist is not happy with the choice and I suffer minor imported cherry guilt as I chomp my way through their delectable deliciousness. It’s not enough to spoil the flavour and predictably we are in cherry heaven as we make our way through a big bag and banish the environmentalist from the room.

Nevertheless, it’s a dilemma. I will probably do the same thing again when imported cherries are cheap in the local supermarket. But I will also remain a conflicted environmentalist foodie (albeit one full of delicious cherries).

So tell me, what would you have done in this situation?

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8 Responses to A foodie’s dilemma!

  1. Anna Jacobs says:

    I’m in the UK, seeing supermarkets full of wonderful fresh produce, fruit and veggies from all over the world. I buy home grown first if I can, but if something isn’t in season then I buy from overseas. I don’t feel guilty because life’s too short. No one can be perfect, whatever they’re trying to do, nor can you go totally against society’s ways. You just do your best to live and buy ethically.

    For me, the problem is made easier in one sense by having multiple food intolerances. I can mainly only eat fresh stuff. So it’s a no brainer. It’s healthy to have variety so I buy.

    As for cherries, they’re the food of the gods. I buy them whenever I can. Some fruit and veggies freeze well. Cherries don’t. Enjoy them!

  2. Rhonda says:

    Here’s the thing…
    * There’s a really good chance that you will not be able to grow juicy luscious cherries where you are. It’s probably too hot. Cherries in Western Australia are mostly grown at Donnybrook and further south. I don’t know if all varieties of cherries are available ‘locally’ either — they tend to be a cold-climate fruit, and so those that grow in our state may not be the full range of varieties you’d be able to grow in a cool wet climate like the state of Washington.
    * There’s also a really good chance that any cherries that you do grow will be savaged by the birds (and bugs) before they ripen enough for you to eat them, unless you can intend spending a lot of money putting netting over the trees.
    * The cherries you saw in the supermarket have already had their environmental ‘spend’ done. You not buying them won’t stop the fact that they are already here and have already come on a plane to get here. The counter to that is that if no-one buys them in the local off season, then the supermarkets/suppliers won’t import them. Like, that’s going to happen… NOT! It would take EVERYONE not buying them for the importation to stop. While I admire your restraint and understand your dilemma (I go through those sorts of dilemmas too, though perhaps not as strongly as you), the reality is that the horse has already bolted — the cherries ARE being imported and they will be bought, whether by you for your son or by someone else.
    * The cost of your own cherries has to be weighed against the cost of the imported cherries (including the environmental cost). I tried to grow tomatoes a couple of seasons ago. I bought eight plants, they all grew well and flowered, and I kept the bugs off them with various powders etc. After three months of watering, hand watering, shading them from the hot sun, staking them, buying and applying bug deterrents, I got FOUR lousy tomatoes off those eight plants. Four tomatoes that weren’t much bigger than blueberries (they should have been full size). I reckon I spent about $30 or more (not including labour) to get those four tiny tomatoes. And they didn’t even taste any good… (see these blog posts for details: http://rhondabracey.com/2012/02/06/i-think-ill-buy-my-veges-thanks/ and http://rhondabracey.com/2012/02/19/tiny-tomatoes/)

    I don’t know if any of this helps, but you’re caught between wanting to do right by your child in the here and now and do right by the environment in the long term. Another way of looking at it: What if your child really wanted something now (e.g. a Mcdonalds burger) and it was cheap and convenient, yet you looked at the bigger picture and knew that feeding him Maccas is not good for him in the long term? Would you do it? Would you go through the same moral/ethical issue?

    • sas says:

      Great points Rhonda. I really appreciate you taking the time to give me your stream of consciousness! Of course you are right about the sunk environmental cost of those imported cherries and that was something I didn’t consider in the post.

      We have bought low chill cherries from the Swan Valley fruit tree expert and he says they should be OK but only time will tell! I’ll keep you informed about what happens. We get lots of frosts here and it is COLD sometimes in winter. Fingers crossed they work out OK! If not, it’s a learning experience and will soften the financial impact of buying cherries :-)

      I hear your pain about the tomatoes but What did you DO to them? We had great success with tomatoes in suburban Victoria Park for years! Now we’ve moved to the Valley, we have amazing crops of all sorts of things. In fact, before I start cooking dinner, I go out to the garden to pick the veggies we’ll eat. Love it!

      On your final point, luckily my little man has not been brought up with Maccas so has never asked me for it. His idea of junk food is sushi which I’m happy to indulge him in from time to time. If he ever asked for it, the answer would be a firm “no” with not a second thought.

      Thanks again for taking the time to post your comments.

  3. Rhonda says:

    One other thing that came to me in the shower this morning (where all the best ideas come from ;-) )… Would you have the same dilemma buying basmati rice that comes from Pakistan? or jasmine rice from Thailand? versus a different type of rice that’s grown in Australia but that doesn’t taste as good or isn’t as friable (I knew I’d get to use that word one day!) as basmati or jasmine?

    Have you bought asparagus grown in Peru? or mangoes from Mexico, or oranges from the US? snow peas from China? The list goes on… And then there are all the products on the supermarket shelves containing ingredients that come from who knows where.

    • sas says:

      For me, there is a difference between fresh fruit and vegetables that grow really well in Perth or other parts of Western Australia and other products that aren’t grown here. So I don’t have issues with buying things from overseas that aren’t grown locally – like basmati rice or ceylon tea. But if there a locally available product, I’d prefer to source it. We only buy free range eggs from the Swan Valley for example, while we’re waiting to get our own chooks.

      We’re trying to minimise our carbon footprint by backing up what we believe in with our fresh food choices.

      For us, that means our food choices are in order:

      Grow it ourselves (you should see my garden beds bursting with fresh veggies!!)
      Buy it grown locally
      Buy it grown elsewhere in the State
      Buy it grown in Australia
      If we really have to have it and can’t live without it (e.g, cherries), buy from overseas

      I don’t buy oranges from the US because I can live without them. I can also live without snow peas from China but those darned cherries ….

  4. Liz says:

    I bought some of those cherries too, and they weren’t much cheaper than the local ones are when they are in season so I have less of an excuse. In Victoria cherries are about $12.99 – 15.99 per kg from the supermarket in season. Or about $8 – $10 for a 500g box from the Farmers Market. I did feel guilty about buying them and I don’t personally agree with Rhonda’s justification about buying them because everyone else is. I think we have to act according to our own conscience and eventually others may or may not follow. I bought them because they are my daughter’s favourite food and if I can indulge in the odd block of imported chocolate I reckon she can have a punnet of cherries out of season. It is hard though isn’t it? Perhaps I wont buy them next year. Or perhaps the US crop will fail or the Australian dollar will crash and they will be too expensive to bother importing and I won’t have to make that decision. On a happier note – they usually starting picking cherries in Victoria on Cup Day (ie today) so there may be some guilt free ones at my Farmer’s Market this weekend.

    • sas says:

      Thanks for posting. Glad I’m not the only one with this dilemma! And I like your rationalisation about treating it as an indulgence. I hadn’t really thought of it in that way before.

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