Food is a complicated issue. A few years ago the main issues that confronted the consumer were organic versus non organic, battery versus free range, additives versus natural.
Now, the issues are far more complicated and subjective to allow a potential green consumer to base easy decisions upon. The issue of rising food prices and food security has again been on the news here over the last few days, with examples of a pint of milk costing the equivalent of $15 in Kenya and increasing areas of the world’s agricultural land being used for the production of biofuels, or animal feed to supply meat to the every growing numbers of people moving into the middle classes.
In addition, there is the lease of large tracts of land in countries such as Ethiopia to Chinese farmers, producing food for the Chinese market. Although it is acknowledged that there is enough food in the world to feed all the people, there remains a severe imbalance with those of us in the developed world consuming, and indeed wasting, a far higher proportion than those in developing nations.
I set myself several aims regarding food. We already eat organic food as much as possible, avoid convenience foods and buy fair-trade, but I wanted to think about the miles that the food had travelled to my plate. I am happy to buy Kenyan beans in the knowledge that they have a small carbon footprint despite travelling such a long distance. I am less happy to buy produce from Holland, far closer to me, due to the highly mechanised production process that involves huge amounts of energy to ripen tomatoes in a Northern European winter. As all the food in the local supermarket travels at least the 3 hours from Glasgow by road and the 2 hours by ferry, I have a lot of work to do to make my diet as local as possible. So what are the solutions? Well, one is literally on my doorstep.
This archway is 25 metres from my front door. Once you are through, on the right is Islay House, and to the left is a wonderful moss-covered stone wall, in which is set a small green door. When you open it you are confronted by the wonderful Islay Community Gardens.
Belonging to Islay House, it originally supplied it with fruit and vegetables. The Kitchen Garden dates back to the 1700s. The garden was last used to supply Islay House in the 1960s and by 2005 it was overgrown, parts of it were inaccessible and the large greenhouse was derelict. The present owner of Islay House decided to lease the garden to the Islay community in 2005.
The garden is worked by volunteers, the produce is grown organically, weeds are often prolific by the end of the season.
Last year I did some shopping here, but still bought things like onions in the supermarket even when I knew there were some in the Garden, so my aim is to limit my vegetables in the summer only to those that I can buy in the Garden. This is not such a hardship when last year they grew a range far beyond what you would expect with climate and growing season.
The target that we were set by the National Geographic to cut beef consumption is a sensible one, given that cows produce methane, that vast tracts of rainforest in countries such as Paraguay are being cut down to grow soy for animal feed. Being that I want to eat as much local food as possible I want to make sure that any meat that I do eat comes from Islay.
As a result of some research and an email, come the summer my freezer will be full of one quarter of a Highland Cow, thanks to the Shorefield Project. Some may ask why I do not try to grow some food for myself. Well, I have some courgette plants and I keep herbs, but as a choice I would prefer to support the community garden, which is a fantastic endeavor and without regular customers to keep it going, would struggle to survive.
One last thing: For a small community we have many suppliers. If I want an excellent jar of jam I can go to Marianne and buy jams, pickles and jellies locally produced from local ingredients. I can buy organic free range eggs, handmade chocolate and Islay Tablet from any number of local farmers and specialist producers, but I can not get a locally produced loaf of bread unless I make it, as the bakers closed long before I moved here.
My final plea is for policy makers the world over to consider the importance of local shops selling local produce. In France, where my parents live in a rural area, the local bakeries are supported financially by the department and the National Park in order to keep them open and keep communities alive. It is something that other countries should also be considering as a way of keeping food local, preventing car journeys and fostering a sense of community.