In our household, over time, we’ve been making an effort to buy as many locally produced (and seasonal) grocery items as possible, to reduce on packaging and transport-associated carbon emissions, as well as artificial growing conditions.
While identifying the manufacturing place of primarily processed foodstuffs (such as dairy or breakfast cereal) is not always easy, fresh produce are generally labeled with both origin and type of culture (organic vs. non-organic), which simplifies our shopping decisions.
Portugal was a closed-up dictatorship until the “Carnation Revolution” of 1974, lagging several decades behind other western European countries in terms of development. My mother still remembers the first time that yogurt became available in the 1960s or ’70s (a tremendous luxury item, meriting ads in women’s magazines), and I still recall when a family friend went to Brussels in the mid-’80s and brought back a styrofoam burger box and a plastic coffee stirrer from McDonald’s, to show us, since we had never seen anything like it before. Therefore, it’s no surprise that imported fruit and vegetables (especially exotic species or cultivars) soon became a mark of progress and development, and the ability to buy them a reflection of wealth.
However, it’s a strange sign of the times that nowadays (at least here in Portugal), when it comes to buying fruit and vegetables, it’s often reasonably cheaper to buy imported products than local homegrown organic produce.
It’s no secret that this country is currently going through some very hard times (economically and financially), both as a consequence of the “bigger worldwide economic picture”, and as a result of several decades of national mismanagement and markedly suboptimal productivity.
Our household is lucky enough to be able to afford our weekly grocery shopping without any major budget gymnastics, which means that we can still opt for local organic produce even when there are cheaper, albeit less green, alternatives. However, the same does not hold true for a growing number of Portuguese families.
As long as local organic foodstuffs remain the more expensive alternative (and as long as the economic crisis persists), I can only assume that we’ll be seeing a diminishing number of households opting for local, with all the ecological consequences that entails. (Further speculation could also let us assume that this decrease could put a growing number of local farmers out of jobs, and reduce the supply of organic produce, while also leading to an even more marked increase in the prices of available produce, as a way of compensating for production costs…)
For our part, we’ll keep trying to buy local and buy organic, and keep expanding that choice to as many products as possible, while we still can.