Monday, 27 May 2013

World famous in The Guardian

There I was, browsing through the online Guardian (May 26 edition), and I came across an excerpt from a new book by celebrity restaurant and food critic Jay Rayner - you'll have seen him, if you're a foodie like me, in various programmes on Sky's Food Channel. And there, under the headline 'Why worrying about food miles is missing the point', was a reference to a 2006 paper written by Prof Caroline Saunders of Lincoln University and two colleagues, Greg Taylor, also from Lincoln, and Andrew Barber, from The AgriBusiness Group.

The gist of the article was that Rayner had until recently been an uncritical supporter of the 'food miles' idea, which is that it is supposedly better for the planet if you buy locally, saving all the fuel and emissions that transporting your food from the other side of the world would have involved.

The flaw in the notion, if you haven't figured it out for yourself already, is that the impact on the planet depends on the total carbon footprint involved in getting the food to you. Producing low yields in unfavourable conditions (where you might need heated glasshouses, for example) requires more total energy than producing high yields in favourable conditions, even after transport costs (usually only a very small fraction of the total cost in any event) are factored in. And Caroline and her mates did the heavy lifting to show that the likes of New Zealand's lamb and apples are easier on the planet than the local UK ones.

Rayner, to his credit, was admitting to an evidence-based change of heart, starting with reading the New Zealand paper and progressing to other research, which he also cites. If you'd prefer to go to the New Zealand source for yourself, it's here.

It reminded me, too, of something I've often wondered about. On the same total footprint basis, I wonder if electric cars are really as good for the planet as they claim?

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