At supermarkets today we can get most fruits and vegetables all-year round no matter what the season. Convenient, yes, but what are we really getting when we choose to buy out-of-season fruit and veg?
Buying produce that would normally be out of season in our country means that it has either been imported from another country or grown in heated greenhouses. Both processes create carbon emissions, which is bad news for the environment.
Extra Food Miles
In the 1990s the term ‘Food Miles’ was coined by Dr Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at London’s City University. Food Miles refers to the distance a foodstuff has travelled from the farm to our plate, which is then calculated in terms of impact on the environment.
Food Miles don’t take in to account all the energy and materials used in growing, processing and packaging the food, but it does give us environmental food for thought.
For example, planes that import food generate 177 times more emissions than ships, but whichever way food arrives in our country it is then transported by HGV to the depot and then to the store. The final trip is the one you take to and from the supermarket.
In the UK, the transportation of food alone is responsible for 25% of the distance clocked up by HGVs. Buying food grown in your local area can cut this down dramatically, however this may not always be the case if you buy your local food from a supermarket.
Even food grown down the road from you may have had to travel to the supermarket’s central distribution depot before it comes back again to be put on the shelves in your store.
I am only scratching the surface of the environmental impact of out-of-season foods here, but if you want to know more, the article ‘Food Miles’ by Caroline Stacey on the BBCs Food pages expands on the issue.
Other factors of importing fruit and veg, are the time it takes and the handling and storage that is involved. These can all affect the nutritional content of the food.
From the moment fruit and vegetables are harvested they begin to lose nutrients and taste. You’ll know this yourself if you’ve ever ‘grown your own’.
A carrot eaten minutes after being pulled from the ground is vibrant in colour, smells amazing, is crisp, juicy and full of taste. Each day that that carrot sits in a fridge, box or shelf, affects its quality. Its colour becomes dull as it begins to dry out, it loses its smell and taste, and eventually it becomes bendy. The invisible side-effect of this is the loss of nutrients.
Fruit and veg that has been imported can sit in storage containers, trucks or on supermarket pallets for days and weeks. During this time it can be exposed to oxygen, light and heat, all of which will rob nutrients.
Modified for Transport
Because food can spoil in the transportation process, through bruising from handling and packing, many fruits and vegetables have been modified to help them better survive the journey.
These modification have included thicker skins (which doesn’t do any favours for the taste) and changes to shape and size so they can fit more uniformly into their boxes.
Is it Really so Convenient?
So, yes, supermarkets are convenient, but when it comes to shopping for fruit and vegetables, it’s easy to see how these days more and more of us are stepping back and really starting to think about our choices.