By Patrick Harrington
From all the excellent articles in the Shizuoka Gourmet blog the one which had most impact on me was the shortest one, with a quirky title that hid a very serious issue: ‘Shimizu goes bananas’, in March 2007.
As we all know our use of the earth’s resources is exceeding the earth’s ability to sustain itself. It is calculated that we would need an earth almost twice the size to sustain our thirst for resources.
It may seem obvious but one way of significantly reducing our over-use of resources is by consuming local food.
We can massively reduce the amount of transportation. Can you imagine how far strawberries must travel to keep the supermarkets of Northern Europe stocked year-round?.
And we can also reduce or eliminate the the processing and packaging, not to mention the advertising. Plus there is reduction in the need for chemical preservatives and irradiation.
Growing local food also results in a tendency toward multiple cropping and better crop rotation. This can lead to reduced pesticide use, minimization of crop failure and better preservation of indigenous biodiversity.
In addition the by-products, eg manure and silage, may be used productively rather than be viewed as nuisance waste.
However multiple cropping requires multiple skills and a wide range of tools and machinery, but it utilizes human labour more efficiently as each crop will have a different cycle.
The green dimension of local food is something we can all probably agree upon.
Secondly there is also the health dimension. As mentioned above the amount of processing and the need for pesticides and chemicals can be reduced by using local food, but it is also thought that better nutrition also results.
Regional and seasonal conditions affect the compostion of plants and animals and consuming local food provides an optimal nutritional fit.
Having said this, science has been unable to prove nor disprove this idea, but anecdotal evidence abounds. A simple example is the consumption of oranges in Shizuoka in the winter months. The vitamin C from the oranges helps combat the increased risk of catching colds at
this time of year. A more radical example would be the traditional Japanese diet of rice, fish and green tea, which surely provides a better nutritional fit for the people of Japan than a diet of burgers, french fries and cola.
Thirdly is the social dimension. Local food can help protect local jobs and shops, and increase food security. Support for local food may also result in the continuation (or re-discovery) of community structures and values. And local food often carries inherent traditional and cultural symbols for a community, something which is perhaps undervalued in today’s global society.
Though it may be counter-argued that international trade is a method of wealth redistribution, this is a highly complex issue, and evidence suggests that the wealth divide is actually widening rather than narrowing.
So the argument for local food appears to be a compelling one. But don’t get me wrong! I’m not advocating that we forsake all food from outside our local community. In fact it is ludicrous to imagine every region being self-sufficient in food. What would happen to Tokyo, or Finland, or Singapore?
And why shouldn’t Robert eat cheese, and why shouldn’t I eat bananas?
But cheese is now made in Fujinomiya, and bananas are now grown in Shimizu, which make them local (to Robert and me).
Admittedly there aren’t many places which can boast Shizuoka’s capability to produce such diverse foods, but I would urge a greater balance toward local food in the diet. There are significant green, healthy and social benefits to be gained. And local food tastes better too!