There was excitement in the house this week when I brought home the groceries. I had bought grapes! It generally only happens once a year, during the short Australian grape season. By the time I next go to the store, in three or four weeks, the season will be over, and the grapes will be from California.
There’s nothing wrong with Californian grapes, but I cringe at the idea of buying fresh produce that’s been transported all that way. True, the Australian grapes have travelled quite a distance, but they are the closest commercial table grapes available, and I reckon once a year I can splurge on them.
I’m not a locavore zealot, but I try to minimise the environmental impact of my food choices, and minimising the distance my food has travelled is part of that. So I gaze dreamily as I pass by the Ecuadorean mangoes and American pecans in the store. I use the Canadian maple syrup sparingly, and spend twice as much to buy canned tomatoes from New Zealand rather than Italy. When I do buy food from distant lands, I try to make my purchases as responsible as possible, mentally making up for the food miles expended—buying fair trade, organic products wherever possible.
In making these choices, I’ve discovered some wonderful things. Homemade jam and fruit butters are much better on pancakes than maple syrup. Locally produced olive oil is among the best I’ve ever tasted. Honey is a nicely flavourful substitute for cane sugar. And New Zealand oranges knock the socks off anything grown by Sunkist.
Would I still love a big, meaty mango? Yep, and some days I’m sorely tempted by them. But I’ve eaten mangoes in Panama, where they grew on a tree overhanging the house. My memory of mangoes is almost certainly better than a mango that was picked several months ago and hauled half way round the world. Do I long for grapes more than once a year? Of course, but perhaps, by restricting myself to the most local grapes possible, I enjoy them more when I do have them. And do I occasionally just say, “to hell with it,” and buy a pineapple from who knows where? Absolutely, but I like to think of those environmentally costly things as the treats they probably should be, and spend most of my time enjoying my local riches instead.