This week the topic at my Weight Watchers meeting was coloring your plate with healthy fruits and vegetables. When the leader asked, What’s in season? my immediate thought was – nothing. Then all the comments became not what’s “in-season” in Northeastern Ohio but rather what’s plentiful in our grocery stores, such as strawberries asparagus, clementine oranges. I was thinking like a locavore (someone who is committed to eating food that is grown or produced within their local community or region).
In our climate it is hard to rely on local produce year round unless you have the time and expertise to preserve enough of summer’s bounty to last through the winter. So we rely on the “seasons” in other parts of the country and world to supply our fresh fruit/veg needs during our winter.
This does present an environmental dilemma. For example, in early February the most beautiful, fresh new asparagus showed up in our grocery store. Country of origin: Brazil. I pondered how this asparagus got to Northeastern Ohio so fast that it looked just picked. And the price – $2.29 for a large bunch – how little must the farmer way down in Brazil have received for his labor?
Starved for something fresh and green I purchased 2 bunches. When I got home I did some research and found that while asparagus has become a booming business in Brazil it is such a water intensive crop that it is draining the aquifer along the coast where it is grown. Sigh….
According to PRI’s The World, in a story Peru’s Asparagus Boom Threatening Local Water Table:
Peru has recently become the world’s number one exporter of asparagus to places including Europe and the US. The boom there has pumped a lot of money into the economy, but it’s also pumped out a lot of water.
Ica is a small, modest city near the Peruvian coast. But on a recent night, the city’s downtown plaza is hopping, including a small religious parade.
The bustle is largely due to asparagus. Ica is Peru’s asparagus capital. And the overseas demand for the long green spears has turned the place into a boomtown.
Locals say unemployment is near zero. Poverty has been cut in half. And there are unheard of amenities.
“There are now movie theaters as of only four or five years ago,” says Cecilia Blume. “And another thing that’s super important to me is the social revolution. There isn’t childhood malnutrition. Because in Ica, there’s work now for women – in agricultural packing.”
Should I be happy that my purchase of Peruvian asparagus has helped improve people’s lives, especially women and children? Or, should I avoid Peruvian asparagus because of the environmental concerns, possibly plunging their people back into poverty? Peruvian growers recognize the problem and are moving toward more environmentally friendly practices and crops but what about other areas of the world and even the USA?
It is a dilemma for which there is no easy answer. The best any of us can do is be environmentally aware and purchase wisely when possible. On this Earth Day, I remain thankful for the abundance of produce from other countries that sustain us during the “dark days”. And when spring and summer produce shows up at my local farmer’s markets, I can become a locavore again.
Do you have a food dilemma? How have your solved it?