Most people are aware of the concept of food miles. That is, the number of miles, or kilometres, a food item has to travel from its point of production (either field or factory) to its point of consumption, ie your dinner table. Food miles are bad. Bad for the quality of the product ~ the longer an item, especially a fresh, non-frozen item, is in transit, the more nutrition it will lose. And bad for the environment because many food miles implies more fuel usage and pollution caused by the trucks, trains, ships and planes necessary to bring it to your door. And of course, many food miles are bad for your pocket because you as a consumer are paying more for the product to cover the additional costs of transport and storage.
Food miles, therefore, are one of the keys as to why one should eat seasonally and buy locally. Thus, growing your own produce, regular attendance at farmer’s markets, or insistence that supermarkets or grocers stock locally grown or produced goods, is one of the keys to environmentally-sound conservative living. But a rudimentary awareness of the seasons, and what grows when, will also help in menu planning and buying habits. For example, deciduous fruit such as apricots, peaches, plums and nectarines ripen in summer. Thus, those you buy in winter will have been stored under refrigeration ~ and more than likely controlled atmosphere refrigeration, where the mixture of gases surrounding the fruit while under refrigeration has been assembled specifically to delay ripening and the growth of mould, diseases and pests. This adds to the cost of the product, and is hardly good for the environment when the cold storage chamber is opened so that workers can remove the product for delivery.
If one replaces the word “food” with the word “product” one can equally apply the concepts of distance, transport cost and environmental impact to any product. And here the concept becomes a lot more complex. Because one enters the world of international trade which, at consumer level, usually means lower cost products but which at national level means an effect on balance of payments, gross domestic product, customs revenue and unemployment.
And in the South African context the latter ~ unemployment ~ is the elephant in the room, as we are being constantly reminded by the politicians, both pro-and antigovernment. For SA nowadays manufactures very little. Skeptical? When you undress for bed tonight look for the little label inside your underpants, trousers, shirt and jersey that tells you how to wash it. There you will also find where it was made. If you find an item labelled Made in South Africa send us a picture with your name and postal address and we’ll send you a smart cap as a prize (yes, the cap was Smallholder made in China). We don’t have many to give away, but we’re confident we won’t be giving away many anyway. China. Madagascar (favourite of Woolworths), Mauritius… they’re all there. And while you’re driving around your town in your Chinese-made underpants and socks, Madacascan trousers and Mauritian jersey (having dried after your morning shower on a towel made in Portugal ~ we can’t even cut and hem a rectangle of cloth) in your Korean, Japanese or Chinese car (assembled, granted, in South Africa under an ingenious bureaucrat-inspired financial incentive scheme that offers a few thousand assembly-line workers employment but does nothing to reduce the vehicle’s retail price) you have the answer to why there are so many young men and women sitting on the kerbside, unemployed.
And for our next crisis…COVID-19
The coronavirus (COVID-19) scare is on everybody’s lips and in everybody’s minds, and the government has announced some pretty drastic measures (but including some daft ones, eg closing the ports of Saldanha (used for iron ore exports and oil imports) and Mossel Bay (oil-rig workers and fishermen only) to passenger and crew transfers) to curb its spread and manage the inevitable spike in infections. Nobody (least of all us) knows when, or how, this is going to end. What we do know, however, is that the longer-term effects of the social and economic changes being wrought by the scare, and the world’s responses, will be profound. All we can realistically do, at this stage, is keep oneself and one’s loved ones safe, counsel and monitor one’s staff, look out for one’s neighbours and stay as informed as possible ~ from accurate and trustworthy sources, ie not social media.