I don't really need to be buying foods from the places I mentioned in my last post (and several other places besides) as though they are staples I must have. I really don't need coconut milk or shitake mushrooms to survive. And when I can get a bounty of fresh produce from the farmers market to fill up my fridge each week, why do I need to be buying ingredients from far-flung places? Sure, I look at the sesame oil and soy sauce in my fridge, as well as the tub of Earth Balance, nut butters and nutritional yeast, and I realize that were I to dedicate myself to eating an entirely locally sourced diet my shelves would be bare of the convenience foods I have so long taken for granted. But as I consider my feelings about no longer regularly purchasing many of the processed and fresh foods I have come to love, my hesitation in giving up something I love to eat begins to sound, to me, very much like the response meat-eaters have when asked to consider stopping their eating of animals. "But I don't want to stop eating (steak, chicken, ham, lamb, etc.) because I like it." Well, I like fresh pineapple and I'd like to continue eating it. But when the pineapple I'm could eat at any time of the year is flown in on a jet, I need to hold myself accountable for the part I play in consuming a product in which a ridiculous amount of fossil fuels was used to get it to my table. And I love my Earl Grey tea, but when the leaves are grown all over Asia and the final product created in Great Britain before it gets to Canada and, eventually, into my teacup, I really need to ask myself how much more important the pleasure of my tatse buds is than the impact my epicurean tastes have on my home and the people and animals that live on it. And, frankly, I like the relationship I have developed with the food I walk home with from the farmers market. Being nourished by a bowl full of the freshest Rainer cherries is just as wonderful but more responsible for me than a bundle of bananas.
When I first began to question the airmiles my food was racking up, one response to my musings was "What about all the people whose jobs rely on you buying the food they help produce, no matter where it comes from?" That was not a question I could answer, and for some time I thought about how those livelihoods would be affected if a significant number of people stopped buying things like tamarind paste, goji berries, jicama, and mangosteen. But what I have since discovered is the idea that perhaps these same people - like those who live in places such as Australia, Korea, and Malaysia - could possibly have more food to eat. I am talking about people who are farm labourers or factory workers who get paid pennies for producing products that are sold at higher prices in affluent countries or neighbourhoods while they themselves might not have enough money to eat or places to buy affordable food (this happens even here in British Columbia). And I am talking about some of the same people in countries whose governments have bought into trade agreements that leave their own people undernourished and their farmers dirt poor. Perhaps if the global food industries weren't tied up in exploiting resources and food for profit people would not be sitting mere miles away from silos filled with grain while their children starve to death or harvesting fields of soy created by the razing of rainforest while they and their cultures perish for the sake of my soy milk. Undoubtedly this is a complicated issue.
Money lust and convoluted politics have created a marketplace where I can buy garlic from China for dollars cheaper than garlic from the Fraser Valley. If I want a simple head of garlic, why must it be the very old, dried up, and sometimes mouldy garlic that's travelled much further than I ever will in my entire life? I wonder if it's not so unreasonable to demand that something as simple as garlic, easily grown even on my patio, could come from somewhere within my own province? It's even less unreasonable for me to go ahead and grown my own garlic, along with the fresh herbs on my ledge that aren't trucked in from Oregon or Alberta, and better appreciate the time and effort, as well as savour the result of producing something as simple as a bulb of garlic (and the garlic scapes to go with it).
For me, questioning the viability of a vegan diet that relies on ingredients that have travelled 8,000 miles or more to my plate is an issue I am beginning to take seriously because I feel I need to. My awareness of many of the converging environmental, social, and political catastrophes developing the world over creates an unavoidable sense of urgency to do something right now about how my lifestyle habits impact animals and people living halfway across the world. When I first became vegan, adjusting to my choice meant discovering new ways of shopping for, cooking, eating, and enjoying food. Now, my choices as a vegan have led me along paths that have me thinking perhaps my answer to making an even lighter impact on the planet (and the animals mercy to the detrimental effects of human activities) lies in a greater focus on eating locally as much as I possibly can. Just like I once realized that life of a chicken is more important than my self-serving culinary interests, I also believe that my enjoyment of a perfect Haas avocado from Mexico is not as important to me as the effects my shopping habits have on the planet and its creatures.