Thursday, 19 March 2009

Fairtrade or local, environmentally-friendly or cruelty-free?

Ooffoo (which I only discovered recently - hat-tip to Paul Smith) has a poll on its website: if you had to choose, is it better to buy local or fairtrade? On the one hand, you have the environmental consideration, of cutting out all those foodmiles, but on the other, you're making a real contribution to supporting the livelihoods of people in developing countries, who absolutely depend on you buying fairtrade produce for them to be able to feed their families, send their kids to school, etc, etc.

Although, thinking about it - is that a dilemma you would often face? The most common fairtrade goods include coffee, cocoa, chocolate, tea and bananas, and also things like rice, quinoa and sesame seeds too. None of which you can easily buy in local farmers markets. So you can buy your Nicaraguan fairtrade coffee and your locally grown vegetables with a clear conscience.

There are some things however where there is a genuine choice: jam, honey, wine (if you're not too fussy), flowers and icecream (Ben and Jerry's 'Chunky Monkey', for connoisseurs.) Flowers are particularly complicated. Even the environmental footprint is difficult to calculate - foodmiles are obviously higher if flowers are imported from Kenya rather than from Holland, but energy useage is much higher in the hothouses in Holland. On the other hand, flower-growing is a considerable drain on scarce water supplies in Kenya.... But then again, if they're fairtrade flowers, it might be the one way Kenyans can earn enough to survive. Decisions, decisions.

And the coffee thing can still be complicated. I was in the local health-food/ deli type shop the other day, looking to buy a pack of coffee. You could buy fairtrade, or organic, or decaf, or a combination of two out of three - fairtrade decaf, or decaf organic, or fairtrade organic - but not all three. In a fit of uselessness I ended up buying the cocoa instead.

P.S. Yes I know this is one of those middle-class/ middle-income dilemmas which is very remote from the lives of people who can barely make their weekly income stretch to a basket of goods from Aldi or Lidl's. On which point, see my next post...

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