I try to think about the environmental impact of the food we eat. I thought that this was a relatively easy thing to do just by using a bit of common sense, obvious things like eating less of foods that had travelled long distances, avoiding foods grown out of season which require a lot of heat for growth and avoiding processed foods where the individual ingredients may have travelled long distances. I assumed we were doing quite well and that eating seasonal local/UK produce was a good thing.
It was a surprise then a couple of weeks ago to read this article and particularly the following paragraph.
New Zealand butter, for instance, sold all the way round the world in the UK, has less carbon emitted per kilogram of butter than English butter, even taking its shipment into account. How can this be so? Because New Zealand cows are able to eat grass, which grows all year round. In the UK they eat artificial feeds for part of the year, and are kept in heated accommodation.
The butter we usually eat is Rachel's Dairy which made in Wales (not too far away really) using UK organic milk. It seems incredible to think that eating this is more harmful (in terms of CO2 emissions) than butter that has travelled about as far as it is possible to travel from the other side of the planet. I have tried to find some actual figures so I can see how big the difference is but so far haven't been able to find any.
I am going to continue eating UK organic butter as at least it is supporting UK farmers and I'd like to see some figures before making any change but it has made me wonder if any other "common sense" decisions are not actually the most beneficial for the environment.
Perhaps we need to rethink the way we look at all year round basic foods. After all butter and cheese used to be made with the surplus milk produced during the summer as a way of preserving the fresh milk. We are used to the idea of eating seasonally in terms of fruit and vegetables, maybe we need to extend the idea to other foods like dairy products, eggs etc.