Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The consequences of healthy eating

When one of the Relu projects came up with statistics for likely shifts in land use if we all ate our recommended five a day, and mentioned the potential need for many more polytunnels covering the south of England, the research received national press coverage.  There was plenty of opportunity for outrage.  Polytunnels are a blot on the landscape as far as most Britons are concerned and they invariably provoke protest and nimbyism.  Yet still the government urges us to increase our fruit and veg intake and most of us refuse to feast on turnips all winter.  What is to be done?  Last week I was on holiday near Turkey’s Mediterranean coast and was struck by the large numbers of polytunnels there.  Acres of plastic nestle alongside the beautiful beaches.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes and aubergines spill out of them and onto the local and international market; Turkey is a net exporter of fruit and vegetables.  This kind of technology extends the season very effectively and protects produce from weather and insect damage.  It provides the perfect-looking, all-year-round ingredients we demand.  Are there protests about these particular blots on the landscape?  Not at all, because the land is generally owned by local people and each family may have a small plot.  Almost everyone in Turkey still has a stake in farming and the rural economy.  Using polytunnels is one way of maximising their profits.  So, perhaps this is a boon for them and for us?  Or are we simply exporting our prejudices to poorer and less fussy communities?  Climate change may alter this picture completely, of course.  Other countries may no longer be able or willing to supply us, or they may find other customers who can pay more for their goods, as China and India wield increasing economic power.  Will we then look more kindly upon plastic monstrosities in our own backyard?  Only time will tell.

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