As George Monbiot writes in a recent post, “giving things up is an essential component of going green”. Yet our purchasing decisions still count. Take food sourcing, for example. In the city, it is too easy to put on blinkers and buy the things with comforting labels – “free range” “organic” – without doing any research into the secret story behind each product. Having just read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, it is clear that we can no longer go on placing our faith in the labels confected by the organic giants.
Here in southwest France, the exercise of sourcing most of one’s food locally is easy, although it requires a bit of driving around. Meat and poultry are not available on demand unless you’re willing to buy them from the supermarket. Everything has to be ordered ahead of time as the suppliers can’t risk the waste. So the poultry farmer, who is present at several local markets every week, does not kill any birds unless they have been pre-ordered by customers. You can’t rock up on a Monday morning and decide on the spot whether you feel like roasting a wild duck or a guinea hen that day. So I ordered ducks and took directions to go to the abattoir to pick them up that afternoon. Jean-Paul Saint Vignes wasn’t signposted and the turnoff to his farm was difficult to find. Once I arrived, I saw the ducks clucking happily around their pond, shaded by a weeping willow. I saw the huge Barbary ducks with their grey plumage waddling about the rockery. Perhaps I was addled by the sun, but the overall impression was one of joy and well-being. Jean-Paul kills on average 200 birds a week, a blip in the ocean compared to some of the local duck farmers who send their packaged duck breasts all over Europe, killing 2000 a week on average. I can’t claim that these duck breasts don’t taste good. But it is impossible to describe the experience of tearing apart Jean-Paul’s duck carcasses that night and gnawing the meat off the bones without using the word ecstasy. I kid you not. Even the children were starry-eyed.
Buying direct from the producer and buying locally in French cities requires a bit more time and effort, but it’s not that difficult.
The AMAP’s Association pour le mainteien de l’agriculture paysanne) are farmer coops present all over the country which provide weekly baskets of fruit and vegetables sourced directly in exchange for an annual subscription fee. Distribution points are available from the website.
Here’s a brief guide to some of the labels used in supermarket produce.
AB (Agriculture Biologique) guarantees 70-95 pct of the ingredients used to make the product were grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
Max Havelaar is not a brand, but a label which guarantees a fair trade wage for the producers of the product.
MSC is a Marine Stewardship Council label which guarantees that the frozen fish you are buying was fished in conditions which respect their marine ecosystems.