Jay Rayner and Great Food Miles Simplification

Jay Rayner, the Observer food critic, a cross between a well-fed D’Artagnan and Marco Pierre White, is one of the go-to people for foodie opinions, and usually he is bang on. The extract of his new book published in the Observer yesterday, was for the most part a fascinating and at times dispiriting read (especially the grim truths of the abattoir). Yet the section about the over-simplification of the concept of food miles seemed too defeatist and happy for us to wallow in indecision.

Through research, it now appears that the idea that the farther food travels the more environmentally destructive they become, is far too simplistic. Whodathunk? What emerges is the need for a more holistic approach, one provided by Life Cycle Analysis (which takes into account the amount of petrochemicals to run the machinery, the materials for the farm buildings, nutrients for the soil amongst others); this then throws spanners in all forms of works as it shows that local doesn’t not necessarily equal more environmentally friendly. Though, as is pointed out, there are far more benefits buying locally than just the perceived environmental factor, but it does drive a (well-hung) stake through the argument somewhat.

But it is here that Rayner’s argument disappears and the resigned nihilism comes through, as it ends with a verbal exasperated arm flail instead of pointing to a real solution. I can imagine him in the corner of his kitchen sobbing into the research shouting’nothing matters anymore’. Whilst the simplicity of food miles is inadequate, surely we can found a new system on the LCA, one which gives the consumers the facts and the power to vote with our feet.

Maybe this is too simplistic again? Maybe the effort that it would take to compile all this data isn’t worth the effort? Possibly, but it would a boon for statistics nerds.

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