Salmonella Tomatoes: An Argument For View Source and Food Miles

Tomatoes -- Are They Poison?
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mike Licht,

You may not be familiar with the term food miles. Wikipedia describes it thus:

“The point was to highlight the hidden ecological, social and economic consequences of food production to consumers in a simple way, one which had objective reality but also connotations.”

Many people are very skeptical about the “hidden costs of transport” arguments against food that has been shipped thousands of miles. But public health offers another, very clear reason to more deeply consider the provenance of the food we eat. The current salmonella scare in the US is pretty chilling.

As things currently stand in food supply chains we usually have little or no idea of where our food came from. There are very few of us are that are like my friend Chris Dalby, who only buys food from farm shops, but that’s surely going to change as more and more products turn out to be contaminated. Increasingly we’re going to want to be able to “view source” for the food we eat. Food miles encourages us to do just that.

Tim O’Reilly said:

HTML, the language of web pages, opened participation to ordinary users, not just software developers. The “View Source” menu item migrated from Tim Berners-Lee’s original browser, to Mosaic, and then on to Netscape Navigator and even Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Though no one thinks of HTML as an open source technology, its openness was absolutely key to the explosive spread of the web. Barriers to entry for “amateurs” were low, because anyone could look “over the shoulder” of anyone else producing a web page. Dynamic content created with interpreted languages continued the trend toward transparency.

Just like the rise of the web we’re going to need new standards, new linking and tagging mechanisms, and new ways of thinking if we’re to going to be able to trust modern food networks as they become increasingly complex.


On Africa: The Bush Administration Does the Right Thing

And that’s something you don’t hear from me too often. According to the New York Times the US will now be able to buy local cereal crops when administering aid, rather than shipping US surpluses abroad. Grain dumping overseas is a bad thing- it punishes local farmers by wrecking market prices, and uses up unnecessary food miles. This article explains the problem in some depth.

Small changes can lead to large effects, while unintended consequences are a problem for any policy area. So its very good to see the US administration making it easy to buy local crops at times of extreme need. Buying local helps the economy in ways dropping in grain never could – and we use less oil. This is aid through the grassroots.


Water bottles of the future?


Forget Richard Pim’s garden wall made of wine bottles. Here’s a much more serious idea for the drinks companies like Cadbury Schweppes, Pepsi and Coca Cola – pick up on the spirit of the beautiful ideas by Dutch designer Nienke Vording and stop shipping vast quantities of bottled water around the country, which then all get chucked into landfill.

Instead, sell gorgeous reusable water bottles – indeed promote designers to create all kinds of personal reusable bottles. Then install ‘water stations’ into local shops and other locations. Offer either tapwater (still or gassed-up, either of which you pay for) or mineral water from tanks (which you pay extra for). But charge a bit less than you would for bottled water.

And don’t cheat and only distribute water from the tanks. That’s as absurd as the huge logistics operation that underpins the water cooler industry, which busily expends energy shipping water barrels into every office building in the land.

Of course, in the Greenmonk spirit of innovation from the roots up, this could be done without the support of the major drinks distributors…