Organic versus Fairtrade versus Local

In the VegHead kitchen we try to buy and grow organic produce. Certainly our own little veggie patch has remained chemical free for the six years we’ve been improving the soil and growing in it. Thankfully, organic produce has become a lot more common over the last 15+ years and is now available outside of the small, specialised shops.

Meanwhile, a recognition has grown amongst the buying public of the need to also protect and provide for the economic and social sustainability of the growers themselves. Both the VegHead and SheWhoMustBeFed are very pleased and supportive of efforts to provide fair payment to the growers and harvesters of the produce we buy, as well as the stewards of the land they grow their produce on. So the Fairtrade branding was welcomed and recognised early on by both of us.

Meanwhile, there is now a recognition growing in the general buying public of the importance of buying local produce. Both in economic and environmental terms it is preferential to buy produce that has been grown – in season – from a “local area”. Local generally meaning to something between the 10 and 20 mile radius of “here” (insert a flag in the ground at the appropriate Longitude and Latitude).

But here’s my conundrum…

We all have our own reasons for reading the label, for being conscious of the providence of our food, for choosing to eat what we do and for of us who do so, for choosing to pursue a vegan or vegetarian diet. It isn’t my desire here to begin to explore the relative merits (or otherwise) of the logic behind those various decisions, nor to debate anyone or convince them to change their views. For The VegHead, my own primary motivation for choosing to follow a vegan diet has always been environmental concerns (same too for my efforts to source organic produce, and to source local produce). The environmental footprint of a vegan diet is measurably smaller than an animal protein based diet – all other things being equal.

My challenge is; given that that is my (own personal) motivation….when is it better from an environmental footprint perspective to NOT be vegan but focus on organic and local produce instead. Is it better from an environmental point of view to eat an organic egg from a free range chicken, sourced from the farm next door, than eat say a block of tofu that has been manufactured 1000 miles away?

I don’t know the answer to that. A unified and transparent balanced scorecard system that considered the factors of “local” versus “fairtrade” versus “organic” would be extremely useful.

And on the day I see one of those….I’ll just as likely to see the a black, homosexual Pope.

Suggestions welcome..