I cooked breakfast for a bunch of friends last Saturday morning. All the usual stuff, including a tiny nod to healthy eating with some mandarin oranges, imported from somewhere exotic. As the morning wore on, I found myself wondering at the carbon footprint of those wee oranges? I know, it sounds strange.

Earlier last week there was a flurry of excitement round the release of Delia’s new cookbook ‘how to cheat at cooking’. Apparently the major food retailers are already stocking up on certain items, like tinned lamb in anticipation of a run on ingredients. This means that vast refrigerated lorries will crisscross the land so that dishonest cooks can fool their friends. Again, I found myself wondering at the true, complex cost of our food.

News came through during the week of the first case of blue tongue in Northern Ireland. Although the disease is so far only confirmed in one dairy cow, and it has no implications for the human food chain, I can’t help but recall the apocalyptic imagery of burning mounds of cattle from 15 years ago in the mad cow disease outbreak.

The connection between cheap food and the environment is an interesting one I think. Have you seen the photo taken from the passing lens of a satellite of the province of Almeria in Spain. It looks like the whole countryside is lying under a localised snowfall. In truth the stuff is actually vast acres of land under polythene greenhouses growing tomatoes for the rest of Europe throughout the year.

All this reminds me of the writer Barbara Kingsolver. Her most recent book is called ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: our year of seasonal eating’. The book documents the experience of her family as they sought to eat primarily what they could grow or raise themselves or source locally. She writes of living as a locavore…someone who only eats food grown or harvested within a radius of 100 miles. And argues that increasingly in our ravaged world food is a moral arena.

In a recent interview I heard her make an astonishing biblical connection. She argued that eating food out of season grown in a country far away was tantamount to coveting your neighbours goods. Something prohibited in the 10 commandments.

That’s a real challenge. It means that next month I’m going to have to think a little harder about breakfast with my friends. To ensure that what is placed on the table is from here, local and in season and in this way make my small contribution to the planet’s sustainability.

Now, what will you have for lunch today?

Broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster Thought for the Day on Monday, 18 February, 2008

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