The moral dilemma of eating pumpkin outside the season

Yesterday evening I served my girlfriends pumpkin soup at my house. So what, why do you have to write a blog post about that, you might ask. Good point. Nothing sensational happened, no one died from soup poisoning, as far as I know, but the pumpkin soup got me thinking. Because the pumpkin had travelled all the way from Argentina to Belgium.

Flickr/Darwin Bell

Photo: Flickr/Darwin Bell

When I was looking through my cook books earlier on the day, the pumpkin soup tempted most, even though I knew it was off-season for pumpkin. And as I was getting the ingrediens at the local supermarket, pumpkin from Argentina was my only option.

Okay, time to come to the point. I follow all the discussions about rising food prices, the advantage of local food, the enviromental problems connected to transporting food from the other side of the earth.

So, my dillemma is this – since I bought pumpkin outside the season, I had to get pumpkin that came from the other side of the earth, and thus, huge amounts of CO2 had to be emitted in order to transport it to Delhaize in Belgium. As I was eating breakfast this morning, I read this article in the Herald Tribune, where they use an example I’ve heard several times before:

“Cod caught off Norway is shipped to China to be turned into filets, then shipped back to Norway for sale.”

Reason: Cheap labour. But there are of course some problems:

“Food is traveling because transport has become so cheap in a world of globalization,” said Frederic Hague (his name is Hauge), head of the Norwegian environmental group Bellona. “If it was just a matter of processing fish cheaper in China, I’d be happy with it traveling there. The problem is pollution.”

I totally agree with the enviromental aspects of this discussion. The cod example is insane, seen from an enviromental perspective, just as “Britain, for example, imports – and exports – 15,000 tons of waffles, and similarly exchanges 20 tons of bottled water with Australia.”

But if we are suppose to stick to local food, instead of eating peas from Kenya, avocado from Peru, aspargus from Mexico, what consequences will that have for international trade and poor farmers in developing countries? If we stick to the “eat locally” -idea, which is very sympathic, what will happen to the poor farmers who are dying to get into the rich markets in the West?

I’m a bit confused. This dilemma seems a bit like the biofuel situation. Biofuel seemed like a fantastic idea at first (cheap, clean energy), but it got much more complicated when it seemed to be linked to the rising food prices and political insability, for example on Haiti.

Does anyone have a good answer for me?

9 thoughts on “The moral dilemma of eating pumpkin outside the season

  1. A friend and environmentalist once lectured me about this problem, and his rule was to always buy local food unless the food had been processed and thereby added value to the product and the local economy in general . The rule was simpel: import of value-added products is ok.

  2. I see your point, Aina, but then we are back at the Norwegian cod example – Norwegian cod transported to China for cheap filleting. It adds something to the local economy, clearly, but is that enough to justify it?

  3. I think the point is that the goods are to be harvested and processed in the country of origin (i.e wine is ok but grapes are not). The goal must be to reduce the amount of raw material to travel around the world without ruining the trade balance..

  4. This is clearly a super-complex issue, Aina, and I contacted the Norwegian environmental organization that was quoted in the article,, to hear if they have something wise to say about this discussion.
    Anne Katrin Sæther, information advisor, replied with another tricky question:

    Er det bedre å spise kjøtt fra Hadeland enn fra pampasen i Argentina hvis kyrne på Hadeland er blitt mata med langreist mat?

    (Is it better to eat meat from Hadeland (area in Norway) than from the pampas in Argentina if the Norwegian cows are feed with food that travelled far?)

  5. Pingback: Bellona’s advice regarding food and CO2 footprints « Bente Kalsnes’ blog

  6. Pingback: Grønn hverdag’s advice regarding food and CO2 footprints « Bente Kalsnes’ blog

  7. Pingback: Framtiden i våre hender’s advice regarding food and CO2 footprints « Bente Kalsnes’ blog

  8. i know this post is old, but I was searching for images of pumpkin soup when I happened on this entry.

    I just finished reading “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver in which she talks about eating local foods vs. food that has traveled around the world to reach your plate.

    In the final chapters, she talks about the dilemma you’re discussing here – what about those people that benefit from a global market?? Also, do *I* have to feel guilty for buying bananas even though they are being shipped thousands of miles to reach me?

    Just like every choice in my life, I have to do what feels right for me. If I want bananas (or if you want an off-season pumpkin) I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I can’t do everything, I can’t be 100% of anything, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do whatever it is I’m capable of.

    Just thinking about this question means you’re more conscious of the problem/solution than most people on this planet.

  9. Thanks for the comment, Lisa J. The great thing about old blog posts is that the discussion can keep going, even though lots of time have passed since it first was written.

    And regarding the travelling distance of food, I think many people are confused. This summer, when I went back to Norway for some weeks, I read several interviews with people about how they contribute to save the environment. “Buying locally grown food” was a very common answer. But for several vegetables/food types, that is not very environmental friendly. Think of all the energy it takes to grow tomatoes in Norway! You support your local farmer, yes, but not necessarily the global environment.

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