By Mr. Abhishek Talwar
Few things beat the sheer pleasure of savouring a succulent dragon fruit from Mexico, or the explosion of flavours brought about when you bite into a luscious Taiwanese Kiwi (yes, despite the name and the fact that it is commercially grown in New Zealand, the Kiwi is actually native to Taiwan and Mainland China!). The last couple of decades has seen these and other exotic foods from across the world making their way to India.
Besides the taste and aspirational value of these foodstuffs, there are also the health benefits that are often touted. Most health – conscious and discerning consumers today are on a diet peppered with Spanish Kale, South American Avocado, Andean Quinoa, Turkish Garbanzo Beans and Japanese Spinach amongst others. Besides having an extremely high ‘bragging quotient’, these qualify as ‘superfoods’ too, making them a must on any dining table that has ambitions of qualifying as being ‘refined’!
These come with a terrible downside though.
Each time we consume a fruit or vegetable that has travelled to Indian shores from elsewhere, we’re actually contributing to Global Warming. That’s because every exotic fruit or vegetable not grown in India has actually travelled a few thousand miles to get to our tables and kitchens. Let’s take the famed Washington Apple or New Zealand Kiwi for example.
For one, they both travel over 13000 KMS to get to India. Secondly, to ensure their freshness when they arrive at our local markets, they’re stored onboard huge refrigerated containers. That is 45 to 60 days where refrigerators run 24 x 7 in order to keep their cargo fresh and safe. Effectively, they contribute to a staggering quantum of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere!
The traditional argument is that ships have the lowest emissions per tonne of food transported per kilometre. Factually, this is correct, with ships or inland water travel contributing 0.02 tonnes of CO2 equivalent GHG (GreenHouse Gases) per tonne per kilometre. Compared to trucks at 0.2 and even rail at 0.06 tonnes per kilometre, shipping certainly looks good. However, the fact also remains that this GHG emission is eminently avoidable. We don’t NEED to consume food that has travelled thousands of miles to get to our table, no matter how efficiently they did so.
Then, there is the factor of supporting local farmers. Whether one supports the recent farm laws or not, there is no denying that local producers deserve all the support we can give them and more. Just to put things in perspective, our import bill for fruits and vegetables in FY 2021 was over INR 40000 crore (source: APEDA). Considering India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, this number is staggering. One can but imagine the stimulus to the local economy if we switched from imported to local fruits and vegetables, wherever possible!
One could argue that being the second most populous country in the world, we need to import food to feed our burgeoning population. This is only partially true. Partially because while there is a case to import staples to make up for the shortfall in production, it doesn’t tell the whole story. For instance, we’ve had to import tomatoes, onions, cereals, oilseeds and other staples to deal with shortfalls in local production. However, a substantial part of our agro – import bill is for ‘non – staples’ like Kiwis, pears, apples and exotic vegetables. Clearly, we’re importing foods to feed our aspirations and not deal with shortages!
Interestingly, we’re not alone. Every major country in the world has a hefty fruit and vegetable import bill, fed primarily by the insatiable demands of an increasingly upwardly mobile middle class and their vaulting aspirations. In itself, this is not a bad thing, especially for trade and commerce. Unfortunately, it plays havoc on the planet’s fragile ecosystem.
So does one compromise on one’s diet and health to save the planet and fight Climate Change? The good news is, NO! Pretty much every fruit or vegetable you can think of is today grown in some part of India or the other. What’s even better is that a lot of them are organic and free of any chemical additives or pesticides. For instance, Kiwis are grown in Himachal, Kashmir, Sikkim, Kerala and other parts of the country. The same holds true for every other fruit or vegetable you can think of. Besides being great for your carbon footprint, these are easier on the pocket too! Locally grown exotic fruits and vegetables typically cost half or lesser than their imported counterparts.
Even better would be switching to indigenous fruits and vegetables. Nature has a solution for everything. This includes endowing each region with perfectly designed fruits and vegetables, keeping in mind the climate, terrain and ideal nutritional requirement of people living in that ecosystem. The holy grail to perfect health is to eat seasonal local fruits and vegetables. After all, the humble local Indian banana, apples, oranges and guavas are packed with enough nutrients to give their fancier counterparts a run for their money, and at a fraction of the cost. So if you want to do your bit for the planet, much like the hardworking bee, all you need to do is Buzz for local!