Local Food Is Ethical? Tell That To Greece

Define “ethical food.”

The further food has to travel, the worse it is for the environment, right? It’s the reason we equate shopping locally with being ethical. Problem is – it’s rarely that simple. As Robin McKie outlined at the Guardian back in 2008, it’s quite possible for air-freighted food to be greener than locally-sourced produce – so working out which is more ethical can be tricky, to say the least.

Part of the issue is what constitutes “ethical.” Are we talking about nothing but carbon footprints, or are we factoring in the human cost? After all, the positive economic impact on local businesses is part of the argument for shopping locally – so could the reverse be true? Could there be a situation where the right thing to do is ship food in from elsewhere?

That could be the case with Greece, as Adam Davidson suggested at the New York Times this week. EU law stipulates that for feta cheese to be legally permitted to carry the name, it must come from Greece. That hasn’t stopped other countries producing their own carefully rebranded feta-clones, of course – but since the luxury food market is all about authenticity, Greece has an opportunity to make a dent in its formidable economic deficit.  It could export of its most famous – and uniquely branded –  foodstuffs, from feta to Kalamata olives to the regional olive oils still regarded as the world’s finest, and it could do so at luxury-goods prices. In doing so, it would improve the lives of countless Greek workers, many of which are already turning back to the land to make their living…

What’s wrong with this picture? Greece’s regulatory infrastructure is shambolic, corruption remains a major issue (so some of that money would inevitably be creamed off the top by the unscrupulous) and this potential “agricultural revolution” requires solidarity and a leader – but as Davidson suggests, it’s tantalizing that part of the solution to Greece’s current woes could come from the very things it’s been doing so well for thousands of years.

If we decide burning extra carbon to help a beleaguered country is the ethical thing to do, of course.

Image: Linda Cronin

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.