Air Miles and God

October 13, 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury has waded into the air miles debate.

In an interview with The Times, Dr Rowan Williams said that families needed to respond to the threat of climate change by changing their shopping habits and adjusting their diets to the seasons, eating fruit and vegetables that could be grown in Britain.

He said that the carbon footprint of peas from Kenya and other airfreighted food was too high and families should not assume that all types of food would be available through the year. Dr Williams called for more land to be made available for allotments, saying that they would help people to reconnect with nature and wean them off a consumerist lifestyle.

The Times goes on quite rightly to point out that these exports have a huge role to play in the economies of countries such as Kenya, reminding us that air miles are not the only factor to consider when thinking about buying imported food. African agriculture is generally far more sustainable than that practised in Europe. This is an old debate and one that will no doubt resurface from time to time. 

But once again the danger is that consumers will make decisions without thinking fully about the impact on Africa. The fashion for buying local produce may well be rooted in good sense, but celebrity chefs have turned it into a lifestyle choice that too often risks obscuring the real consequences. The Archbishop of Canterbury is right to question our consumerist lifestyle but then falls into the trap of urging shoppers to avoid air-freighted food.

And anyway, what has it got to do with him?