Not Evangelism

Friday, September 3, 2010

Why Countryfile Missed the Point

This week, I was going to write about my definition of pragmatic environmentalism, and what it means to be a pragmatic environmentalist. That'll feature next week, now, as on Sunday 29th August 2010, the BBC's episode of Countryfile featured a segment about seasonal food that got me thinking (and spluttering).

The blurb from the particular segment of the programme is:
Back in the Spring, John Craven investigated what it really means to eat seasonally and looked at the environmental cost of eating un-seasonally. He asked the question "is it better to eat British food grown in heated greenhouses or to eat food flown in from abroad?" One of the UK's leading experts on ‘carbon cost’ gave John some of the answers.
This question is one that has troubled me in the past, and I was interested to see how the programme dealt with it. Especially as they mentioned some research from Bangor University, and had Prof Gareth Edwards-Jones lending credence to the programme with some "answers".

In fact, the segment touched depressingly lightly on a complex topic, was wafer-thin on facts, and drew no conclusions. Indeed, at first glance, the message seemed to be that it's better to buy tomatoes shipped in from Spain than those grown in Britain, and that it's okay to eat beans flown in from Kenya (but only if you've driven to the shops to buy them).

The segment did, I think, successfully make the point that carbon emissions are only one, rather simplistic measure of the environmental cost of food miles. Although Professor Edwards-Jones made a point about the usage (and lack) of water in Spain, it was not taken anywhere.

There then followed a short sequence of John Craven meandering through a few minutes of "climate change as opportunity for home-grown exotic fruit and veg" which was utterly ridiculous.

(I was a bit surprised by the comment on walnuts that "didn't grow in the south of France or Turkey or China". I mean, there's a walnut tree just outside my GP's surgery, here in rural North Wiltshire. Hardly the heart of the Mediterranean climate).

The piece finished with the following words of wisdom:
"But for now, it's a choice between sticking to genuinely seasonal British food, or paying the environmental price for the alternatives."
Which seems like a pretty straightforward choice.

Genuinely seasonal British food will always get my vote, every damn time.

For me, it's a trivially simple decision to buy food from the farm around the corner in preference to food of British-but-unknown-provenance. Or to buy from my local butcher, who can tell me which farm the meat is from, rather than to buy from the supermarket counter.

And I will never, but never, buy beans from Kenya - or produce from abroad that I can buy from Britain (like Canadian cherries, perhaps).

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  1. A great piece. Thank you. I've often found myself disappointed at how CountryFile asks questions in the 'What's Coming Up' intro segment, then doesn't provide any answers.

    I understand that CountryFile may not actually have the answers, but when the specific issue piece is shown, they just spend it asking the same question. Bah

  2. Anonymous

    Yes farming is a Business (and an extremely
    demanding one, especially as we are greedy for meat ! ) How can we equate our greed with
    a bit more sensitivity to the needs of our animals ?

  3. The point in the October 10th program Adam made about using British wool was excellent, BUT shearing sheep in October is not good! Please tell us that they are being kept warm and what about the coming winter?

  4. I sometimes think that we expect far too much from a programme such as this. All they were trying to do, and successfuly in my opinion, is to ask ourselves a few questions about how we source food and the moral dilhemas we face in where a great deal comes from. I think they got that across really well for a dumbo like me!!!!They arent trying to give us the answers - they would have to spend years one one programme - just a few well put questions! Cone on - give them a break.

  5. nah! its just typical of the BBC. They are not able to give any serious answers because the majority of their reporters do not understand the question. Sad but true!

  6. Why is it that Countryfile reporters often miss spotting the obvious question that viewers want to know from their piece. For example tonight (24th Oct) there was a topic on green burials without headstones. So how do they know where all the burials are if they intend to eventually have 5000 graves?????
    Adam did better probing the pro's and con's of intense farms in America.

  7. Last nights episode on industrial farming in the USA got me very hot under the collar. There was no mention of the fertilisers, pesticides, energy or land use that is needed to grow the feed for the animals in this type of farming, and the greenhouse gases that growing this feed results in. And the (USA)farmer had the temerity to indicate that his industrial farming was 'sustainable'! Not with the need for feeds its not!
    Also, there were no questions about routine medication of the animals..... anti-biotics etc.

    I urge everyone to read the book Carbon Fields by Graham Harvey. It illustrates how farming using traditional pasture grazing is the only 'sustainable' way to go. No need for extra feeds, no need for routine medication, and surprisingly productive.

    Additionally, the piece on food packaging rightly pointed out some of the positive reasons for packaging. But why can't the packaging be in a material that is easy to recycle. That question wasn't asked either.

    In short.... the questioning on Countryfile, could be a lot more challenging.

  8. I am all for eating local produce but the BBC is in a very difficult possition. On one hand they have to be seen to be green but on the other they cannot be to against international trade because they sell many of their programs abroad.
    On a similar subject last night (24th Oct) there was an item on recycling. I think they missed a big opertunity. They did promote the use less packaging cause which is good they also tried to promote recycling different materials. They did not how ever promote the reusing very much. I am part of the Yahoo Freecycle group which lets people offer items they no longer need to other people (for free) instead of throwing them in land fill. This works very well and can be good fun as you do not know what may be offered or what use people can find for something you do not want. There are many groups in different parts of the country so items go to loacal people /charities

  9. Intensive farming means increased food production to meet the increasing numbers of human being? Wrong! Intensive farming is about greed: profiteering at the expense of animal welfare. Indeed, increasing food production ONLY increases the number of humans. Think about it, there are more birds if there is more food available. People are made of food and if there is more food, there will be even more people. Without food, any life form decreases. Increased food production may well be adding to the numbers of starving people who receive just enough food to keep going. In order to reduce the impact on animals and get away from the escalating size of farms, food production needs to be reduced otherwise human population will continue to increase as food production increases. Adam should have raised this point but didn't.

  10. I am a farmer and the disqust i feel at the report that Adam made of the,(farms) industrial factory units that the Americans call (farms).No animal is content in such miserable enviroments.Those poor pigs to live their entire lives,in 60cm boxes that they cant even turn round in is a disgrace.We should never by pig meats from America or any other country who keeps animals in such conditions.

  11. I was interested to see what items were 'recyclable' for the obviously green living lady who was showing how she recycles to the non-green lady. We tend to recycle those items that the local authority enable us to. In Warwickshire we are now able to recycle paper, cardboard, glass, tins, aluminium trays and foil, plastic bottles of all sorts and yoghurt pots, food punnet's: 1, 2 & 5 but not soft plastic ( stretchy)- that still has to go to Tescos. We can also put food waste including meat and bones into our green bin which also does for garden waste as well just no soil. In Leeds you can't put glass in your recycle bin you have to take that to a bottle bank yourself or food waste into their brown bin. All counties do their own thing so find out what you can take to the tip that can't go into any of your 'bins'. So I was wondering what category crisp packets and their outer packs go under as the green lady seemed to feel she can recycle those. I do however think that if we willy nilly recycle what we feel should be recyclable even though our area doesn't cater for it that we could well ruin tons of recycled stuff by contaminating them with an item not on their list. So take care, check your tip to see if it caters for others categories the bins don't and buy items with less packaging on so there is no need to recycle. (In Germany you can return packaging to the retailer for disposal, can't see Tescos liking that much.

  12. Having given us a very instructive reason for the seasons Julia summed up with the totally irrelevant comment "which means that (in summer)the south is that bit nearer the sun than the north". The reason for winter is that the same amount of sunlight is shone over a larger area of ground than in summer. Think about it Jula!

  13. I love to watch Countryfile but two items have concerned me recently. I did not feel that tonight’s programme stressed enough (at all?) - particularly for children - the danger of eating the much more common horse chestnut as opposed to the edible sweet chestnut. Last week the delightful Julia Bradbury summed up the difference in temperature between summer and winter by saying quite incorrectly that it was because the earth was further away from the sun. Thanks for such a great programme but it is a pity if important facts are wrong or omitted.

  14. It's all very well for Countryfile to tell us we don't eat the plentiful chestnuts all around us, but here in Oxford the opposite is true. Grey squirrels eat every kind of nut down to the last one on every single tree. I planted a chestnut tree in my garden and never got a single nut as squirrels devour them. They also eat the local walnuts, beech-nuts, hazel-nuts and most of the fruit. The local council refuses to do anything about it. They sai squirrels are in their natural habitat anywhere except inside a house! Not true, as grey ones come from America. Wild chestnuts from the British countryside? Dream on...

  15. Am I the only person who thinks that the picture titled 'heads up' on this years Countryfile Calender looks as if it has been digitally altered?Am sure they must run checks on the entries,but the deer looks totally misplaced.

  16. Once again I find this programme offends the sensibilities of conservationists when a guy shot a crow merely to feed Lynx's - which were in captivity. If anything symbolises what is wrong with this planet and the supposed "country folk who know best" then this is it. Everyone this programme shows is an upperclass nit with no idea about countryside management or ethics.

  17. Given that one estate in the Forest of Bowland (UU) holds almost all of the English harrier population which all accept is in an appallingly low state due to persecution on grouse moors a great opportunity was missed to ask some very searching questions of both an estate owner and his keeper. It appeared that you had swallowed the shooting lobby arguments in favour of shooting hook line and sinker an entirely unbalanced view.