Sunday, July 16, 2006

My Strawberries and Globalization

perfect strawberry
I have a garden in southern France where I grow fruit and vegetables. The sun is hot where I live and to use my strawberries as an example, when they reach my table fresh from the garden they are fragrant and with an unmatched rich and sweet flavour. Small producers in our area sell similar locally grown strawberries in the market square.
No flavour
The supermarkets like Carrefour, Walmart’s and others don’t buy these strawberries of course and sell larger and beautifully shaped red strawberries that they have purchased at the lowest possible price from some distant country. It’s part of globalization. If the cheapest price is from large greenhouses in Southern Spain, California or an oligarch's estate in Brazil, then this is where they will buy them. They are undoubtedly genetically modified, chemically treated and harvested early to avoid any blemish and to withstand the long voyage to markets. If it is bigger than a normal strawberry they even paste a label on it. I suspect the store buyer is given a bonus if he finds a lower price somewhere else. The problem with this is that they don’t taste like strawberries!!!.
Perfectly shaped and unblemished tomatoes from California taste like red and slightly sour cucumbers in Toronto, apricots unlike our juicy local variety arrive dry and tasteless – but they are cheaper ! Let’s face it, locally grown fruit and vegetable tastes better and I think that has something to do with the quality of life. The global experts don’t know how to measure this, and probably most of them are rich enough to not care anyway because they can go to their gourmet shops.
If we carry this globalization argument further France should logically give up growing everything because there is always somewhere in the world where the local currency is depressed plus large landowners assisted by generous World Bank loans can hire penny labour and harvest more cheaply. The economists in Brussels and writers for business publications who are devoted to globalization believe this is a good thing. They obviously accept that traditional farmers in France and throughout Europe should give up their land, or sell it off for golf courses, and migrate to the cities to take up modest labour where it is available.
Let me see if I can understand what global advocates are saying. By freeing up markets from any government imposed constraints the capacity to generate wealth will be greatly enhanced. This will occur because companies will be free to invest, buy and sell wherever it is most profitable and this will support the growth of mega businesses and mega farms that will be more profitable. The question is; profitable for whom ? I guess it is the handful of oligarchs in most third world countries who control most of the land and who pay pennies to their workers, plus additional profits for the World Bank, transportation companies, and the mega retailers like Walmarts and Carrefour. To many buyers this makes sense since the wages in the areas where Walmarts and Carrefour exists are depressed and the buyer can partly benefit from lower prices. It is like going there to shoot yourself or your neighbour in the foot.
Getting back to strawberries, an article in LeMonde today claims that strawberries from China vs from Perigod in France requires 20 times more fuel to get it to market. It goes on to say that farm produce shipped thousands of miles by ship, rail and trucks for the cheapest price has become a major factor in rising CO2 gas emissions in the atmosphere. Destroy the planet but get a better price ! It’s something to think about.
In conclusion I don’t really understand all this enthusiasm for Globalization, and as I originally stated, locally grown strawberries taste so much better. I guess I’ll follow the seasons and buy locally. Saving a few farms and eating well makes it worthwhile.