Superfoods a Super Waste?


photo: J.Novak

From açai to goji and raw cocoa to spirulina, superfoods have blossomed into an industry that's expected to reel in upwards of $10 billion by 2011, according to Small Footprint Family. I admit at first I was in awe of such luxurious ingredients, day dreaming of being wrinkle-free at 100 and doing headstands into my nineties. But recently I've been having second thoughts about the fossil fuels used to fly these often tropical tastes to my doorstep. Small Footprint Family recently brought to light an issue I had been struggling with for some time now, the carbon footprint of superfoods. A superfood is really just elaborate terminology for foods considered to be nutrient dense, with more antioxidants, vitamins, etc. than most foods. But often times these foods come from exotic places, no where near my state. For example, goji berries are from China and Tibet, açai, camu camu, maca, chia, and lucuma are from South America, nonifruit and durian are from Southeast Asia, mesquite and spirulina are from Mexico, and chlorella is from Japan, according to the article. These foods use tons of resources to get all the way to my native state of South Carolina. And for those of us beginning to abide by the rhythms of the season, this can be a bit difficult to grapple with.

The Super Food Question
But the answer is not that simple, nor is it black or white because sometimes these crops support and employ impoverished communities. For example, coconut sugar, considered a super sweetener with high amounts of potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, as well as vitamin C, supports poor sugar tapers. Palm sugar harvesting is traditionally done by small, local sugar tappers that climb to the top of the palms to collect the sap from the palm flowers. The trees are maintained for their sap instead of being cut down for palm oil. This is also true of the South American rain forests where super tea, yerba mate is harvested and those areas are sometimes spared.

But at the same time it seems hugely wasteful for me to purchase foods trucked in from over 5,000 miles away when there are plenty of superfoods grown right at home. Melissa Breyer over at Planet Green wrote that sweet potatoes are packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium. And pomegranates are loaded with antioxidants, offering brain and memory protection. Additionally, abiding by a local diet often means that you're getting the most nutrients because your foods don't lose enzymatic power during travel.

More on Food Miles:
Misunderstanding Food Miles
Fair trade vs. Food miles: One Welshman's View
The Eco Diet Isn't Just About Food Miles

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