This is my 4th year taking part in the Earth Hour, a global event aimed at raising awareness about sustainability issues.  This year, I have decided to write a daily post during the month leading to the event in order to share some thoughts about the environment and give tips the little changes we can make in our daily lives.  There will also be some guest posts by fellow bloggers who will share their own views on a topic related to the environment.  You can read my introductory post here and access the Earth Hour website here.

I encourage you to comment and share your own tips, ideas and experience.  In the last couple of days before the event I will do a few posts about what readers had to say.  I believe we can learn a lot by sharing!

I was talking yesterday about the food choices we face in our daily life.  I don’t know if it is also the case where you live, but in Ireland we have seen a resurgence of farmers’ markets.  Markets and local shops are one of the best ways to know where your food comes from (although you still need to be cautious), but in our societies they are not readily available anymore. 

I remember when growing up in France, going to the market was just a thing people did.  There was a covered one open every day of the week (it still is, I think) in the city centre and, then, each district would have a weekly or bi-weekly market, so it was possible to buy the most part of your shopping from those markets.  Most of our food would come from the market and, when it wasn’t, we would often get it from local specialised shops: la boulangerie, la boucherie, la charcuterie and so on.  However, these shops have increasingly been replaced by supermarkets and going to the market has become a special outing rather than a way to shop.

Supermarkets have killed local production: they import or, when they buy locally, it is at discounted prices, making it difficult for local producers to survive.  As I told you, I spent most of my holidays; for the first thirteen years of my life, on a farm.  This farm was self-sustainable, they used to produce and sell eggs, milk and cereals, but also had their own veg, rabbits and one pig to feed the family.  I went to visit the farm again a few years ago.  It had drastically changed and their production was limited to cereals and gone were all the farm animals; it broke my heart.

Now, farms have become specialised and consequently sell in huge quantity, which, of course, has negative effects as they try to produce more (leading to situations in which they use chemicals or have battery chickens, for instance) to be able to survive when faced with prices that are broken down.  We have replaced quality by quantity.

Some of these farms are struggling but are still alive and this is why I find it so important to support them.  You can find small producers on markets, but also in your local shop where you will be able to buy potatoes (a typical Irish example) from a particular farm, for instance.  Even better, try to visit those farms; it is always nice to know where your food comes from and you will often get it at a cheaper price.

There is something I have remarked though on Irish markets: their prices are fixed and it can be difficult to get a bargain.  In France, markets open at about 7 am (or used to, anyway).  Early risers would get the best products, but late comers would get all the bargains – two for the price of one – as producers would try to get rid of the day’s products in order to welcome fresh ones on the following day.  This is something I also encountered in Ottawa.  I happened to pass the ByWard market just before the stalls were put away and got some lovely red fruits from Quebec at fantastic prices.

ByWard market in Ottawa

Now, there is another choice I am confronted to when I am at the market, or the supermarket for that matter.  Organic or local?  The choice is quite difficult.  Ideally, I would choose both, but this is not always an option.  There are a lot of things to take into consideration and we are not always in a position to make an informed decision. 

Organic stall at Mahon Point market in Cork

Maybe the first thing to be aware of are the laws of your country.  Obtaining the organic label is not always easy.  I know some farmers around here who still do not have the label when they are actually producing organically.  The second thing that strikes me is that the food might be organic but coming from far away: transportation and how it is preserved are elements to be taken into account.  Therefore, I generally prefer local products and I might extend that to European products if those cannot be grown in Ireland.  At least, that way, you help your local economy and you might have more chances to know exactly where your food comes from.

Another thing I love in markets is that you are able to taste and see the food you are about to buy (and it saves on packaging as well).  These are little, often forgotten, pleasures.  I actually like going to the market with my empty egg box and refill it again and see slowly my bag getting filled with products I have been able to carefully choose.

I have found that shopping at markets is actually not as expensive as it might appear at first and I like the idea that the same people might then come to spend their money in the restaurant I work in…

Atwater market in Montreal