Monday 9 August 2010

Food Miles

The Victorians invented most things, including truly global trade. Here's a quote from an article entitled 'The Feeding of London' in the Leisure Hour of 1889:

Though all the cattle come into Deptford alive, nothing alive ever leaves it. All round the lairs are long streets of slaughter-houses, wherein the killing goes on as required. But a slaughter-house is at its best but a chamber of horrors, and we need but glance at the last scene, in which oxen and sheep become beef and mutton under the hands of the brawny, half-naked, pole-axing men. A wonderful sight is the long avenue of huge sides of beef, being trimmed and divided to hang here for half a dozen hour before they are distributed; and even more remarkable is the display of the carcasses of the sheep, skinned and cleaned, and thrown smoking into the carts, to be carried away immediately. In these economical days nothing is wasted that can be saved. A stroller round Deptford Market discovers this under many fragrant conditions. In one place he will come upon a wholesale manufacture of tripe, in another a gigantic boiling of offal, in another a peculiarly unattractive conversion of alimentary canals into sausage-skins. Curious are the intricacies of trade. The ox of the Wild West is borne by railway to New York, and crosses the ocean to Deptford; he dies, and his interior, cleaned and made ready, is exported to Germany, and as the covering of the humble sausage that interior finds its way back again to London, where so many things end.
London was the centre of everything; and it reaped the benefits of empire The writer continues:

Our country has to be fed from its rivals or its dependencies. In 1887 there were imported into the United Kingdom 55,784,685 cwt. of wheat, and 18,056,545 cwt. of wheat meal and flour; of barley we received 14,277,180 cwt.; of oats, 14,468,733 cwt.; of peas, 2,990,296 cwt.; of beans, 2,477,293 cwt.; of Indian com or maize and Indian corn meal we had 31,128,923 cwt. Of the eighteen million hundredweights of flour, nearly fifteen came from the United States, a million and a third from Austria, a million from Canada, and half a million from Germany. Of the fifty-five million hundredweights of wheat twenty millions and a half came from the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, and ten millions from the Pacific seaboard, eight millions and a half came from India, five millions and a half from Russia, four millions from Canada, two millions and a quarter from Chili, a million and a half from Germany, a little less from Australasia, over half a million from Roumania, and nearly two hundred thousand from Egypt. The other grain supplies we need not trace; sufficient has been said to show how dependent we are for our existence on our keeping clear the highways of the ocean.
Food miles? You bet.

[nb. the full article is available here, although it's mostly statistics]

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