Monday, February 11, 2013

Constraints on country shopping

The weather is decidedly beyond the pale as a subject for discussion, even so far so sunny this Monday. Were it a child, one would confine it to the naughty step for days. So that is enough of that for this week at least.

Last Thursday evening I went down to Tocane St Apre to explore the possibilities of the local AMAP - 'Association pour le Maintien d'un Agriculture Paysanne' - which meets on a weekly basis on the ground floor of the former convent. This is a group of local organic farmers ranging from vegetable to meat producers, one of each speciality, who link up with local consumers. (By saying 'local' we are probably considering a radius of 20-30 km, reduced transport = virtuous.) The former are committed to regular delivery of their produce and the latter engage to buy the same on a regular, pre-determined basis. The theory is that the farmers will have a slight degree of certainty of income because the consumers sign up and pre-pay for a defined minimum supply of goods. This is the famous panier. The consumers will benefit because they will know the origins and upbringing of what they buy. They can be sure the 'beef' will come from cows or bullocks, not horses, and not retired milk producing cows either.

Now the problem is simply this: how to prefer one producer over another? After so many years concentrating on shopping in a very small area, I already know a lot of local farmers, many of whom produce the same things, whether eggs or beef or veal. It is one of the reasons I have stopped going to St Astier market regularly. I know so many commerรงants by sight, if not by name, that I feel I can hardly pass by their stalls without buying something. It is even worse when I half know the people socially because we have worked for the same associations. The result is that I end up buying far too much and left-overs soup (a.ka. minestrone) is the supper menu for three days a week.

If I sign up to join the AMAP this problem can only worsen. Suppose I were to commit myself to buying Adrian's Montagrier chickens and eggs – an annual contract for 12 eggs a month (no hardship) and one chicken a month (again, no hardship). But it would mean I stop buying the chickens from Coulouneix Chamiers. Unless, of course, I decide to eat two chickens a month which is a possibility – but what of my poor wild duck lady? She lost 40 ducklings to the fox in the snow two weeks ago, is starting to re-stock with the 30 left to her, and needs support. And then there are the suppliers of beef and veal and pork – and what about my lamb? We shall pass on the subject of vegetables and fruits because that problem is unsolvable – the commercial growers compete with the domestic ones just at the high season.

The philosophical answer is for me to do what is best for me. But since when has philosophy had anything to do with real life?

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