Saturday, August 16, 2008

Trading behind the scenes

'In the kitchen, the Chinese chef cooks consciously or unconsciously according to the culinary laws of Yin and Yang - where harmony and balance between flavour, texture and ingredient is the essence.' - K. Kwong
It's an interesting experience working in a restaurant that prides itself on its philosophy 'to leave as small and light an environmental footprint as possible, to give back to the community, whenever and wherever we can, and to think globally, act locally.' I've just put down a copy of Sarah Murray's 'Moveable Feasts : From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Things We Eat' and I'm taking a little time to reflect.

Here, organic and even biodynamic produce are sourced from locally certified farmers wherever feasible despite the daily pressure from current and incredibly unreliable suppliers. The use of biodynamic eggs, lamb and beef, free range Barossa hens, fairtrade chocolate, sustainable seafood, organic fruits and vegetables and so forth, are all a reflection on the huge commitment not only towards a heightened quality of produce, but also to the soil, the animals, the people and the environment.

I take my hat off to the woman who has successfully established an iconic Sydney restaurant geared towards the betterment of society and, unlike most other chefs, she has used her media status to promote sustainable farming and fairtrade produce at events like the Organic Expo and the upcoming Live Green.

Although Billy Kwong customers have the opportunity to offset the carbon emissions produced by dining through the purchase of renewable energy credits from a wind farm in Hebei, China, Murray warns that methane (gas from animals not the customers) unfortunately "warms the planet more than twenty times as much as the same amount of carbon dioxide". According to the 2006 UN publication 'Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options', livestock which take up approximately 30% of the Earths surface now produce more greenhouse emissions than all the transport in the world!

Picking up a bar of 'Cocolo - Premium Organic Fairtrade Chocolate' I decided that I too would investigate the distance needed to bring this product together. The ingredients include: organic fairtrade cocoa mass (Bolivia and Peru), organic fairtrade evaporated cane juice (Philippines) and organic fairtrade cocoa butter (Bolivia and Dominican Republic). The chocolate is made in Switzerland before being shipped to Australia, so I calculated the shortest and most direct route for each ingredient via air passage first to the international airport in Bern and then to Sydney.

Assuming that both the organic fairtrade cocoa butter and cocoa mass from Sucre, Bolivia travel in the same shipment, the distance to Bern, Switzerland is 10,318km.
Organic fairtrade cocoa mass from Lima, Peru to Bern, Switzerland is 10,588km.
Organic fairtrade evaporated cane juice from Manila, Philippines to Bern, Switzerland is 10,533km.
Organic fairtrade cocoa butter from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to Bern, Switzerland is 7,591km.
Made in Switzerland. 100% Australian owned company.
Cocolo dark 70% cocoa premium organic fairtrade chocolate from Bern, Switzerland to Sydney, Australia is 16,677km.

Total distance my bar of chocolate has travelled is 55,707km. To cover this distance by foot (and to put this in a much more shocking perspective), I would have to walk an average of 5km/hr, 24 hours a day nonstop for a year and 2 weeks!

I don't really have a moral to this post. I love my chocolate too much to give it up and well admit it, the Earth is doomed to implode anyway. The probability of cocoa being farmed in Australia is virtually nil and if it did miraculously happen, any benefits of buying locally would most certainly be dwarfed by the incredibly high costs of artificially produced greenhouse climates needed. For the moment or until the pending apocalypse anyway, I'm glad to be sending my money off to help farmers in less developed countries through smarter fairtrade product choice.


  1. Hi Cathy.
    Glad I found your blog and I really get your situation regarding the love of chocolate, and Swiss made chocolate at that.
    I've jumped on board you subscription list and look forward to reading more.

  2. wow. u really did the calculation of the traveling distance of a choc bar! but still i won't give up my choc. the only way to reduce my carbon fottprint is to buy local made choc than imported choc bars but then .. chocs from new zealand are so gooooood!!!

  3. oh no! subscriptions?! oh god! oh god! oh god! pressure overload! :P


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