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Living Lightly column

A tale of two grapefruit

By Graham Parton

Recently as an aspiring ethical shopper I faced a choice between two grapefruits on sale at the local food co-op. This is a magnet for the locals who want to support local growers and buy food that is not from “factory farms.”

The first grapefruit was from a local farm and was organically grown by a family business that has a track record of ethical agriculture and food production. Their recent history includes the “saving” of an apple orchard that the owner wanted to walk away from, salvaging a crop that would otherwise have rotted on the ground, and inviting the community to pick their own.

The second grapefruit was grown by minimum security inmates at the local prison. One of the most important things prisoners do is become exposed to a variety of activities that might form part of the mix that enables them to avoid going back to crime. Buying their produce helps make their agricultural activities not just financially viable, but signals to them that people value something they have created. Supporting their agriculture might in the long run reduce crime.

So which one to choose?

On several key indicators the fruit were identical, making the choice somewhat easier. The “food miles” were virtually the same, the packaging was identical and they both looked the same. I found a small blemish on one but it would not have affected the flavour, and in any case I want to encourage less than perfect fruit. Agriculture is distorted by our unnecessary desire for perfection.

The prison fruit was about half the price of the family farm. In this case I only wanted two fruit and the difference was only a matter of a few cents, but in any case, the price didn’t reflect the true cost of production. Taxpayers have heavily subsidised the prison food while the farm enjoyed no subsidies. At this price I can afford to let ethics dominate the decision.

A purchase of less than $2 is trivial, except that we all make hundreds of these micro-decisions every time we shop and spend many thousands of dollars on food every year. Even a considered position on our food supply still brings up difficult choices.

There was only one answer, I bought one of each.