Taking one’s time

Poppy along the path.

I recently had an opportunity to take a journey for which I had time to walk. It was a pleasure, although my legs disagreed about the pleasure for about three of the 20+ kilometers I walked.

The walk took me five hours, in a soft rain and stopping to take some photos. It took less than ten minutes to zoom back in a car (with the boxes I had come to pick up). It’s only something we can do when we have time, when we are not pressed by the next thing that needs to get done. I know many people who cannot even take the time to walk to the store to get a pint of milk (in some cases, because the nearest store is a chain supermarket more than thirty minutes on foot distant).

A close look at a fungus on a tree in an ancient sweet chestnut coppice found when walking in England. Sweet chestnut was used for making barrels to contain food (and Spanish sherry).

Walking might be one extreme, both in terms of time required and the depth to which one can explore the richness of the landscape when traveling at such a slow speed.

Faster is not better – a 45 minute cycle brings one to work with rosy cheeks and a well-ventilated brain. A five hour walk brought me to parts of the landscape I’d never have seen from a car. It can mean not being about to reach as many places or tick as many tasks off one’s ‘to do’ list. Even train can slow one down, or exclude middle-of-the-night dashes from a concert to a conference. Like life, a journey should be about the experience along the way, not about the end.

We must consider a variety of non-car (non-plane) transport to address our growing environmental problems, and not only for our bodies – which can walk and cycle or ride horses – but also for the goods we see as essential (see also my earlier post about transport in Nicaragua). A shipment of chocolate was recently imported to Europe from Grenada by sailing ship but it is not clear how many products will be transported under sail rather than by engine.  Marine and rail transport seem in any case to be better than trucking (see a 1997 OECD report) and better than air. However, a quick Web search indicates that food transport is no longer a hot topic: most articles dates from 2008 or earlier. Despite this, the problem has not improved: one cay buy Chilean grapes and Washington red apples from street vendors in Honduras, and bananas all over Europe. Flowers are shipped from Colombia and East Africa to prettify European homes. And this is a sector less amenable to regulation because it takes place within different jurisdictions, permitting a tangle of self-interest to persist and block change.

As long as ecosystem services are not properly valued, it will indeed seem cheaper to process European fish in China and then ship is back to Europe for sale. Transport, refrigeration, and packaging all have impacts. Fuels, materials for the ship or truck, pollution, and impact on crew and stevedores are also factors. As aware consumers, perhaps we should convince food processing companies that we value the wages paid to the food processors, wonder how the waste is used, and question shipping products halfway across the world for processing. We need to slow down our annual calendars, wait until June for local strawberries, enjoy apples in the autumn, and perhaps even endure a winter of parsnip and curly kale.

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