Tuesday, 16 July 2013


I have mentioned before the case of Scottish shelled prawns which reach our supermarket shelves via Thailand. It is just a fact of globalisation life that wages in Asia are generally lower than the West - so much lower in fact that it is profitable to fly prawns 12,000 miles to take advantage, rather than subject them to the price mark-up they'd incur if well-paid Brits peeled them. So is this in fact appalling?  Or is it good economic sense?  Are we exploiting Thai workers and putting Brits out of work, or are we supporting the Thai economy and helping to contain British inflation?

This topic came to the fore again recently with the discovery that the ingredients used in the manufacture of Slazenger tennis balls for Wimbledon had travelled a total of 50,570 miles to the courts. We were all expected to shout 'shock, horror' at this revelation (or some such comment). But the fact is this is just another example of globalisation and a beneficial one. Thanks to siting their factory in the Philippines, most of the materials used in the manufacture of the tennis balls cone from nearby producers, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and of course China. Had the factory still been in the UK, the 50,000 mile total would easily have been exceeded (and of course the present costs). But who knew that it took 14 ingredients from 12 countries to make a tennis ball?! My only slight disappointment is that the wool comes from New Zealand and is flown to the UK for weaving before being flown to the Philippines. Surely we can produce wool in the UK? That would reduce the travel a little. Ironic that in that case British wages are acceptable for the processing of wool. I suppose it's also a shame that the balls are then only used for about 20 minutes before being discarded. So, after flying over 50,000 miles to get to Wimbledon, the balls then fly less than half a mile before they're finished with. Perhaps that’s the real crime?

While I was wondering what I really felt about the state of affairs that filled our airports with unpeeled prawns and tennis balls, burning expensive aviation fuel and occupying valuable runway slots, which ultimately push up the price of my holiday travel and cause demands for airport expansion in my green and pleasant land, I looked at the sandwich I had just made myself for lunch.

Today I was eating humus with beetroot, a delightful combination that would have been unthinkable some years ago, especially with the delicious sun dried tomato and olive bread I was using. So is this collection of delightful taste sensations a benefit of globalisation or am I a victim of supermarket marketing and responsible, through my encouragement of modern manufacturing methods, for the rape of poor Third World workers, the wanton squandering of precious resources and global warming?

We have a tradition in the UK of importing from all over the world. From at least the 16th century, Britons were addicted to sugar (from the West Indies) and spices (from India), not to mention tea and chocolate and tobacco. In fact, although the use of aircraft is a relatively recent phenomenon, most of our food products are now imported, apart from the very basic ingredients (although many basic ingredients are also imported – we currently have a juniper disease for example which means that this very British ingredient – essential to our gin! - is currently imported from Bulgaria). I mention this in particular, since my beetroot was flavoured with onion and juniper berries. The humus had added flavouring ingredients too - lemon and coriander.

So I had the humus with ingredients from I reckon 10 different countries, including India, Argentina and South Africa, the beetroot used ingredients from 5, including Barbados and Vietnam, and the bread also from 5, mostly European, although we do import some salt from Australia. I am assuming that many ingredients, such as the beetroot, flour and water, etc, came from somewhere local. No guarantee of course, but, with that assumption, I calculate that my sandwich had travelled 66,520 miles before I got to eat it. More than a tennis ball!

I hadn't thought before how delicious it is destroying the planet.


  1. It is quite mind-boggling when you think about it. I was wondering if many people know, or even care, about such things. Probably not.

    1. They probably don't know (or care). But, as I say, we've been importing foodstuffs from India, Australia even, and the West Indies for centuries, so I suppose it's OK to be blasé about it.

  2. I am very much conscious about what I buy and where it comes from. Not that it has to be Swiss produce, but there are seasons for everything. When the Swiss orchards are full of peaches and apricots (like now) I buy the Swiss products. I love shrimps and prawns, but I no longer eat them. They are imported, yes, we have no coast line in Switzerland. Since reading about the mass production that takes place in the far East and that they literally develop in sewage, I went off them somehow. I just follow my nose. Also a matter of price. Swiss strawberries (and we are a strawberry land) and twice as expensive as the spanish, so I do not buy Swiss.

    1. Sometimes the decisions whether to support developing countries or your own are difficult to make. We do try to buy local products, but they aren't always the best. Nor the cheapest.