Fishing, like so many vital human activities today, is an industry. Large fish processing companies often operate their own fishing fleets or farming operations and sell their products to grocery chains or to intermediaries.
Because the stages of fish processing from catch to retail can be an extended one, we often lose sight of the real cost of the fish that lands on our plate: the environmental costs of over-fishing, the damaged ecosystems and the deeply questionable methods of aquaculture. All these hidden costs are externalised and out of sight: no-one, including we, the buyers,want to take responsibility.
And no-one, unless they have oodles of free time to spend trawling the internet, will arrive at a detailed picture of the complex outsourced chains and corporate middlemen which for better, but more often for worse, are involved in producing the food and non-perishable goods that we buy. Ethical kite marks such as Fair Trade labels are an easy and useful way for time poor shoppers to quickly assess and select what to put in their shopping bag. Yet however many fair trade labels we slap on a good, we can never really be sure that we are paying a fair price for goods that give a living wage and whose eco-footprint is minimal.
But there is one thing we can do, one commitment we can make, again and again – buy local. It is much harder to exploit people and the environment when it is done right under our noses. We would quickly pick up that something was wrong as the grumblings of neighbours, local people and the visible scars on our landscape suggested that something was deeply amiss. Buy local lends itself to a natural transparency and accountability that we will never find on a Fair Trade label or in the reams of glossy brochures on corporate social responsibility pumped out by the big corporations.
Buy Local means we would also cut out the layers of rent-seeking middlemen who inflate prices and squeeze wages for farmers and labourers at distant locations whether at home or abroad.
That’s why producer profiles like local fishermen Chris Veasey matter. It’s not just about human interest or finding copy to fill a newsletter or blog. It is deadly serious, so pay attention: It’s about knowing how your food is produced and knowing who does it.