What’s wrong with a banana? Well judging by the menus of nearly every new fancy-pants restaurant these days, quite a lot. Normally within the first few lines of overblown description they will have inserted those key words of this foodie moment: “Made from seasonal locally produced ingredients”. This phrase is supposed to underline that they care for the environment, are cutting down on their so-called food miles and supporting a network of local producers, farmers, goat herders, yak-milk maids, etc.
All well and good but I like a banana.
I like the idea of food being shipped all around the world. It’s what means that I can eat a bar of chocolate, have pepper on my spuds, pour sun-stroked olive oil on my salad, pull the cork from a bottle of robust Lebanese red and peel the skin from that banana that did its thing on a Caribbean island.
I don’t want my dinner flown in from the Ritz in Paris but I also don’t want my diet to be limited by what can be grown or reared within some meaningless radius of where I live (especially as I live in central London and would probably find myself having to keep a grubby chicken on the roof to get by).
The new-menu localism believes that shipping food is bad. But we have always lived with food miles. The Romans shipped supplies from the motherland out to the empire’s remotest corners. Last year, divers investigating a vessel that sank some 2,000 years ago off the coast of Italy discovered hundreds of amphorae in the silt. They were packed with pickled fish, grain, wine and oil, all destined for ports around the Mediterranean where they would be traded for Spanish, Greek and North African delicacies. Roman chefs were clearly already bored of just cooking with what grew a short chariot’s ride from their front doors.
The pleasure of food miles is all the more delicious at this time of year as supermarket shelves glory in their displays of glistening dates, fragrant tangerines and piles of nuts that will look nice in a dish even if you never crack one. Fine, we’ll have some local turnips if we must but sorry, the banana is here to stay in our global fruit bowl.
Andrew Tuck is Monocle's editor.