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Sourcing food: Should we feel guilty about provenance?

Tomatoes "Do tomatoes need to be on a plastic tray in a cellophane wrapper?" Oliver Peyton would ditch the packet

Restaurateur Oliver Peyton explains why he thinks we should not feel guilty about where food comes from.

Sometimes it's impossible to know what to eat. What is the right way to source our food, or is there even one?

Buying dinner can be a complicated business. Is it safe, sustainable, ethical, organic, high-welfare?

Is it the best that we can feed ourselves? Are we letting down our families if we don't tuck into the new must-have food, whether it's broccoli, blueberries or barberries?

The media inundates us with information, making it harder than ever to make the "right" choices.

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Take oily fish. One minute we are told we are meant to be eating it to be brainier and healthier. Then we hear it doesn't matter. The next we hear, oily fish is contaminated with toxins and to be avoided, then all of a sudden it's back in fashion again. And then, oily fish might be giving us diabetes. Such conflicting messages are reported even within the same national newspaper.

How on earth can anyone make up their mind up after all that? It hardly seems worth even trying to understand, when next week there will probably be another study, another bit of advice, saying the opposite.

Then there are all the food assurance schemes - such as Freedom Food, Rainforest Alliance, Soil Association, Leaf, Little Red Tractor, Marine Stewardship Council, Marine Conservation Society, Fairtrade, Dolphin Friendly, Bee Friendly, to name just a few. But what do they actually mean? Are they worth the glue on their eye-catching little sticker?

Although the Food Standards Authority guidance states that all UK food assurance schemes should be accredited by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS), they are often privately owned and operated without any other regulation.

And with some of the schemes, you can't even be sure that the whole product was produced to the standard. A packet with a Rainforest Alliance logo may contain as little as 30% Rainforest Alliance certified products.

Fairtrade products need to be only 50% Fairtrade to receive the certification, although this doesn't apply to "single ingredients".

What do you think?

Oliver Peyton

Should we feel guilty about where we source our food? Join restaurateur Oliver Peyton at 21:00 GMT on 17 February straight after Food & Drink on BBC Two

So a pack of Fairtrade coffee must be 100% Fairtrade, but a box of cereal decorated with that black, green and blue logo on might include several ingredients, half which could be non-Fairtrade.

Confused? I'm not surprised. It's enough to make you give up altogether and go out for a takeaway.

So I say, forget it. Food is really very simple to get it right. Eat good fresh ingredients. Look for locally produced food.

I don't believe you need a stamp to say it's ethically and responsibly produced if you know where your food comes from.

There's nothing new about this.

We have developed in the space of a couple of generations into people who go to supermarkets instead of buying locally, and now people think that the buy local movement is some kind of modern miracle, but up until World War Two we all shopped and ate like this.

Leeks "Food is really very simple... eat good fresh ingredients. Look for locally produced food," says Oliver Peyton

When I was growing up in Ireland in the 1960s, my dad had a farm and we ate what we grew. If we wanted something else, like washing up liquid, we went to the shop in the village. Even at my boarding school in County Sligo we would be sent out to dig our own vegetables and store them for the winter.

There's a lot of talk debunking food miles and carbon footprints, pointing out that, for example, New Zealand lamb may have lower carbon footprint than British. But this is missing the point.

Local food is better because you don't need a battery of labels. You are connected with it, and you are contributing to the local economy by buying it. It's also cheaper.

Go down to the market and compare the prices with the supermarket - for fruit and vegetables, and everything except the rock-bottom quality meat, I reckon it will generally be less.

In fact, I wouldn't just ditch the labels. I'd ditch the packet.

Of course, a few things like porridge and coffee beans need to come in a bag, but do tomatoes need to be on a plastic tray in a cellophane wrapper?

I'd much rather have a paper bag of muddy carrots from a field in the same county. And yes, they'll vary week to week.

Supermarkets swear that we expect a blandly consistent product, identical all year round. I disagree.

Part of the joy of eating is the change of the seasons. There is a value to not eating things all year round - if you don't eat asparagus till May, you really enjoy it.

Use your common sense, eat well, and you'll be fine, just as your grandparents were. And oily fish is fine, by the way.

Should we feel guilty about where we source our food? Join Oliver Peyton online for a live discussion at 21:00 GMT Monday 17 Feb following Food & Drink on BBC Two, or send in your comments in advance.

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