Cost at the cash

The soar­ing cost of food.

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Front Page - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 36 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­[email protected]­ — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

At the end of the run­way at the Hal­i­fax air­port, a crashed 747-400 was be­ing torn apart with a back­hoe last week­end.

Stay with me now. Some­times, I lie on my back on the grass in sum­mer, far enough out of St. John’s to have the full clear night sky undimmed by city lights. With­out a moon, the Milky Way wa­vers like a long gos­samer scarf in the cool­ing air, the con­stel­la­tions whose names I barely know stand out bright against the mil­lions of other, lesser stars. It is noth­ing short of hum­bling to see just how many other stars there are be­yond our sin­gle sun.

There are two man-made con­stants to that night sky: the gen­tle, sil­ver-grey and steady arc of satel­lites curv­ing across the sky, and the bright lights of high-fly­ing air­craft, usu­ally head­ing east to Eu­rope on the flight path known as the North At­lantic Track.

And I won­der, as I al­ways do, just who and what is mak­ing its way across the sky, some 30,000 feet up; packed tight in air­line seats, are there lovers head­ing to­ward each other, fam­i­lies head­ing to­ward new lives and new ad­ven­tures? Are they look­ing down at un­known Avalon Penin­sula towns be­neath them, each town a spi­der­web of or­ange street­lights, the pas­sen­gers above won­der­ing what sorts of lives they are pass­ing over?

Or are the air­craft cargo flights, loaded with mail or auto parts or lob­ster, wing­ing their way to mar­kets and cus­tomers a half a world away?

(I’ve done the same thing in the Ne­vada desert, look­ing up at the sky from deep in the heart of an 800,000-acre wilder­ness area. The big­gest dif­fer­ence? The sheer lack of sound. The wind­less dark desert not only lets you see the sky­cross­ing planes, but lets you hear them well in ad­vance, as well.)

But back to the cargo fly­ing so high up; the 747 that crashed in Hal­i­fax was land­ing from Chicago at the time of the crash, sched­uled to pick up some­thing like 120 tonnes of lob­ster. Then, the plane was sched­uled to fly to Alaska, re­fuel, and then take that lob­ster to China, one of two flights a week for a Chi­nese- owned seafood com­pany called First Catch. Trav­el­ling in close to a straight line, leav­ing out Alaska, that’s a trip of some 10,702 kilo­me­tres.

(Irony of ironies, the frozen shrimp you pick up at the gro­cery store may have made the same trip, al­beit in the other di­rec­tion.)

In a way, it re­minds me of the Stan Rogers’ song “Tiny Fish for Ja­pan,” a song about fish­er­men catch­ing Great Lakes smelt for for­eign mar­kets, be­cause smelt were the only fish that were left to catch. (I grew up in Hal­i­fax, and for years thought that the song was ac­tu­ally about the At­lantic caplin fish­ery. In the late 1970s, roe-bear­ing fe­males were be­ing caught for the Ja­panese mar­ket, and still are. So, an­other fish­ery catch­ing “tiny fish for Ja­pan.”)

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing, though, how far we’re will­ing to ship some­thing sim­ple as a good meal on a night out. And it’s not just caplin and lob­ster, ei­ther; ev­ery­thing from other fish species to sea urchin roe and sea cu­cum­bers make long, long flights to mar­ket.

(The lob­ster made it, by the way, but ob­vi­ously on a dif­fer­ent plane.)

To do all that, though, we spend an aw­ful lot of ef­fort and re­sources and time and fuel.

And some of the ef­fects are big­ger even than the ob­vi­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print in­volved. In 2004, a dif­fer­ent 747 crashed dur­ing take­off at Hal­i­fax after load­ing 53,000 pounds of lob­ster and fish.

Un­for­tu­nately, that 53,000 lbs. — and the fuel taken on — wasn’t added into the flight’s weight and take­off speed cal­cu­la­tions. Seven crew died in the crash.

You won­der if we can re­ally af­ford to eat so well.

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing, though, how far we’re will­ing to ship some­thing sim­ple as a good meal on a night out.

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