Leading article: One over-egged pudding...

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The Independent Online

Nobody would deny that Gordon Ramsay is a magnificent chef. And his skill in the realm of self-promotion is equally indisputable. But how much does Mr Ramsay know about the economics and environmental sustainability of food production?

The celebrity chef's latest attempt to whip up publicity for his television programme is a call for British restaurants to be fined if they serve fruit and vegetables that are not locally sourced or are out of season. Mr Ramsay says a law to this effect would cut carbon emissions, as less food would be imported, and also lead to improved standards of cooking. He even claims to have lobbied the Prime Minister on the subject.

It is quite true that sourcing vegetables and fruit locally and seasonally makes a lot of sense from a culinary perspective. Produce tends to taste fresher and more flavoursome if it has not been frozen and transported vast distances. Mr Ramsay's ideas would certainly make a very good rule of thumb for kitchens. They should also be propagated in our schools, as part of a wider effort to educate children about food. One of the reasons obesity levels in the UK are spiralling is that, unlike our European neighbours, we are often uninterested in the origin of our food. We tend to eat anything that gives us the calories we crave, with freshness and taste an afterthought. Mr Ramsay's campaign for seasonal and local vegetables can help to reform such unhealthy habits.

But, unfortunately for Mr Ramsay, the idea that the Government should attempt to ban imports of certain produce is a non-starter. It would be impractical and, in any case, undesirable. Mr Ramsay's argument that a ban would help the environment is also questionable. Some studies have suggested that vegetables such as Kenyan mangetout are produced with a lower carbon footprint, even factoring in the air transport emissions, than comparable vegetables grown in European greenhouses.

Our appetite and appreciation of British fruit and vegetables ought to be boosted, but it seems most unlikely that we are going to lose our taste for exotic fare such as bananas and pineapples. Banning food imports would result only in costly and grossly energy inefficient attempts to grow such produce in the UK.

Mr Ramsay's contribution on this issue lies in the power of example and his invigorating exhortations to culinary excellence. He should leave the legislating to others.