Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Green Term of the Week - Food Miles

I've mentioned food miles on a few post before, but I've never had a full discussion about them. The term food miles refers to how far a food has to travel from where it is grown or raised to get on your plate. 

I first learned about food miles when I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I was beginning to green many things in my family's life, but I hadn't gotten to the food part of it yet. Reading Ms. Kingsolver's book made me realize that the food my family eats can have a large environmental impact. It's hard to believe that it's been less than a year since I read the book because thinking about how and where my food is raised or grown has become the norm.

In the U.S., the average grocery store’s produce travels nearly 1,500 miles between the farm where it was grown and your refrigerator. About 40% of our fruit is produced overseas and, even though broccoli is likely grown within 20 miles of the average American’s house, the broccoli we buy at the supermarket travels an average 1,800 miles to get there. Notably, 9% of our red meat comes from foreign countries, including locations as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

The issue with food miles is that a lot of fuel and energy are used when shipping food thousands of miles. The food is shipped by truck, plane, train or boat - all of which give off greenhouse gasses. 

Many people have incorporated as many local foods as they can in their diets to help keep their food miles down. I'm one of them. It's easy to do in the warmer months when the local crops are being harvested, but it's not so easy in the late fall, winter and early spring when the local pickin's get slim. And that's where I find myself right now.

My farmer's market closes the weekend before Thanksgiving. I intend to stock up on some things - some meat, the Jersey Fresh canned tomatoes, honey, and anything else I have the room to store. But there isn't a lot of room in my freezer so I won't be able to buy too much meat. Still, I'll do my best.

Buying as much local food as you can will help keep your food miles down. It will also help to support the small, local farms in your area and contribute to keeping them around  a while longer. 
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Adam Shake said...

Thanks Robin, for putting this out. More people need to know about this. This whole thing is also known as "Miles to Market" or MTM. The whole concept is just starting to catch on and I remember when I used to talk about it, people would just kind of look at me funny.

I did an article on this called "This little piggy goes to market, this little piggy goes to Safeway". This was when I first started blogging,so it's pretty ugly, so I wont link to it. :)

What amazes me is the logistics involved. Take an apple grown in Nicaragua. Field to storage facility, to port, to ship, to port, to storage facility, to truck to store.

Is it worth it to me to give up fresh fruit in the winter, and to buy and freeze fruit in the summer and fall? Oh, heck ya.

Robin Shreeves said...

This little piggy went to market, this little piggy went to safeway? Ugh. I'm sure you've learned a bit more about headline writing since then.

I have given up the fresh fruit that only I like when it's out of season, but not the fruit my kids like. As a mom, the thought of them not eating fruit for months on end leads to thoughts of a diagnosis of scurvy from the pediatrician.

So I'll buy apples, grapes and bananas (which of course, can never be local) throughout the winter, but I make sure to not waste what we buy. But I give up strawberries and melons until they are local and in season. It's not a perfect compromise, but it's what I've got.

Someday I hope to have a second freezer to freeze fruit to make the local harvest last longer, but it's not in the plans at the moment.